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Showing the way Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Dayton Molendorp does not have a final goal in mind that will tell him when he has successfully conveyed his vision for OneAmerica Financial Partners Inc. to his employees.

“I don’t think we ever really arrive at that,” Molendorp says. “Our population is pretty stable, but it turns over and new people join the organization. It’s a constant drumbeat. One of the responsibilities of leadership is to provide clarity and focus and to just keep that in front of every one of our associates.”

When you have 1,500 employees, that’s not always easy to do, says the financial services firm’s chairman, president and CEO. You need to find opportunities to deliver a message that your employees will hear and respond to.

More than just giving a speech, it’s putting yourself in situations where both your words and your actions convey a message to your target audience.

“You don’t go out to involve yourself in the community just to drive your mission and vision,” Molendorp says. “You go out to support things that have value and that will make the community a better place for the employee base and the greater good. In the process of that, you get a platform to represent your organization.”

More than 600 employees volunteer each year to help with the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. That throng of people delivers a clear message about the company’s commitment to the community.

“But we also think it’s another way for our employees to tie into our mission and our vision and to tie into our brand,” Molendorp says. “Once an employee buys in to that simple vision, they are more effective in lots of ways. They carry the brand. They carry the mission of the organization. They carry the ethos of the organization and that becomes a culture.”

Since it’s those employees who interact with OneAmerica customers more than Molendorp himself, that means he has a better chance at putting his firm’s best foot forward to retain old customers and attract new ones. In recent years, the firm has done a good job of both, hitting $1.1 billion in revenue for 2008.

Here is how Molendorp communicates his vision and gets employees to see the meaning behind it to help drive growth at OneAmerica.

Figure out what you do

Molendorp had to convince employees to support his vision and show them how their support would help the company grow. But if they were going to be effective flag bearers for OneAmerica, they had to understand the vision and know what their role was in fulfilling it.

“Leadership has to be continually coaching,” Molendorp says. “You have to say it, say it again and find a different way to say it. Find a different way to reinforce it and find a problem situation and talk about why the fixing of it is important to what we’re trying to do.”

One of the different ways OneAmerica found to communicate its message and generate employee support was through the creation of an in-company TV station called Channel OneAmerica. Flat-screen monitors were installed in each of the elevator bays to deliver a variety of messages meant to home in on the company’s vision.

“One of their peers is on the screen talking about what we are doing and talking about how they live out our values in their position or area of responsibility,” Molendorp says. “They hear from our field distribution partners who they know or have heard of. From time to time, they hear from me. … We work hard at reminding people at every opportunity why we’re here and how we do what we do and why we do what we do.”

A clear and identifiable vision that everyone can get behind is much harder to misinterpret and is essential to reducing the risk of miscommunication as the message cascades through the organization.

“What is your purpose for being there?” Molendorp says. “What do you have to do as an organization to make sure you continue in that position to deliver that value? I think those things fall out pretty clearly when you are focused on the vision and purpose.”

Molendorp says the conveyance of your company’s vision is akin to the steady, constant sound of a drumbeat. It’s a message that must constantly be communicated in many different forms to a variety of people.

“One of our challenges is to help people find a way to understand that no matter whether they are working in the mailroom or paying the claim on the product at the time it’s needed the most, everybody in the enterprise partners in the delivery of that benefit,” Molendorp says.

He flashes back a couple of years to a situation where OneAmerica was working with a single mother who was dying and wanted to make sure her kids would be taken care of.

Her poignant story was captured in the company’s annual report.

It’s all about putting some meaning behind the things your employees do to get them to see the value in it. At OneAmerica, it’s often a life-and-death issue that can produce an emotional response fairly easily. But any company can make a connection with employees between what they do and how it helps people.

“Let’s talk about manufacturing,” Molendorp says. “I’ve never been in that role, but I could imagine you have a lot of folks that are building a product. If that product isn’t linked to the marketplace in a meaningful, responsive way, then over time, they don’t have job security. You want your employees to understand the product they are building.”

It all starts with you and your ability to effectively communicate the message to your leadership team and then down the line to your employees.

“If you come into a great organization and sit down with the CEO and hear what’s going on and go down to the division level and down to the unit level and you get the same message, good things are happening,” Molendorp says.

When you’ve built a strong team that supports your vision, good results will follow.

“If you focus on the profit, you’re at the wrong end of the equation,” Molendorp says.

Track how well you do it

Molendorp places a lot of importance on the amount of loyalty his employees show toward OneAmerica’s vision. Since it is such a crucial part of the company’s growth goal, he needed a way to monitor progress.

“It’s very important in any organization [that] if you want to improve, you have to know where you start from and you have to keep score and you have to keep a dashboard in front of your folks,” Molendorp says.

“The dashboards allow us to gauge our progress and provide a visual compass for where we need to be in the future. Linking each division’s goals and objectives with enterprise metrics enables each employee to understand how their teams fit into and support the organization’s vision, values and goals.”

The dashboards at OneAmerica appear on each employee’s computer monitor.

“My screen just changed to measuring our progress, and it says ‘promises delivered’ at the top and then it breaks down our pillars: excellence, strength and growth,” Molendorp says. “Then it breaks those down so that everybody in the building can begin to see where they fit in the delivery of that.”

Information and data displayed on the dashboards should be something that can be viewed at a glance and require minimal time and energy to digest.

“Don’t overcomplicate information,” Molendorp says. “Keep it short, simple and to the point. To reinforce the message, employ repetition and consider using themes.”

One of the most popular themes at OneAmerica is auto racing.

“We’ve had Michael Andretti talk to our employees to say what teamwork is all about and how it’s important in the racing world and how it translates to our world,” Molendorp says. “We just vary the content on a regular basis.”

In addition to variety, the message needs to be timely and honest, regardless of whether it is good or bad news you are sharing. The quickest way to kill the effectiveness of the dashboard concept is to censor what goes on the screen and focus only on the positive things that are happening.

“That’s why you measure,” Molendorp says. “That’s why you have a dashboard. Leadership always deals with the facts. Some people say you need to face the brutal facts. I just like to say you have to deal with facts and you can’t shoot the messenger. You want bad news because if you don’t get it, you don’t know what you need to work on.”

It’s the linkage of clear and measurable goals in various departments and their connection to the larger company goals that can help create a sense of team and encourage individuals to work together to meet these benchmarks.

“I look for innovative approaches that will keep employees engaged in meeting our company goals,” Molendorp says. “This approach helps us focus on what’s most important and then drives the creation of a compelling scoreboard that holds everyone accountable for our progress.”

To broaden buy-in on the dashboard approach, you need to work with departments throughout the company to make sure everyone’s viewpoint is being addressed and as much pertinent information is being shared as possible.

“Leave the door open by asking for employee suggestions,” Molendorp says. “Also, to ensure you’re on track and that employees fully understand how their work affects the bottom line, make sure they understand what the information on the dashboards is conveying.”

At the end of the day, you need to remember that the dashboard system is in place to help you and your employees do their jobs. So don’t get in the way.

“We have to understand that it’s not really about us, it’s about the vision,” Molendorp says. “I’m convinced that 90 percent of our people come to work wanting to make a great contribution, and sometimes we get in the way of that. My job is to create a culture in which good people become great people and we can achieve more together than we can individually.”

How to reach: OneAmerica Financial Partners Inc., (877) 285-3863 or www.oneamerica.com