2020 Retrospective

3 things I did for the first time

  1. Went two-person Kayaking
  2. Drank Welsh wine
  3. Read Polish fiction, including the wonderful Flights by Nobel-prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk

Events/activities that brought me joy

  1. Getting up in the morning to experience the dawn chorus
    (HT Rob Hopkins)
  2. Being in nature - watching hares box, watching a fox running with a rabbit it had caught in its mouth, clearing horses’ fields, seeing owls, red kites, a kingfisher and a green woodpecker, walking around fields full of cows, and more
  3. Reading Proust
  4. Liverpool winning the league
  5. Holidays
  6. Unearthing and sharing musical memories with friends
The beach at Pagham, where we we stayed on holiday in July

Events/activities that made me sad

  1. My godfather having a stroke
  2. My auntie dying unexpectedly
  3. Cancelled holidays
  4. Not seeing my parents all year

Things that I found particularly challenging

  • I had a stroke — but I survived and I recovered, thanks to expert medical care, and lots of support from a rehab team, family and friends. It meant that I learnt a lot about the brain and neoroplasticity, about stroke, and I guess it’s given me a different appreciation of life and its fragility
  • Not seeing friends — I now value more than ever the time we have together whenever that’s possible
  • Rebecca’s rolfing training was repeatedly postponed — this felt a lesson showing that it’s not really possible to look far ahead


  1. I got promoted at work
  2. I moved from our technology department into a new role in our product organisation, working with our Chief Product Officer
  3. I’ve done three months of physical rehab, which has enabled me to rediscover my left arm and hand after they were paralysed by my stroke and to relearn so many movements that I previously took for granted
  4. I helped to design and implement a program to build psychological safety in Elsevier, the company where I work

Events/activities that helped me grow

  • Working on the psychological safety program helped me to think at scale: Elsevier is a global business; we have nearly 8000 employees and offices worldwide. It was also testament to what a small cross-functional team can achieve when everyone on the team is engaged and cares about the subject matter/outcome
  • I designed and managed a program to foster and support product innovation, which helped me learn more about product discovery, experimentation, testing ideas, and managing expectations
  • I maintained my habit/practice of reading books, balancing both fiction and non-fiction #ReadBooksNotNews
  • I became chair of the board of trustees of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI), an arts and well-being charity working with artists to build creatively healthy communities in and around Cambridge; it’s a local organisation whose values align with mine. Managing, reporting to, or sitting on governance bodies has been a big part of my working life for the past 20 years. But being a member of a board of trustees is the first time I’ve been part of governance in the charity sector, and this is my first time chairing a board. So the experience is helping me to see new angles and dimensions as I continue to try and practice governance as a service.

3 things that I’m grateful for

  1. Surviving my stroke - I’m alive, I’m recovering well, and my work have been amazingly supportive and understanding as I’ve returned to work
  2. Friends — they’ve called me, checked in on me, listened, laughed, shared things, and supported me
  3. Family — Rebecca and our girls (of course), plus this year in particular I’ve been massively grateful for living close to Rebecca’s family, especially her parents, who have amazing throughout the year

What would you have liked to do more of?

  • Spoon carving — after learning to carve in February 2017, I did another course in February this year, where I learnt new techniques and gained confidence. I continued and practised through March and April. But then I fell out of the habit. However, in August I was given some beautiful cherry wood and was beginning to get back into it, when I had my stroke, and I’ve not been able to carve since. Hopefully, I’ll be able to start again next year.

What did you experiment with?

  • I experimented with ways to support our community of managers and senior leaders. My goals were to help these people to learn and grow their non-technical skills; and to share knowledge and help collaboration.
  • I set up a ‘managers guild’, and ran as a series of virtual meet ups, which I facilitated using lean coffee, supported by a slack channel; these brought together people managers from any location (we’re a global organisation) to raise questions and discuss subjects relating to managing people
  • I set up a ‘directors club’ for senior leaders just below our top leadership team. I again ran a series of virtual meet ups, using a variety of techniques (from lean coffee, to presentations/QnA sessions on a particular topic, to an ‘ask me anything’ session with our CTO), also supported by a slack channel.
What people said it takes to be a good manager

What could have gone better?

  • As part of our L&D objective for the year, I joined a small team to develop a clear offering of (non-technical) training for managers, including an ‘onboarding’ program for new managers. We started quite well, but we weren’t particularly agile, we didn’t manage effectively manage the relationship with the supplier we were working with, the project lead was off work for a couple of months for health reasons, and too many of us had competing demands from our day jobs…
  • We nearly bought a new house in August… In the end, someone else bid more than us, and we decided we couldn’t afford it, which was a shame because it would be amazing. At the same time, it turned out that there couldn’t have been a worse time for us to move, so it was probably a good thing.

Habits from 2020 that I want to continue doing

  1. Daily exercise — helps keep me healthy
  2. Daily meditation — helps me stay balanced
  3. Going outside every day — helps me to maintain a sense of perspective

Imagine yourself at the end of 2021. What are big accomplishments that you are proud of?

  1. Our management team is a high-performing team that is great at product leadership.
  2. People across our organisation report that our teams are inclusive and engaged.

What are you looking forward to next year?

  • Rebecca completing her rolfing training
  • Returning to singing in a group
  • My team having a face-to-face meeting
  • Seeing friends
  • Seeing my parents



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Richard McLean

Richard McLean


Senior Business Operations Director @ElsevierConnect. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal acc’t.