Learning COVID-19 Action Recording: 161 Years of Learning to Face Today’s Challenges, with Equitable's Amaris McComas Meeting Notes - 8/27/20

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause unprecedented impact to business, employers, and employees, human capital leaders continue to face both short- and long-term challenges. Since March, i4cp has held a weekly series of calls specifically for Learning and Talent leaders to discuss problems and share ideas regarding L&D strategy, remote training, virtual leadership development, and more. Each week, hundreds of executives join these calls to hear from their community and access the latest research from i4cp's Coronavirus Employer Resource Center.

This week’s Learning and Development action call featured special guest is Amaris McComas, Head of Talent, Strategy, and Transformation at Equitable, a life insurance company that is over 150 years old and has primary offices in New York City, Syracuse, and Charlotte. McComas was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes and senior research analyst Tom Stone.

  1. COVID-19 has reduced boundaries. McComas described how the COVID-19 pandemic, including notably at Equitable the shift to remote work, has eliminated many previous boundaries in the organization. The hierarchy of employees has receded into the background, as all appear equally when on Zoom call. Such meetings also have given everyone some windows into the lives of their fellow employees, importantly including top leaders. McComas noted that even the CEO has interacted directly with far more employees than previously. As a result of these changes, awareness, tolerance, and empathy have increased, all of which she said the company will work to retain going forward, as they are positive for work-life balance by reducing the need for employees to have two personas (work and home).
  2. Resiliency has also been demonstrated at a high-level. McComas noted that everyone has been working as hard as ever, even during these challenging times. They have demonstrated a high-degree of resiliency, tackling each challenge with high-levels of engagement resulting in strong productivity and outcomes.
  3. New dimensions are being added to organizational culture. McComas described how important having a strong corporate culture is, noting that small improvements have an outsized impact because they change mindsets that then affect all behaviors and actions. To this end, a focus at Equitable has been on developing adaptive leadership skills to empower better work and decisions. An aspect of this that resonated with participants on the call was McComas’ emphasis on leaders and an environment that provide psychological safety for all. This leadership approach has required some changes in language, and emphasizes listening skills, the ability to ask the right questions, and at times a degree of vulnerability on the part of leaders. Their adaptive leadership program was developed in-house, and then rolled out to the entire organization at once, not for only top leaders first.
  4. Equitable has not shied away from the DEI conversation. In the past couple months, Equitable has not shied away from having critical conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Instead, they set up company-wide forums that were open, not scripted, and made sure everyone felt included. McComas described these as the most powerful initiative she’s ever been a part of. Their CEO is leading—not just sponsoring—a task force to advance racial equity and drive Black careers. They’ve also had a diversity speaker series and are connecting DEI into everything they do.
  5. Six-months into the pandemic, learning leaders are focusing on a variety of initiatives. We asked an open chat question during the call: What one or two Learning and Development initiatives are getting your greatest attention right now? The top response was continuing to provide learning and support resources for remote work and virtual teams. Others noted initiatives around psychological safety, operational excellence, leadership, decision making, and adaptive mindset.

Please see the the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.


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