This interview was originally published by Beaumont Bailey and was conducted by George Dobbins.
We are delighted to begin our Leadership Interview Series with Catrin Asbrey, Group HR Director for Keolis UK. Catrin has had an ecletic career thus far, with senior roles within the transport, healthcare and professional services sector. Joining Keolis in April 2019, Catrin now leads the HR function which provides support for one regional train network, two tram networks and an automated metro (Transport for Wales Rail Services, Manchester Metrolink, Nottingham Trams and Docklands Light Railway). In addition, Keolis is a minority partner with the Go-Ahead Group, operating two rail networks (GTR and Sotheastern). Here are some of the insights she shared with us on leadership during this critical period:
George: “Thank you for taking part in the leadership insight, Catrin. We’re delighted that you have decided to take part.
Catrin: “It’s a pleasure George.”
“George: “So first question: this is a difficult time for everybody, what have been the priorities for you and the leadership team?”
Catrin: “We have three key priorities. The first of these is the most important which is safety. We continue to be asbolutely committed to maintaining a safe network for our staff and passengers so that they can work and travel knowing that they have a safe environment .
Secondly, to keep our services delivering the highest quality and reliability possible under the current circumstances. We transport many thousands of passengers a day, and whilst we may have to run dramatically reduced services, it is still vital that we keep our transport operations open for essential workers during the crisis.
Thirdly, but as important and the other priorities is a focus on our people. We are taking great care to look after all of our amazing staff during this period of uncertainty . Recognising the changing work patterns for those on the frontline as well those who now find themselves having to deal with remote working.
George: “That’s very interesting. From a people agenda, what have been the major challenges for you?”
Catrin: “Communication has been absolutley key. We have opened up as many channels as possible to ensure that all groups within our business have access to clear communication. Take train drivers for example, as a public facing role, we must ensure they remain safe, and inevitably, some will need to self-isolate with potential symptoms. This inevitably impacts the rotas on a daily basis, which means some flexibity is required to meet the demands of the service. We’re communicating as often and as frequently as possible with them. Similarly, staff who are now working from home have the added challenge of doing so whilst in many cases also looking after their families. So there’s a real need to empathise and understand their differing circumstances.”
George: “What are some of the policies you have introduced that have worked?”
Catrin: “There’s lots of ideas that we are implementing, but it’s probably a little too early to know whether they’re working. There will be a period of trial and error, before we’re comfortable that we’ve got it right.
For the team working directly for Keolis UK we’ve introduced virtual coffee breaks, well-being conversations and we’ve also introduced a story time each week and things like dance lessons and craft activities for our workers’ childen. We’re fortunate enough to have a former teacher in our team who spends time each week reading to the children through Zoom or Teams. That seems to be providing practical support for our office remote workers.
In our operational businesses we also have daily live-communications from the leadership team, which anyone can access through smartphone or computer. These sharing sessions are then also made available throughout the day for any workers who may not have been able to attend the ‘live’ sessions. In addition, we have well-being conversations, which involves getting in touch with staff who may be fairly new to the company or vulnerable in some way to offer support.
The biggest focus for us has been to demonstrate more understanding and empathy of people’s situations. If someone is on a conference call and their daughter jumps into the shot, we all say hello and wave. The same for when we call one of the team at 3pm and they are out walking the dog or with the kids. We all have to be flexible, understanding and adaptable to often hourly changes in people’s diaries and free time.
George: “They are all fantastic ideas! On leadership, you’ve mentioned communication as a key component, what other factors are key for leadership at this moment?”
Catrin – “That’s a very interesting question. For me, it is about transparency, honesty, strength, adapability and understanding. Things in the world are so uncertain and it is entirely unfair to make false promises to staff. Difficult decisions are being made everywhere, but we must make those decisions with everyone’s collective interests in play, and show the understanding for individual circumstances when we communicate with staff.
George – “Absolutely. Whilst it won’t be your motivation, companies that look after people will undoubtedly be remembered once we move past COVID-19.
As a final question, what would you say has been the most common mistake for leadership that you have observed throughout your career so far?”
Catrin – “Only focusing on the now, without a view on the tomorrow. That is something that is particularly important regarding the current COVID-19, as we’re not sure when that tomorrow will arrive. But, leadership needs to consider what the longer term picture looks like, as well as dealing with the here and now.”
Thank you again to Catrin who kindly gave up her time to provide us with these insights.