In a leadership meeting recently, a large P&C carrier brought up the topic of human capital as a key building block to global excellence.
Where does the industry stand on this? Perhaps it depends on the size of company, but it's fair to assume that most insurers are concerned about attracting and retaining the highest caliber talent, from backfilling positions due to retiring IT personnel to scouring the world's higher education system to encourage bright and talented people to enter the industry.
The group agreed that leaders have a responsibility long after the attract-and-acquire phase of their companies' efforts, specifically to model the types of behaviors that exemplify an agreed-upon philosophy: Be all that you can be, and the best at what you do.
The executives provided personal stories of how they applied that mission to their own personal and professional lives. Their stories were of common conflicts, challenges and successes, as well as lessons learned along the way that have been passed along through sponsorship programs to their mentees.
"I tell them, don't go through life with a carrot in front of your nose," said the highest ranking executive at the meeting. "It's distasteful. It's important to be mindful of the next step, but don't make that your focus.'"
That comment, while distinctive, may be challenged by the fact that since human capital has emerged as one of the most important assets within a winning organization, it's pretty clear that insurers with an eye on innovation and quality improvement are eager to do whatever is necessary to retain those top-most employees.
True, a careful balance must be established between focusing on the immediacy of the job at hand and the aspirations that are a natural offshoot of the mentor/mentee connection. After all, it's commonly understood that in the most typical of relationships- between a top-down mentor/mentee-the subordinate is being guided and groomed to grow into a similar role as that of his/her mentor's. Insurers that don't promote the development and growth of its employees are considered at a competitive disadvantage.
In other words, it's a two-way street. Insurance executives hoping to improve the productivity and performance of their employees as a way to drive innovation, whether within their own areas or across functional areas, won't get away with a simple "thank you" to those employees for superior performance. At least not for long.
In fact, the entire premise of our industry's growth, stability and competitive advantage is inherently tied to those mentees chasing a carrot that the insurer has placed in front of them. Granted, there are many ways to motivate an employee climbing the corporate ladder; but if the employee's insurer doesn't offer some sort of carrot, the competitor will.
So, perhaps the discussion needs to be on defining what that carrot should be-and what it shouldn't be.
Rather than looking at the carrot as a package of salary, perks, rank and title (not necessarily in that order), maybe it should be viewed as a holistic end state defined by individualized personal and professional achievements. In either case, those hungry enough will contribute the value necessary to determine their organization's success.
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