Leading People and Robots Alike

How Della Shea manages her team at Symcor through change

Della Shea has plenty of experience managing people. In addition to an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Shea has more than fifteen years of experience in leadership positions in the Canadian financial services industry. Now as the Vice President, Data Governance, and Chief Privacy Officer at Symcor, one of Canada’s leading financial processing services providers, she leads a team of five who ensure good data practices for the entire organization.

In leading her team, Shea has a few principles to which she turns. First, she considers herself a glass-half-full leader who enters each new working relationship with a positive attitude. “It really starts off with trusting individuals to do a great job, to be creative, and to unleash their ability to excel not just for the company, but for their own self,” she says.

Another thing that helps drive her team’s success is recognizing that each individual has a unique role. Shea embraces their differences and recognizes that each team member has his or her own individual expertise. “I have a lawyer who has expertise in legal matters. I have an engineer who’s an expert in process. I have a Six Sigma Black Belt who’s an expert in process efficiencies and operations,” she says. “It creates the ability to collaborate and trust each other and to thrive off of each other.”

There are other, more in-the-trenches ways in which she sets her team up for success, such as having biweekly one-on-one meetings and maintaining an open-door policy. However, those tactics don’t necessarily come into play with the newest addition to her team: a robot named PACT, which standards for Privacy, Compliance, Accountability, and Trust.

PACT may not be as cute as WALL-E or R2-D2, but it’s certainly not as scary as the Terminator. PACT handles processes within the data governance and privacy function that can be automated. For example, it now handles a compliance process that requires collecting about seventy thousand data points and organizing them in a way to generate certain reports. That process would normally take about six hours, but was first reduced to about four minutes, and is now performing the tasks in one minute and twenty-nine seconds. In addition, Shea is looking to add more repetitive, labor-intensive tasks to PACT’s list of responsibilities. The robot even now actually sits on her organization chart.

“I have to treat the robot in the same way that I do humans performing tasks like approving access requests and the like,” she says. “I have to monitor and manage the robot. This is an interesting, new dynamic for me.”

The prospect of automation, however, can be scary. Shea certainly has had pushback, but she didn’t give her team a choice. In fact, she made her team partner with Symcor’s tech team to build PACT. And because of that, the team ultimately has benefitted.

“Not only did they learn something, but they also started to build relationships and pretty deep partnerships with people outside of their regular day-to-day job,” she says. “It gave them a chance to build their network.” Although, she certainly reassured team members, the point of the project was not to automate them out of their jobs. “It’s not a scary thing,” she says. “We’re not trying to replace your job; we’re trying to free you up from doing stuff that this little robot can do.”