As he approaches a decade as chair of Access, Lloyds Banking Group’s disability network, John Turner is well-placed to comment on the challenges of leading such a network. He is refreshingly blunt about them.
‘It is important to understand how absolutely everything around you is changing,’ says John, who runs a loan management team in Lloyds Commercial Banking division. ‘The world is not the same as it was 20 years ago. You can’t expect your organisation to be.
Access itself is now nearly 20 years old. ’I think we had it easy when I started as chair in 2010. Disability was ahead of the game. But other strands have caught up. We have five colleague networks at the bank now. Gender, LGBT, ethnicity, family matters… they have all moved in the last five years and rightly so. In disability we’ve seen a greater focus on mental health. Again quite rightly. It was the unspoken part of disability for years. Those with more physical disabilities can feel less supported. That isn’t the case. The support mechanisms are so much better now. It’s just that we’re in catch-up on these other things.
‘Disability is more complex than a change of attitudes so will always be a bit of a fight. It’s not just about prejudice or career progression, it’s also about the fundamental tools to do your job while managing a long-term condition or impairment. Disability can be frightening. People may say they’re proud to be disabled but many would also say they’d rather not be disabled. So there’s a complexity there that doesn’t exist in quite the same way with the other strands.’
John believes it’s important therefore to be clear what a disability network is there to do. ‘We’re trying to support people at every level - awareness-raising, career progression, connecting with others. We hold focus groups to find out what the issues are and what is going well. We aim for one a month. But we can’t support individuals in a one-to-one way,’ he says. ‘We’re not a counselling network. The bank has very good processes to support specific colleagues.’
Indeed, it’s important for the network to reach beyond disabled colleagues. ‘Your experience as a disabled colleague is only as good as your line manager so we support line managers, raising awareness of where support is available. It’s challenging for them. Every disability, every disabled colleague, is different.’
John says network leaders need to ‘really understand the organisation you work for’. (For that reason, he is opposed to the idea of a full-time network role.) And to get away from their own disability. ‘Don’t see the world through your eyes, everybody’s situation is different.’
‘The attitude “it won’t happen to me” may be a good thing overall as it keeps people positive but it’s a challenge for network leaders,’ says John, who is partially-sighted. ‘Talking about my eyesight doesn’t always resonate with people but in 2012 I had a heart attack - the result of a genetic defect - and talking about having that experience at the age of 47 often resonates more. People think that could happen to me.’
Organisation is crucial. ‘You need to manage limited resources, especially time, and find a balance with the day job. If you neglect the network for too long it will be damaging. A clear structure helps here. We have a committee that meets regularly face-to-face, a steering committee and develop an annual plan with specific objectives. A lack of structure also affects recruitment and retention of volunteers.’
John goes on: ‘the best leaders are ones you don’t want to let down. You follow because you want to not because you’re frightened.’ That is particularly important in a voluntary network role. ‘Volunteering is not of itself an honourable thing to do. It only becomes so if you follow through on it. Once you’ve volunteered you need to be as committed as if it were your day job.’
For all the changes, John says the main challenge for a network leader is much the same as ten years ago: ‘getting our voice heard in an organisation of 70,000 people spread across the country in a variety of working environments.
‘Having access to more and more means of communication can actually make communication more difficult. Social media is a great opportunity to deliver more to colleagues but it’s a very full space. You need to do something different to stop people hitting the trash button.
‘We live video broadcast our annual national event. We try to hold smaller events across the whole country. We actually print hard copies of one issue each year of our quarterly newsletter. We develop online chat forums to keep up with technology. We provide mentoring, job-shadowing and everything else you’d expect from a long-standing, well-run, well-supported network but nonetheless even after ten years of trying I still meet colleagues who have never heard of Access.’.
At PurpleSpace we admire John’s capacity to embrace change and be frank about the challenges that it brings. Not all networks will feel that they or disability as an issue was ahead of the curve. A leader needs to be willing and able to analyse their area of operation and we found his insight into the challenges facing disability compared to other protected-characteristic strands very thought-provoking. (Each strand will have its own specific challenges, of course.) Provoking thought doesn’t just make for good leadership, it makes for a great network. Just one reason why we reckon everybody with an interest in Networkology ought to have heard of Access - not just Lloyds staff. John will be joining us to share leadership tips at our face to face networking event on 26th February 2019.
LLOYDS BANKING GROUP FACT BOX
- Founded as a private bank in 1765 by button maker John Taylor and Quaker iron producer Sampson Lloyd in Birmingham.
- First branch opened in Oldbury, 1864
- Lloyds Banking Group currently has: over 30 million customers, approximately 70,000 employees and over 2,000 branches throughout the UK
- Main brands: Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland, and Halifax
- Access disability network has about 5,000 members, disabled and non-disabled colleagues alike
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