Romero Expert Insights Series: Security

As part of our 2023 insights initiative at Romero Insurance Brokers, we will be highlighting team leaders across the Romero Group. Over 12 months, The Romero Group will showcase 12 important figures, each from different departments and different disciplines.

Ninth in our Insights Series is Mark Noble, IT Director for Romero Insurance Brokers. Mark manages the IT team who maintain the digital systems and physical servers across the Romero Group. With our recent conversion to EPIC Systems’ software, Mark has been having to put his nose to the grindstone, working long hours, drawing on all of his knowledge and expertise. Ever the optimist, Mark is the catalyst for his department’s particularly positive environment. We ask Mark some questions about his leadership traits and management techniques.

What are your roles and responsibilities?

My title is the IT Director. I am ultimately responsible for the IT function within the Romero Group, as well as most thigs with a 3-pin plug.

Please can you briefly recount your career pathway and management experiences?

I’ve always been involved in IT in some capacity. I first went through a stint working for the NHS and then moved onto retail sector for many years, in particular costume jewellery. Following there, I moved into insurance. So I’ve come from a business involving a tangible asset that fits in your hand, to insurance.

My first role in insurance was with Romero Insurance Brokers, and I’ve been here ever since. It was a whole new experience and a different way of working.

Within IT, we provide a service for our users; and our users just so happen to be our colleagues. I don’t sell insurance; I ensure people have a platform to perform their role effectively and safely.

How have you fared blending the complicated vocabularies of IT and insurance terminology?

If you thought IT terminology was bad, insurance terminology is just another world. It’s important we [the IT department] are able to communicate to other people in a language that we can all understand. There’s no point in me talking in ROMs and RAMs.

Furthermore, the majority of the members of my IT department have no insurance background at all; our insurance knowledge has been picked up on the job. We are lucky that we get to speak to every user in every department, so we pick up pieces from all different roles. Being effective communicators is vital.

How do you organise and manage the workloads within your department?

I’m very lucky that I work with very talented individuals, that are, for the most part left to their own devices. For the workload – I call it my Hopes, Fears, and Concerns – every week I get a list of what the workloads are, and these are assigned appropriately. Being IT, it might be that we can’t do these tasks in-hours. When we perform network maintenance, we tell people when it’s happening and also why we are doing it. We add in some small print at the end of emails, it’s quite tech-y, but some people quite enjoy it and would like to know what we are up to.

One thing I do like to do, and I’ve always done this throughout my career is an IT report. I use this IT report for my own sanity so I don’t have a scattergun approach; it’s also so I know what people are working on, what we need to focus on; and in it I put down my “Hopes, Fears and Concerns”. I’ve done this for years, since my early roles and I take this to the Board so they’ve got a complete snapshot-in-time of what the IT department are doing.

Also, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t be the master of everything. As a manager, you need a high level of detail and don’t need to go to the Nth degree. Other managers always talk about micro-managing and how you don’t do that, which is true – you need to let your staff get on with their role. Yet for this to work, it is vital that everyone can talk – and as a manager you’ll hear a lot of chatter, questions, and suggestions fill the air.

How critical is it for an IT department to have capable staff members?

We are in an environment where nothing stands still for too long; you are constantly evolving and learning. Whilst I have staff that like to do certain tasks, if you spread the load quite nicely it makes the day a little more interesting. If you’re a brick layer and all you’re doing is laying bricks all day, before long you are going to be sick of the sight of bricks and mortar. However, with IT there are so many moving parts and everyone has their little niche.

The company mandates 1-2-1s where we talk about development. My staff have got the freedom to say Well I’d quite like to look at this, this is a new thing that’s just come out, maybe we could look into it. – If it’s beneficial to the company, I think why not?

How do you tackle underperformance? Is there a responsibility for managers to protect their team?

This applies across all departments, even away from IT – it’s okay to make mistakes – but not too many mind you!… It’s the way that the person deals with them afterwards. We always like to say there’s a silver lining to everything.

I can only think of two occasions when I’ve had to step in to manage a situation between a staff member and a user who’s been overly critical. No good will come from being rude. This doesn’t help anyone.

As managers we should all get along; and although your priorities and needs might not be the same as mine, we are all after the same goal, for the good of the company.

I believe there is also a responsibility to look after staff wellbeing. I need to be aware of burnout; ensure staff are not working until 9 o’clock every night, or not sat behind their desk every second from 9am to 5pm.

As a manager, is there a responsibility to manage the wellbeing of employees?

Ultimately, I want my staff to look forward to coming into work. I believe in a good work-life balance. This has an impact on productivity and helps prevent unhappiness in various forms.

It’s the nature of my department we don’t get calls from users without first having encountered an issue – they call us because they have a problem. We attend to things as quick as possible and are here to service – whilst we are not a complaints line, we do have to assist people in doing their job. And this can have an impact on employees, so for my department I need to manage wellbeing.

What is the single most important skill you need to have to perform your role successfully?

As manager, I am ultimately responsible for a variety of things, so I have to know what’s going on in the department. I would never ask somebody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.

I also make a point of including staff in decisions that I make. There is obviously a caveat to that, because as a manager I get to know potentially confidential things, but for the most part I involve them in decision making. I would do this by literally standing up the middle of the room, announce the task, and what I’m proposing. Many decisions involve the whole team so as not to surprise them, and to build trust, I discuss important decisions.

It’s quite democratic. And I’m not the holy grail of IT knowledge; other people may have heard of something new and can bring a lot to the table.

There’s a phrase that was told to me many years ago by a previous manager that I very much looked up to – He said: We work hard and we have a lot of fun along the way, and that fun might come in the shape of a bacon sandwich. But that’s a minimum. There is not a day where I don’t come into the office and laugh. – [Mark smiles to himself] But then five minutes later I might be stressed out of my head with a fire coming out the back of a server. [Mark laughs]

What unique quality do you bring to your role?

I’d say the role of IT Director is quite stressful. And with the company growing at the rate it is, and the different characters that we have, it can be quite stressful. In the role, I can’t just switch my phone off. I wouldn’t say work is 24/7, but we are more than often available.

I’ve got a great team who support me, because I can’t handle 200 users calling me at all hours of the day. My team subscribe to the challenge.

I need to be able to deal with curveballs. My job list can change in an instant. And it helps that I have the ability to walk in the door of my department, and immediately tell if something is amiss.

Communication is very good, within the company and between my team. And for it to work, I really need everyone involved.

How do you incorporate a new member into such a demanding department?

We can’t just chuck someone in at the deep end, because one mistake could ripple through the company – and it has before – and cause big… big problems. For example, if someone turns the server off that allows people to come in remotely. You’ve probably alienated 40% of the business in a flash.

I prefer to do my 1-2-1s while walking or away from the office. I can’t speak for other managers, but my 1-2-1s are 60-70% talking about non-work-related things.

What’s the best way of communicating within an organisation?

I love our Managing Director’s, Simon Mabb’s, videos that we do at Romero Insurance Brokers. It’s a great way of spreading company news to staff in a more personal way.

The company provides manager’s meetings once a month, which are useful to get a high-level overview of what is happening within the organisation. We have the opportunity to give departmental updates and ask advice if needed.

I do actually check in on people. If I haven’t heard from somebody in a couple of months, I do check in on them. Naturally a phone call from the IT Director is not really what somebody wants… [Mark chuckles]

Is there a universal piece of advice you would give to other managers?

I have three things:

Don’t try to be the master of everything.

Don’t have your fingers in every minor detail of the pie.

Always ask for help when needed. – This works both ways. By asking for something, that request builds trust, and ultimately invests in the company’s success. If I can’t do something – obviously I’d give it a go – but if I need a sense-check, I’d pitch it to the department. Rather than take up all morning, I’m not too proud to ask for the opinions of my staff.

Thank you to Mark for his honesty and humility. Truly the Ted Lasso of the Romero office, we believe Mark is a shining exmple for managers across the business and across the industry. His team are highly appreciated, long may there good work continue.

To read more of the insights series, see here.