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CEO Spotlight: Kevin Strain

CEO Spotlight: Kevin Strain

When you’re a CEO, moments matter. It's amazing how the little things you do can impact the culture. These don’t just affect the culture of your company but also how individuals in your organization feel.

Great CEOs not only connect with the minds but also with the hearts and emotions of employees. Such leaders are able to communicate a compelling and inspiring vision for their organization’s future. The best CEOs understand that they’re always on stage and the mic is on.

In this CEO Spotlight, I sit down to chat with Kevin Strain, President and CEO at Sun Life to learn all about how they’ve intentionally developed an award-winning company culture that has landed them a spot on the 2022 Best Workplaces in Canada list! Here’s how our conversation went:

Lauren: High-performing organizations make employee communications a priority. They know that an engaged workforce contributes to the company’s success but oftentimes, employees have a tendency to move in the direction that they think the people in charge want to go. At Sun Life, how do you make your culture goals, objectives and priorities clear to everyone?

Kevin: As a global company it’s important that we are purpose-driven and that we align our strategy and our actions to deliver on our purpose: helping our Clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. Last year, we launched our refreshed strategy designed to drive bolder outcomes and have greater Client Impact towards delivering on our purpose. We equip our leaders with the tools and resources they need to support our strategy within their teams and business areas. Our people and partners bring the strategy to life by demonstrating the contributions and impact that everyone has in helping us achieve our strategy. Then we share stories to help bring the strategy to life. I’m honoured to lead a company that is empowered by passionate and engaged people, and we’ll continue to nurture a culture that is optimistic, flexible, caring, and supportive of our employees’ success and well-being. 

Lauren: Another pillar of successful culture management is the realization that your culture is always changing. Even if you ignore it, your culture will grow and evolve without asking you. So, how do you practice good culture management?

Kevin: Our Client Impact strategy is driven by our people and an inclusive culture. People and culture are my biggest priorities. Developing and attracting the very best people and creating a culture aligned to our purpose and who we are as a company is critical. We want a culture where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, has equal access to opportunities and resources, and can fully contribute their ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and talent. Our success depends on embracing our diversity. And over the last two years we’ve shown that our culture remains strong whether people work in the office or remotely. That flexibility strengthens our culture and leads to creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Our Sun Life Experience shines a light on our people and culture. This is powered by the passion our people have for our business and our Clients across the world.

Lauren: Culture becomes relevant when it directly connects to the business strategy. Ideally, your company's strategy should be informed by your mission and vision, which in turn guide your company's culture. How do you weave your mission and vision into your company culture at Sun Life?

Kevin: Our Purpose of helping Clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives inspires and guides everything we do. We’re fostering an environment that sets us apart from other employers ─ where you can learn all the time, are empowered to drive outcomes and thrive. Our people are proud to work at a company with a noble purpose. Delivering on our purpose is a part of their daily decision-making. Having employees who champion our purpose and have a mindset of taking action, owning outcomes, caring about each other and thinking like leaders, helps us put Clients at the centre of everything we do.

Lauren: It’s repeatedly said that purpose is the backbone of a strong culture. It binds people working together, in all capacities, to realize rewards beyond financial performance. What are some of the ways that you make work meaningful for your employees?

Kevin: We are passionate about people and creating a culture where they can succeed. We’re intentional about helping them thrive, grow, and advance in their careers. Our leaders play a significant role in making this happen. It includes helping employees understand the value of their work and impact on our Clients, as well as helping them find opportunities within the organization connected to their passions. This is especially true with our approach to “gig opportunities”– we’re providing new opportunities and pathways for employees to skill-up while at work through our new internal talent marketplace and gig system. They have the option to complete an internal gig alongside their regular role to enhance skills and capabilities through meaningful work that supports business needs. Our people can be their most brilliant selves and do purpose-driven work that will have a positive impact on our Clients and communities.

Lauren: Culture is reflected in both what people say and what people do. It’s shaped by how your employees talk about your company and the people connected to your company (e.g., customers, co-workers, managers, and leaders). Tell us what you do to strengthen your company culture?

Kevin: We tell stories. Stories about our purpose. Stories about our careers. Stories about our successes. We listen. We listen to our employees and Clients. We routinely ask employees to participate in pulse surveys that include questions such as how safe they feel to speak up at work; how they’re managing stress and anxiety; what their workstyle preferences are; and more. We build strong teams. We build diverse, inclusive teams that work together remotely and in the office. Improving the Sun Life experience is a key priority for us. Together, we’re focused on creating a supportive, flexible, and inclusive work environment where our people and their careers can thrive.

About Great Place to Work®
Great Place to Work® makes it easy to survey your employees, uncover actionable insights and get recognized for your great company culture. Clients apply our insights, advice, and tools to fuel the vision, decisions and actions that drive business performance. 

Learn more about Great Place to Work Certification.


Lauren O'Donnell