Every good business sets goals. And every good business holds employees accountable for reaching those goals.
But at Philadelphia Insurance Cos., that’s not quite enough.
Jamie Maguire wants to hold his employees accountable for overachieving. And the way he makes it happen is by finding and training employees who can meet the challenge.
“To hold people accountable for overachieving, those are some lofty words,” says Maguire, the company’s chairman and CEO. “But in the end, it really comes down to having a team you can count on, a team of A-players who are goal-oriented, who you can count on to execute, day in and day out, having an effective strategy that they follow to make sure that we’re successful, and having scorecards that reflect that success on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.”
But in a corporate machine the size of Philadelphia Insurance Cos. the privately held subsidiary of Tokio Marine Group has 1,600 employees and just over $2 billion in 2009 gross written premiums the gears aren’t set in motion unless Maguire and his leadership team have the right people in place. Finding the right people means finding employees who mesh with the company’s culture, in addition to possessing the right skill sets.
“You need to get the right people onto your team, people who share in your core values, who share your passion for the business,” Maguire says. “With that in mind, we have an extensive process we go through to vet the people who are applying for positions in the company. We use an outside service that performs a personality profile, so we do our best to make sure that, fundamentally, the right people get into the company. And once we have the right people, we spend a lot of time developing them; enriching their professional career and helping them maintain a healthy balance with their personal lives. It’s all about getting the right people in the door, then cultivating and developing them so they can achieve.”Define your values
On the recruiting end, the human resources staff at Philadelphia Insurance Cos. performs the common task of conducting multiple interviews with administrators from various departments, in addition to enlisting the help of a third-party firm, which employs proprietary personality profiling software to determine if a candidate is a good cultural match for the company.
But apart from that, Maguire and his staff take the extra step of allowing job candidates to conduct their own interviews. Candidates are encouraged to talk to current Philadelphia Insurance employees. Not only does it serve as a form of additional research on a given job candidate, it also allows the candidate to gain a much better mental picture of the company and a better idea of whether personal values mesh with corporate values.
“What we want is for our candidates to talk to employees in similar positions,” Maguire says. “We want them to get a clear idea of what the job entails, and we want them to see whether our current employees like their jobs. The personality profiles, the interviewing practices and the interaction with current employees are the three things that really help to ensure that we are getting the right people.”
You also need to manage the process by defining your company’s culture and core values.
On the cultural end, it needs to start at the bottom of the organization and flow upward. You can envision what you want your culture to embrace and start promoting that throughout your organization. But ultimately, your culture is what your employees live each day, not a set of rules and regulations that you disseminate from your office.
You have to achieve buy-in with your existing employees before you will be able to recruit additional high performers to your staff.
“A successful culture is one of the key ingredients to a successful company,” Maguire says. “You really have to do it from the ground up, not from the top down. That means the development of a winning culture has to happen in a consensual fashion. It has to mesh and resonate with everyone. What it can’t be is a top-down, ‘Here is what we’re going to do, here is our strategy,’ plan. It has to involve all of your employees, so there is buy-in.”Water your seeds
As you continue to build up your culture and recruit new employees who embrace your company values and begin to build a presence of employees who can act as advocates for your culture within your company ranks, your job turns from a planter of seeds to a grower of fruit.
In other words, you need to keep the cultural soil of your company fertile and watered.
There is a time and place for large-scale communication centered on culture. You will always have opportunities for all-hands meetings and columns in the company newsletter.
But the most effective opportunities for building and strengthening your culture don’t involve a podium, webcam or keyboard. They involve the shoes on your feet and not always dress shoes.
Maguire makes opportunities to engage employees by walking around the company headquarters on an informal basis and asks those on his leadership team to do the same. But he goes a step further, taking employee interaction out of the office and into nonbusiness situations.
“I would encourage business leaders to look outside the office as a way to bond with employees and better yourself as a company,” Maguire says. “We support the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia through various activities. We sponsor the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon, and we sponsor a [5 kilometer] race. We have many employees come to those events, and through working with them and interacting, all employees come together and you get great feedback. So I encourage those sorts of things, both as a benefit to the community and a way to benefit your employees and your business.”
Back inside the walls of your office building, you can take more formalized steps to reinforce your culture through periodic training. At Philadelphia Insurance, training covers both the technical aspects of the job and the cultural aspects of working in the company’s environment.
At Philadelphia Insurance, interaction between new faces and company veterans doesn’t stop after the recruiting process. It ramps onto an extensive mentoring program designed to help new hires get on board with the company’s culture, values and practices.
“Of course, you do need the technical skills to perform effectively at your job, but we also have an actual cultural training program that takes place through our training and development center,” Maguire says. “That takes the form of personal interaction with veterans of the company. We have a stable management team that has been here, on average, between 18 and 20 years. There are 60 to 70 veterans of the company that we involve with the training process for new hires. Through the actions of our veteran managers, our new hires come to understand our culture much better.”
Veteran mentors are selected based not just on experience but also on their level of achievement within the company ranks and their level of influence within the organizational structure.
“For the teachers, they need to epitomize your company’s culture and be effective communicators,” Maguire says. “We want to single out the people who have the most influence, the most experience, and who can impart the most culture and wisdom to the new trainees, particularly on the management level. From the trainees’ standpoint, we try to identify the people who have the most potential to move up through the organization, those who really embrace our culture, who share the same passion for the work we do and who are really trying to take the company to the next level.”
As part of the training program, Maguire and his staff also encourage the pursuit of professional designations, which help to further the careers of new hires while lending an extra layer of credibility to the company as a whole.
“We’re very big on pushing the educational aspects of our business, because it is a people business,” he says. “The better, stronger and more professional your people are, the more successful you’re going to be and the more successful your company is going to be.”Continue to build trust
Once your culture has taken root and your work force is united around a common set of core values, you need to ensure the culture’s long-term survival. To do that, you need to maintain a high level of trust among yourself, management and employees at every location and every level of the organization.
Building trust means building open lines of communication between management and employees. You do that by seeing to it that you are communicating as much as you possibly can, both good news and bad news.
If you drag your feet, hide information, spin or sugarcoat, employees are going to become suspicious of what is really going on at the top management level, and their confidence in the company could quickly erode.
“First and foremost, if you’re staying visible and keeping your messages in front of employees, it promotes trust,” Maguire says. “There is more of a bond and a trust that is created. If you don’t see management, you’re always wondering if there is trouble brewing, and you start wondering what is really going on. It’s something that can begin to spread if there is a lot of miscommunication. That’s why visibility and clarity is a major part of a successful culture. It works hand-in-hand with trust.”
The need for clarity of a message is as critical with good news as it is with bad news.
“If there is good news, deliver it and don’t exaggerate. If there is bad news, deliver it, and do it accurately and quickly. You don’t want to lie or deceive. It’s just like being in a relationship. You have the same kind of responsibility to your employees.”Study the exit interviews
As much as you’d like to reduce turnover to zero, you’re still going to have employees who move on to other opportunities. If you’ve continually reinforced your cultural values to them during their tenure, you should be able to glean some valuable insight from their exit interviews.
Open up the door for criticism with the questions that you ask outgoing employees. Some might let emotion color their opinion of their bosses, co-workers or the company as a whole. But in many cases, you will get an unvarnished look at what your company needs to do in order to improve its internal policies and practices.
“At our company, human resources conducts the exit interviews, and they forward it to the supervisor of the individual, who then sends it to senior management,” Maguire says. “Senior vice presidents, executive VPs, myself, we all see the exit interview.
“We ask a number of questions in the interview, covering ways we can improve, where there might have been problems in the relationship, and what sorts of things we could do differently. Then HR takes the information and implements it in a way that can help us better prepare current and future employees to perform their jobs.”
How to reach: Philadelphia Insurance Cos., (800) 873-4552 or www.phly.com