Q&A: In Business — As in Golf — Resilience Leads to Better Decision Making

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October 20, 2021


In the worlds of both business and sports, setbacks and unexpected developments are to be expected. The ability to adapt and demonstrate resilience become keys to making better decisions in the face of changing conditions.

During the Aon Executive Forum hosted at this year’s Ryder Cup golf competition in Wisconsin, leaders from both worlds discussed some of the challenges they faced and how they rose to the occasion.
Panelists included Lambros Lambrou, CEO of Commercial Risk Solutions at Aon; Paul Azinger, four-time Ryder Cup competitor, winning U.S. team captain and NBC’s lead golf analyst; Margaret Heneghan, deputy chief people officer at Aon; and Sandy Cross, chief people officer at the PGA of America. The panelists were interviewed by journalist Katty Kay.

Q: What is a resilient workforce? What does it look like and how do you know if you have it?

Heneghan: We all would have said prior to the pandemic that people are our greatest asset, and the pandemic really proved how true that statement is. There is no doubt that there is a direct connection between our ability to deliver for our clients and our ability to deliver for our own colleagues.

Are we sure they have the right health and physical space to be and feel productive? Are they able to connect with each other and do they feel connected to Aon? That has been a tricky balance for many of us over the last 18 months as we navigated COVID, and we continue to prove out that a resilient workforce that delivers consistently for clients is hard wired with people who are feeling consistently productive, healthy and engaged.

Cross: When I think about a resilient workforce, it’s a team of people that are galvanized around a mission and a purpose. For example, PGA Reach, which is our foundation, they’re impacting lives through golf every day, whether that’s youth of color or our veterans, so it’s absolutely real.

Q: In sports and in business, data is increasingly important when it comes to making decisions for the win, for what's important now. How is the use of data changing to help you make the best decisions in the face of rapid changes?

Lambrou: Overall risk volatility is off the charts at the moment, and you can link that to financial volatility, geopolitical volatility, talent volatility, supply chain volatility and many other aspects of what businesses are having to cope with right now. The challenge that many businesses face is that for many of these new and emerging risks, history is not a great determinant of the future. Therefore, the advice and solutions that they are looking for need to be much more dynamic, create greater confidence around how risk trends are likely to impact them today and tomorrow and at the same time recognize the increasingly interconnected nature of business risk that require better fit-for-purpose solutions.

Data is clearly key to unlocking our understanding of these issues to make better decisions. And as a result, the opportunity has arguably never been greater to use technology platforms and partnerships with like-minded organizations to give greater access to broader sets of data from which we can derive and deliver better insights and ultimately better decisions for clients.

Q: No one wants to talk about hybrid working, but that’s the situation we’re in. How are we all going to come back? How do you keep your workforce resilient, healthy, engaged and happy as you navigate that change coming out of the pandemic?

Heneghan: It certainly is a balance that we try to strike by maintaining a consistent focus on the relationship between colleagues and their direct manager, and a consistent understanding of colleague engagement.

We look very much to our people leaders as walking ambassadors within the company who can help ensure that our people are healthy and engaged in the work they are doing. We continue to invest in ways to develop our people managers’ skills and ensure that people leaders understand the important role they play to be connected and in tune with how colleagues are feeling.

We also do a consistent check-in with our colleagues through our pulse survey strategy so that we have real data and feedback from colleagues on how they are feeling about their work and the workplace. And we’re able to balance colleague input with the quarterly financial results we report for the firm to equip us with the complete picture on the health of Aon.

Cross: One of the elements of our success came about two weeks after everyone went to work from home. We rolled out shared values to our team, which we had never done previously.

It has provided cultural, connective tissue across a distributed workforce in a way unlike anything we had ever had before. I would encourage organizations to do that if they haven’t. That’s been a critical element to keeping our team connected, resilient, working toward a common mission. The shared values have really been a beacon for us and an anchor for our team.

Q: Paul, the rap on the U.S. Ryder Cup team had been that the European team has always been more of a “team.” Could you tell us a little bit about your innovation as a leader of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and what you did to change the team and its approach to the Ryder Cup, and how you made them work better as a team?

Azinger: I changed the selection process, but I think what I really had going for me was that the players that were returning to our Ryder Cup that had experienced all the losing were really engaged. Instead of dreading the event, they got engaged in what I was doing. They saw it as something new and innovative. We created a system with 12 players using a Navy Seal concept to team building and broke them into three four-man groups.

Because eight guys qualified, I picked Steve Stricker, which gave me nine players. I had three three-man teams. We used the Myers-Briggs personality profiling with green lights, caution lights, and red-light personality types. We didn’t have anybody fill anything out, but just through observation, put them in these categories. I would individually call Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim and Justin Leonard, who are in this pod who are green lights together. I said, “You three guys understand what we’re doing.” I would never take them out of their group unless there was an injury or an illness.

Lambros Lambrou
CEO of Commercial Risk Solutions at Aon
Paul Azinger
Four-time Ryder Cup competitor, winning U.S. team captain and NBC’s lead golf analyst.
Margaret Heneghan
Deputy chief people officer at Aon
Sandy Cross
Chief people officer at the PGA of America