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The power inside Featured

11:17am EDT September 8, 2004
Robert Joyce is keenly aware that the key to his company's success lies with its employees.

"Our No. 1 one business goal is to attract, develop, empower and retain quality people," says the chairman and CEO of Westfield Group, a diversified financial services firm with more than $2.3 billion in assets.

Accordingly, the Westfield Center-based company offers continuous training opportunities for its 2,500-plus employees, including innovative leadership development programs for the senior management team. Joyce oversees an aggressive succession planning initiative that equips the company's next generation of leaders with a wide range of skill sets.

To complement these, Westfield undertakes extensive internal and external branding efforts designed to drive home its manta of "Sharing knowledge. Building trust."

"Happy employees make happy customers," says Joyce, "because the touch point of our employee is the customer. We're not selling a widget. Our business is plain service, policy service. So you've got an employee in front of the customer."

Part of Joyce's goal is accomplished through the organization's hosting of two premier junior golf tournaments at its corporately owned Westfield Group Country Club. The Junior PGA Championship has been played there every July since 2001; the Junior Ryder Cup, which will be held Sept. 11 and 12, is making its first appearance at Westfield this year.

Joyce says the company's commitment to youth-related ventures such as the tournaments, as well as programs including the Academic Challenge and the Westfield Group Youth Theatre Series at Cleveland's Playhouse Square Center, underscores the goal of continuous education. He likens the life skills taught in golf, which he calls "a gentleman's game," to the processes used at Westfield for his employees.

Golf, Joyce says, instills sportsmanship, etiquette and integrity.

"These are strong values that people need to use for the rest of their lives," he says.

Smart Business hit the links with Joyce at Westfield Group Country Club to discuss how the company communicates with its agents, trains employees and develops the next generation of leaders.

Westfield uses full-time employees and an independent agent network to sell its products and services. How do you educate independent agents?

First, we have a training arm for continuing education. The states have a continuing education requirement for agents, so we will deliver either in-house or contracted education for them.

Two, around delivery and topical issues, we have a magazine that comes out every six months called the Deck Page (named after the form that includes the terms, limits and conditions of the policy).

We also have a very interesting approach to new entrants into the business. That is an agency association -- a group of eight agents that actually meet with the management team four times a year around business issues. They sponsor what we call the APP program -- the Agents Perpetuation Plan. Most of our agents are small businesses, and they have to perpetuate the business.

We have a basic course in insurance that lasts four weeks. We'll bring new people in and they run that program for our agents. Education is critical.

Westfield runs numerous training programs for its full-time staff. How do you measure ROI, and what metrics do you use on new programs you launch?

At the highest level, it will cut right to the bottom line. If you are talking about basic sales skills, that's direct revenue. You invest in sales skills and you can see and measure behavior and determine whether it generates revenue, and more importantly, if it generates the right revenue. If you have good performance management metrics, you can measure that.

Leadership training is a bit more difficult. We've done a fair amount of training around execution, just developing managers with a mindset of putting a business plan together and executing it. You can come out of those meetings and build very specific measurable parameters to look at. What we do for leadership training is use a model for strategy and execution. We come out of those with very specific measurable things.

The first was to take a look at the vision statement and drive a better understanding of purpose. Our vision statement talks about not just what we want to be, but also our desire and our mission -- delivering on our promises and creating peace of mind.

We felt people weren't really connecting to that. So one of the things we wanted to do was go out, change that message and make sure it drove through the organization. We can measure that. So we do employee surveys and point blank ask the question and measure the answers we get back.

We also ask if they feel they're adequately trained. And, we talk about behaviors. One of the things we're doing is generating behavior norms that we want to see in management.

I think when you do training, one of the things that we are very purposeful about is setting very clear objectives for when we're finished. Saying, OK, we've got this training session for three or four days, what are the things we expect, and how are we going to measure them?

We do this with everything. If you look at our business plan, we create annual SMART objectives -- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related. We drive very hard around that. And the better you do at that, the better you're able to measure the results.

Which particular programs stand out as successful?

We just had a wonderful experience with an Army general, Harold Nelson (Brigadier General, ret. 1995). He does two leadership experiences, one around the battle of Gettysburg and the other around the invasion of Normandy.

Gettysburg is interesting because of how Gen. (Robert E.) Lee and his generals shaped that battle. Two years ago, I took my leadership team out and we dealt with the leadership attributes of those people (the generals) and how the lessons of Gettysburg relate to business issues today -- what strategies were set up, how Lee dealt with his top leaders, behavior, communication and teamwork. It's a very powerful experience.

This year, we had one of our senior managers take his team out and deal with execution (of strategy).

How important is Westfield's succession plan to your overall strategy?

We have a very specific succession planning process. I review with my board 20 senior positions with regard to succession. We take it down two levels below our CFO. What comes from it is a dialogue with the individual about development and what they need to do to get into those jobs.

The development is as important to us as if I got run over by a bus tomorrow and somebody needed to assume my job. The board knows specifically we'll discuss it every six months. We've been doing this process for the past three years.

And we're relentless at identifying and training people to have available skilled people for the next position -- we put a chart together with names on it and follow it. We call it the chessboard.

Seventy percent of what we learn comes from our experiences, so what we want to do is create different sets of experiences for our leaders. We want to cross those experiences, and at a certain level, we move these people around.

It's a bit challenging to do, because if someone's got a talented individual in their department, they're a little reluctant to give them up. But it forces us to recognize that the greater good of the organization has to be served. And, it also gives them (the employees) a better understanding of the entire organization.

What spurred the creation of this strategy?

Four years ago, we realized we had not done a good job. We'd brought people in and done the basics, but done very little to energize or develop new skills, or even leadership skills.

So what we did was have the human resources leader go out and hire an organizational psychologist, who works in the career enhancement center. These development experiences are all designed by him.

For example, at my level (senior management), three years ago we took 10 people to Harvard and talked about competition and strategy. Two years ago, we did the experience with Harold Nelson and Gettysburg and talked about strategy and battlefield experience. This year, we took strategy and execution to the next level.

We also talk about developing a series of competencies around those job skills. All of our jobs have very clear competencies and behaviors. We've taken our entire organization over the past three years and redrafted how the jobs work.

How do you take this approach to developing your people and apply it to other companies?

The first thing you have to do is apply a commitment to it. And if you just deal with cost and time, and just carve out something, it's not going to happen. So you have to get into the mindset. If you're not there, you're being shortsighted.

There are a lot of opportunities for companies to participate. The Harvard School or even the Wharton School, Ohio State, Baldwin-Wallace, all of them have affordable programs.

At Baldwin-Wallace, Peter Rea runs the program. We joined up with Peter and Baldwin-Wallace four years ago, along with MTD and Moen and a few others. We pooled money and brought external talent into the region for one-day seminars. Anybody can get into that.

The small businessperson is really looking for someone with whom they can talk and share their problems. They want to learn new things and also develop relationships with people they can reach out to.

If you put your mind to it, there are some quality experiences you can tap into. If you use a good performance management system built around a strong set of metrics, the development attributes will come out of that. The mentoring experience is also strong. But it takes a design and a conscious commitment to it.

You don't always get it right the first time, and you may not get it right the second time. But you have to keep trying. HOW TO REACH: Westfield Group, (800) 243-0210 or www.westfieldgrp.com