Appointing a COO, Diversity, and Workplace Flexibility with Laura Ann Howell of Reliance Partners

Future of Supply Chain, Episode 41

By: Santosh Sankar & Matt McHugh

In this episode of the Future of Supply Chain podcast, we spoke with Laura Ann Howell, COO of Reliance Partners. We discussed how to know when a business needs a COO, diversity, and workplace flexibility. 

Reliance Partners is a leader in the transportation and logistics insurance space. They have working relationships with thousands of warehouse operators, third-party logistics providers, and motor carriers. Their mentality to “Go the Extra Mile” has led Reliance Partners to be a leader in the industry, and as one of the very first Reliance hires, Laura has helped the company to grow and thrive. 

Laura got her education between 2007-2011 at the University of Georgia where she double-majored in Spanish Language and Literature as well as Risk Management and Insurance. She got her start working in operations and HR, and quickly became a vocal proponent of employee experience. Her early career helped to shape her aptitude at guiding employees. 

Now, as COO of Reliance, Laura has helped to develop the company culture, tone, and operational processes. She has helped to problem-solve at every level of Reliance’s operations, helping the company to run smoothly - and to take risks and shake things up when necessary. 

“I find myself successful in my role because I can help advise and troubleshoot with anyone on the team at any level,” Laura says.

Reliance Partners-Best Medium Workplaces 2019

Source: Reliance Partners

When a business needs a COO

The exact description and duties of a COO vary from one company to the next, as well as from one person to the next. Sometimes, businesses may find it quite difficult to ascertain whether or not they need a COO to help guide their progress and efforts. 

A significant part of leadership is being able to take control and reliably guide the team through the various demands of operations. A company’s leaders must provide impeccable guidance.

“Success starts with leadership,” Laura says. “You need your top leaders to tell you that there are no more excuses.”

According to Laura, the need for a COO arises when leaders find themselves making decisions that fall outside of their skill sets. Specifically, when the needs of business operations and growth start to demand that leaders are forced to make choices about operations that they lack the expertise to optimize. 

Laura says being flexible in addressing the team’s needs is of utmost importance. It’s also important for leaders to understand the various aspects of operation well enough to provide guidance. 

Diversity

There are well-established guidelines as to what diversity in the workplace should look like. While it is important to remember these potential manifestations of diversity, Laura says there are additional aspects of workplace diversity that may not be obvious at first glance. 

While a workplace team might be diverse in background and ethnicity, there is more to them than meets the eye. The life experiences that shaped these people are equally important. 

“Diversity comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, looks and feels, but I think diversity of experience certainly lends itself to a really collaborative team,” she says.

It’s critical to make use of your team’s diverse experiences and talents and use these to the benefit of the business. For example, Reliance recruits and hires a wealth of Spanish-speaking talent to make connections with transportation companies that use Spanish as their primary language. 

According to Laura, this creates a significant strategic advantage. 

“We focus primarily on Spanish-speaking talent,” she says. “A lot of trucking companies across the country are primarily or exclusively Spanish-speaking, so we have a massive competitive advantage over our competitors by employing Spanish-speaking sales and service teams.”

Workplace Flexibility

Finally, Laura emphasizes the significance of allowing flexibility in the workplace. Diversity in the workplace team also translates to diverse personal needs amongst employees. 

Valuing employees and providing for their needs will ensure that those employees are willing and able to get the job done.

“It's my responsibility as a leader in this space to make sure that my management teams understand why flexibility is a priority and that we make decisions that meet our teams needs--and everyone's needs are different,” she says.

To listen to the full Future of Supply Chain episode featuring Laura, click here