'We All Want to Feel a Sense of Belonging;’ A COO Shares Her Strategy for Supporting Her Team

Sponsored by The Hanover Insurance Group

Image Courtesy of The Hanover Insurance Group

Image Courtesy of The Hanover Insurance Group

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Balance and wellness are top priorities for Karen Andrade at The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc, so it makes perfect sense that her desk chair is a stationary bike. Currently VP and COO Business Insurance, she’s been with the property and casualty company for more than a decade total (she did leave for a stint in investment banking before returning), and says “It’s definitely Hanover’s culture, leadership and people that keep me here.” She credits the company with truly living its CARE values of collaboration, accountability, respect and empowerment.

Andrade shared her thoughts on her career at The Hanover, as well as some advice that has served her well. She also talked about how the company is supporting its team during the pandemic, and how getting a move on helps her succeed.

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously? 

In April of 2020, I was promoted to VP and COO, Business Insurance. I have responsibility for leading and developing talent and diverse operations teams in small and middle market commercial operations and specialty operations (property and casualty, professional and executive lines, marine and surety), renewal underwriting for management liability and premium audit (class and premium compliance related per state/bureaus). We are continually optimizing operating models, creating best practices and ensuring we look to modernize and improve. I’m proud to say that these areas are talent multipliers — our team members excel and advance to higher-level roles within The Hanover. Previously, I was in a similar operational leadership role. My responsibilities increased and expanded with additional teams and functions.

You’ve been with Hanover for a decade, although in different roles. What is it about Hanover that makes you stay with them?

More than a decade, if you count my cumulative time. I left The Hanover and was in investment banking and finance. Came back after receiving a call from human resources! It’s definitely Hanover’s culture, leadership and people that made me come back and keep me here. I want to be here. The culture is entrepreneurial where everyone is willing to work hard and leaders are accessible.  

Our executive leadership team invests in inclusion and diversity and business resource groups, where we are establishing support networks, continued community presence and integration, and growing awareness and educating. Diversity and inclusion bring value in so many ways. We certainly have a long journey ahead, and the great part is, we have started and are continuing to invest.  

Our leaders and employees live our CARE values. It’s important to many of us to be in an organization with integrity. We strive to reward and incent based on demonstrating our values. We all want to feel a sense of belonging. Creating these forums and networks is an integral part of respecting and including people who have diverse backgrounds, thoughts and experiences. The more we have this in our fiber, the better we will be as a company and community.  

What about your work do you find most exciting? 

Supporting or helping someone understand something or “own their business and outcomes.”  It’s so satisfying to see someone grinning ear-to-ear because they experienced a growth moment or overcame a barrier to accomplish what they previously believed they couldn’t do.  It’s an amazing energy boost, I’m addicted! Also love the opportunity to learn more deeply about insurance, influencing positive outcomes and optimizing processes. There is plenty to learn at The Hanover. People tend to be kind about sharing their knowledge and providing context around the products, businesses and distribution.  

Managing people is not easy. How has Hanover or your own manager helped set you up for success?

Hanover invests in people. I have recently had the opportunity to participate in an executive leadership forum where we were aligned with coaches and worked directly on things we wanted to improve, areas of focus and using our strengths. They provided tools, reflection processes and methods to show up with our best selves (all a work in progress) as leaders. An amazing experience and an example of how The Hanover continues to invest in our leadership acumen.  

I currently have the good fortune of working for a Fairygodboss, and my goal is to pay it forward to others and ensure we advocate for our talent, create inclusive conversations and respect various inputs and opinions.  

I value the ability to have honest conversations, provide differing points of view and challenge the status quo with my leader. She encourages me to be forthcoming, ensures we are thoughtful and continues to be my best advocate and sounding board. She is also candid, which I appreciate. I do not take that for granted as I’ve never had a more supportive, kind leader. She is a remarkable person, leader and role model. 

The current pandemic has upended the workplace and home life for almost everyone. What’s changed for you in terms of your goals, day-to-day responsibilities and leading your team?

I think mainly the acknowledgement that while we are all experiencing the effects of the pandemic, we are not all having the same experiences and we are not able to navigate in the same ways. Leaders have to be the most adaptive here to support their teams, embracing the new norms.

Our goals haven’t changed, most of the change is in how we achieve our goals, how we interact and the frequency of interaction. We have increased the number of check ins, quick notes, etc., outside of our scheduled time with each other. I have more frequent touch points with my team members. Sometimes multiple touch points a week.  

We needed to be more thoughtful about how we onboard new hires since we couldn’t have people go to a location. It’s hard to absorb company norms and protocol virtually. We had to shift to building a virtual onboarding portal, training curriculum and content.

The lines of home and work felt extremely solid in the past, but these have become more blurred. We’ve had parents managing the ever-changing schooling situation with their children who are in class, at home, at school, and oh wait, back home… We are trying to accommodate all schedules, like meetings at 7 p.m. “after bed time” to connect. It’s really been nice to see and hear more about the people with whom we work. I don’t think we would have ever gotten such an intimate view. We have the opportunity to “meet” the next generation of employees, furry friends and family. 

Our executive leaders have been transparent, continue to update on the business expectations and continue to check in regarding team morale. It’s meaningful to all of us.

What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual (or team) that you think has been particularly effective? 

Be willing to work with your team, titles and roles aside. When you reach leadership, people perceive that you automatically know what to do and how to lead a team. It’s nice to be able to work together and create the discipline of how to manage change, how to set expectations and follow through.  

We have working sessions where we learn, as well as critical conversations to evolve and continue to improve our outcomes and our acumen. We focus our time on getting crisp: What is the outcome we are trying to achieve, why, how does it align with and support the strategic imperative, how do we recognize success, what’s the timing, communication, are we following our guiding principles? Why does the number or characteristic matter? What are our customers saying, feeling, expecting? I think we can continue to build and have a safe forum to work through and invite different points of view. 

What is your number one piece of advice for others who are moving into leadership? 

I think I came up with a series of clichés that I so believe. Know why you want to be a leader. Recognize people are observing you at all moments and taking your cues. It’s important to be energized by overall successes and ensure we lead by pulling others forward and letting them run past us as leaders. Ask for help, be a courageous leader. Let others shine in the light, it always projects back. You are the one people are trusting to listen, to engage, to inspire and to grow. Earn it every day by doing the right things for the right reasons in the right way. It’s not as important for your way to be the right way. (By the way, humble pie can be delicious!)  

What’s something you enjoy doing in your downtime?

Spending time with my family, reading, hiking – outdoors in general, gardening, and home improvement projects. I usually can “see” a fantastic outcome or change the air flow to move better – I like to think I can anyway!  


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