“Channel Us” is sharing of a success story of culture building for creating higher value and fuel optimism for employee engagement.
If we accept that the leader’s job, at its core, is to inspire and support the organization’s collective responsibility to create a better future for the company, then what are the keys to effectiveness? What tools do leaders need at hand for this mission? What mental models must they have? I like to think of good leaders as comparable to skilled locomotive drivers. The train is controlled by a set of switches and levers. In my experience, five such aspects control this train: organizational structure and hierarchy, financial results, the leader’s sense of his or her job, time management and corporate culture.
The CEO of AMP Sanmar Life Insurance Pvt Ltd, India, in 2004, took a definitive control of reorganization and new mode of working of a two year company. This was perfected to execution since the consequences and ideas of reorganization were discussed weeks ahead and communicated explicitly. The leadership team of which I was a part of as their CHRO, I took charge of communication with the team members and the team members understood it as a flexible map for accountability whose purpose is to define goals and optimize resources.
In observing CEOs, I’ve come to the conclusion that the real job of leadership is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a culture. I believe, effective communication is a leader’s single most critical management tool for making this happen. When leaders take the time to explain what they mean, both explicitly (by carefully defining their visions, intentions, and directions) and implicitly (through their behavior), they assert the much-needed influence over the vague but powerful notions that otherwise run away with employees’ imaginations.
Our next agreed business priority was building a culture which would be all about the morale,attitude and teamwork of the 1500 plus employees. A healthy culture, created and maintained, by focusing on the right goals to experience winning in the marketplace.
“The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt about a position over the years is, that there’s just as much strategy in how you present your position as in the position itself. In fact, I’d say the strategy of presentation is more critical.”
Our strategy for effective persuasion involved four distinct and essential steps. First, establish credibility. Second, frame the goals in a way that identifies common ground with all employees we intend to persuade. Third, reinforce our position using vivid language and compelling evidence. And fourth, connect emotionally with their audience.
Our role as HR was to create AMP Sanmar as “A People’s Company”. A frame for common ground was to be identified and created.
AMP Sanmar represented a heady cocktail of the Australian knowledge of the industry and the Indian brainpower. As a three year young company, during 2005, in the highly competitive but growing insurance industry space, we needed to develop a competitive edge over other players in the market. Just like the values a child imbibes would hold him in good stead in his later years, the culture and values we build today would distinguish us from other life insurance companies in the years to come. In the end our people, more than anything else, would be our competitive edge.
The need to create and reinforce a strong culture of trust, customer focus, constructive challenge, responsibility and ownership, team work and walk the talk was brought out by employees during a Fishbowl exercise. This was also reinforced through the Annual Employee Engagement Survey “Tune IN”03. And it is this need that “Channel US” addressed, by reminding us of the important things that we sometimes tend to overlook in the hustle and bustle of everyday work.
Channel US was a journey beginning with an innovative learning experience, designed to bring out the very best in employees. It is simply conveying our company’s values with fun.
The half day programme was set in a riot of colors with ribbons, balloons, posters etc. And amidst the colors, the messages contained on the placards stood out loud and clear, painting a picture of the kind of place that we would want to walk into every morning.
The five-hour programme was conducted in seventeen cities during Feb and March 2005. In each programme the associates responded with passion and vigor that made AMP Sanmar such a great place to work in.
Value and mission statements have become passé’. The Six Levers in Channel US are something one can relate to. They touch the employees at an individual level and connect with the boss, family, colleagues, customers and others. Communicating the Six Levers was a challenge. And we as a team tried to be creative in conceptualizing and putting the whole communication module in place.
The concept of Channel US was capsuled in a 10 minute video. It began with a lively jingle and mascot of Channel US and the AMPSAN. The AMPSAN is actually a symbolic representation of the Channel US programme. He looks like a cell phone and has 6 buttons on him each relating to a lever. These Six Levers are triggers that can initiate a positive energy.
The training philosophy at AMP Sanmar was that the visual is far more powerful than the audio. Therefore each of the levers were explained in a creative fashion through the video. Each leadership team member shared from his personal experiences, a clipping from a movie and short role play by the employees. Throughout the 10 minute “leading with value” there was a lively jingle, created especially for this video. It got all the participants pepped up and soon everyone was humming it.
Talking about the levers and presenting the video is an easy task, but getting the participants to actually experience the levers was the objective of Channel US- To initiate a process of discovering learning.
There were six games in all. One for each of the levers
The focus of the game Walk the Talk was, talking is easy but walking is the tough part. The example of Gandhiji was cited, he was a leader who lead by example. Someone who inspired others to follow him.
Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.
The value of Customer Focus had a very interesting game where the larger group is divided into four or five groups. The leader of each of these groups was given one minute to find out the need of the customer. The leaders got back to the team and in the time allotted, prepared a product based on what the customer asked them. A person from each team then displayed the product and the product closest to what the customer asked got the prize. This was an exercise in understanding and delivering what the customer wanted. Even if you want to be helpful, it doesn’t work if you don’t understand the customer’s need! Key messages ensuing from this game were: Innovation pays; be simple and clear; the questions should be simple; be sincere; when it comes to a customer, it’s really important to listen; the value added is equally important.
Trust-The easiest to talk about and the most difficult to practice. The participants tried their hand at the trust fall game where each person had the opportunity to fall backwards on the waiting hands of their team members. The learning from this game was that building an environment of trust does not come easily. It is tough work and stems from various small actions and responses, being open to team members' ideas, helping people around etc.
To create awareness about the need for Responsibility and Ownership in each of our roles, the teams were given old magazines and newspapers and were asked to create a collage to depict this lever. The creativity and enthusiasm was overwhelming.
The value holding together the other values is “ Team Work”. To help the participant experience that every member of the team is important and being co-operative and appreciative of your team member brings out the best individually and together as a team. The game for this was putting together a large 21 piece puzzle of the Channel US logo.
The last of the experiential learning games was the Reporting Game. It was another highly participative exercise where each team was given an assignment to represent a particular newspaper and report on their overall experience with one of the Six Levers.
More than anything, Channel US was that it allows people to communicate about what is going wrong in the company and also being open about what is also going right. This helps in building an open culture. It’s impact might not be immediate, but as most of us as senior executives of the company believed, it was bound to make a positive contribution to the culture of the company and at the end of the day to the bottom line.
What’s more, these Six Levers were a part of our performance management system.
An “ACE” in your pocket. ACE = Awarding Contributions of Employees.
To reinforce and sustain the behaviors and attitudes that we wished to spread through Channel Us we have designed a recognition scheme ACE –this was also launched along with Channel US.
Are we always motivated only with cold, hard cash? The answer is an emphatic “NO”. A high performance reward culture is built on more than mere monetary compensation. A robust recognition program helps foster a culture of appreciation and co-operation where each employee learns that his/her efforts do fit into the greater scheme of things. He also learns to value the efforts of others. Keeping this in mind the ACE (Awarding for the Contributions of Employees) was designed. What it recognizes is simple display of attitude and behaviors which are in tune with Channel US, the identified levers and excellence in day –to- day tasks. In order to make the award selection transparent and fair, most of the nominations were in the hands of the employees. Once the nomination is made, the process then took feedback from both the employee’s superior as well his peers.
The recognition categories were clear. They included: exemplary mentoring, employee referrals, contribution to the success of the team, recognizing employees who are Unsung Heroes, Quality Champions and Employee of the Year. The diversity and expanse of the ACE programme is such that everyone stands a chance of being recognized. This program raised hopes and aspirations of everyone who gave their best to the success of the company.
Any employee could nominate a colleague for demonstrating and living AMP Sanmar’s core values. We believed that this was one of the reasons that the program would be successful and that it was not HR/Management driven. It was in the hands of each employee to make this initiative successful.
Creating an Ethical Environment. We had a code of Business Ethics!
The Business Ethics handbook –The Ampsan Way was released in Oct 2004 and this was reinforced along with the Channel US launch. We believed that ethics were important for the employee as well as the organization. More so it told us exactly what behavior the company expected from us. Just as the rules of the game in any sport are non-negotiable, so was it at our company.
Tune in: AMP Sanmar’s Employee Survey “Tune In” was conducted post the Channel US launch. The participation was 96% with a total staff strength of 694 taking part in the survey. The average level of engagement for General Work Ethics, Leadership, Development, Process and Support, Understanding of the business went up by 5% on an average as compared to 2003.