Ensuring Employee Development

 -  2/26/11

  Return to: http://talentmgt.com/articles/view/ensuring_employee_development_/

With nearly 70,000 employees serving customers in more than 170 countries, Zurich Financial Services, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., is concentrated in three core business segments around the world: general insurance, global life and farmers. As one of the largest writers of commercial general liability insurance in North America, 10,000 of the company’s employees serve small business, midsize markets and large corporate customers in the same market divisions. Although the company is substantial in size and thoroughly dispersed, each Zurich employees is treated as an individual with potential to develop as the company continually expands.

“It’s truly a people business,” said Brian Little, head of human resource and business partnership for Zurich North America. “Zurich in general, but specifically Zurich North America, is an environment that individuals can come into and really grow their career. Not only does our talent management strategy allow an employee to become a niche expert in a particular field; it allows them to completely change careers as well. That’s what makes this a very exciting place.”

TM: What is Zurich North America’s approach to talent management?

Little: It’s driven by a global talent management center of excellence based out of Zurich, Switzerland, that helps coordinate talent management activities across the world. Each country or business division has a talent management team that helps organize the work as well. From a structural perspective, it focuses heavily on our succession management process for key positions, either on a global or a local basis, and then looks at the talent needed to ensure succession planning works while also focusing on good, solid development over a long period of time.

TM: What processes or programs have you established to improve workforce performance?

Little: We do quite a bit of internal and external benchmarking to look at how our competency and skills align against the work that we do and against the market. We use an internally branded program called Zurich People Power, which ensures that we’re very clear about the competencies needed for each position. We then look to understand how that competency aligns from a job family perspective to ensure people get the right development. That works not only here in the United States, but across the world. We have learned that many of the competencies that are important here are also important in quite a few other countries we work in. So we develop programs that can address those needs on an enterprise basis to ensure we continually develop our best people globally.
TM: How is performance management linked to the company’s strategic objectives?

Little: We are focused on creating a high-performance culture. We’re continually looking at where we are against the market in terms of our overall company performance and making sure all of our activities and the way we drive performance links us moving forward in terms of shareholder value, productivity and overall profitability. We use performance management as a way of helping employees and managers have really good discussions about the process, helping them pinpoint where they need to improve or what they’re doing well, and then have a dialogue that takes place throughout the year about their performance and ensure that developmental plans are put in place as part of the process. We have something called the IDP (individual development plan) that focuses on helping individuals not only figure out what they need to focus on in their current job but also for jobs they would like to do in the future — which skills they need to develop as part of that. By using the competencies and then looking at very clear performance objectives for their specific role, we’re able to link that together and make a good development plan.

TM: How does your company work to change or create leadership and management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?

Little: We have a framework called the Zurich Leadership Model, and this leadership model is intended to be a global leadership framework. It really helps us compartmentalize leadership behaviors that we’re looking for within Zurich and the type of behaviors that will help us become more successful as a company. They’re very easily used across different cultures, and, to a certain degree, they’re easy to understand. It gives us a very consistent way of helping to either develop programs or continue to have meaningful dialogue with people about their personal leadership development.

TM: How does Zurich North America develop organizational culture and employee attitudes to optimize workforce performance?

Little: We have a global engagement survey for employee engagement. This survey helps us understand where our culture is in terms of our aspirations, and it helps us have a really good dialogue with people on an enterprise and team level about what’s going on in a group, how things could improve and how we can continue to live the internal brand that we have here at Zurich. [We want to] help employees pinpoint the cultural aspects that have the most meaning for us and do things in a way that will help them enjoy working here and make us the employer of choice.

TM: How does the company use learning and development to manage talent?

Little: Learning and development is critical in a business like ours because we don’t have built-in, artificial systems that a competitor could easily mimic, change or use to quickly catch up with us. Learning and development helps us continually stay ahead of the game. Our learning and development group focuses on both soft and technical skills. We want our employees to learn quickly and be sought after in the marketplace. For example, we have an underwriting training program; an individual could come right out of college not knowing anything about the insurance business or underwriting, and within a year be performing very well as an underwriter in the market. We also have what’s called a Global Associate Program, and one of the things I really like about this is that it’s intended to give people a very broad view of Zurich. Where the underwriting program is much more specific and you quickly get to your core job, the Global Associate Program takes almost a year to go through, and individuals rotate through different types of positions and departments in Zurich so they can see the entire business. They also do assignments outside of the country, and that helps them get a broad view of how large Zurich is and how we work together across different continents and countries. We also have career connection programs; those are mentoring programs to help individuals really find folks who are either inside or outside of their teams who can help grow in their career. They have really good discussions about their current job, their dreams and how they can reach them. Younger employees are typically paired with fairly senior people, and it works well to build strong internal relationships.

TM: How do you measure workforce performance?

Little: We have expectations from a metric perspective of how our business will perform throughout the year, if not on a monthly basis, and we link back to how well we organized around that and what’s our ability to actually deliver against that — whether it’s selling insurance policies or handling customer service inquiries. We use a variety of 360 instruments to measure our success. We measure pretty much everything, and we continually push ourselves to do that better. We know that getting a little bit better every day is really our secret to success, and we continually find ways to celebrate our success as well.

TM: How do you handle succession planning at Zurich North America?

Little: It’s a very structured process that’s done on an annual basis. We back it out from what’s called GEC People Days, which is our global executive group. It’s a two-day session that we do annually to look at our top people across the world, and, with that end in mind, we go through a local succession process that’s based in the business division for business units. Then we look at regional succession planning, for example, North America, and then we look at that along group functions like marketing, HR, and across those functions across the world as well. Then hopefully, in that very organized way, we’re able to build succession plans that really highlight where we need to either attract or develop talent or that we feel pretty strong about [it] and know we’re doing pretty well. It’s a very deep assessment in terms of our overall readiness, in terms of each position that we have in terms of succession, and that has really helped drive a lot of the development activities that we have.

TM: How do you use workforce performance data to drive future initiatives?

Little: We have a strategic workforce plan that we do on a global basis as well as on a country and business division basis. We take a look at that data in terms of, for example, what’s our average age, to where’s our average education, where do people get recruited from. We have a number of different things that we pool to look at data on a regular basis to make an assessment on: Is our workforce appropriate for the goals that we have? Have we attracted the right people for us to be successful in the areas we think we can grow in? We measure against that. From a talent management perspective, we link our strategic workforce plan to our talent management plan, and we try to make sure we have synergy between the two.

TM: What’s next for Zurich North America in terms of talent management and workforce performance development?

Little: We’re adding much more technology to the process. Today, we still do a lot of things via our traditional spreadsheets and browser systems, which are good, but we want to add more science to it by taking the Zurich People Power Process, which looks at competencies among job families, to do more predictive modeling of what our needs will be, not only for today, but in the future. We will be able to pinpoint the exact skills that we need to create training programs to be more proactive than reactive.