Driving strategy through employee engagement

QBE is one of Australia’s largest insurers with a major and fast-growing presence in Europe, employing close to 3000 by 2010 – growth fuelled by good performance and acquisitions.

The European strategy had last been updated in 2004 and had served well delivering year on year.

But at the highest levels there was a sense that the years of almost completely independent businesses operating under one banner may have been starting to preclude potential opportunities for cross-business-unit collaboration and multi-category relationships. And, as the firm grew in size, the acquisition and retention of talent became super-critical. People were, and are, attracted to QBE because of the discretion over decisions afforded to them within clearly-defined boundaries.

The conundrum faced by the management team, familiar to many CEOs, lay in maintaining the balance between an entrepreneurial spirit of the many acquired companies and leveraging the potential from collaboration where it made trading sense or could provide efficiencies.

In late 2007, Mo Kang, Chief Human Resources Officer, asked us to facilitate discussions with the European CEO and COO about the best vehicle to hold this dialogue with the 28 or so heads. Anything that sounded like a soft engagement or communication exercise would die in seconds!

Strategy-refresh was chosen as it was due and provided a rational vehicle to engage the top team: the approach meant that the 28 or so heads could debate the issue with neutral, external, one-to-one facilitation and so develop their own insight rather than have it unilaterally imposed in an approach unlikely to succeed.

We interviewed each of them to debate the business case for adjusting the balance between almost complete independence and a measured degree of joint approaches to clients and more internal efficiencies. It was by no means certain that the issue would be seen to be ripe, but the consensus by and large was that this was the time to start creating more of a one-QBE internal and customer experience.

During 2008 we worked closely with Mo, Helena Christopher, Head of Marketing, and the European CEO and COO and subsequently the wider Executive team to articulate a refreshment of their European vision and business strategy. An integral part of this was a debate about the public positioning of QBE (European Ops) which would represent the underlying strategy.

Once the top group was aligned and confident, the decision was taken to engage QBE’s entire European staff in a programme which would invite them to:

  • Understand the changing market conditions and the present customer brand experience.
  • Identify and celebrate the QBE brand DNA which has propelled strong, profitable growth.
  • Learn about the capability of other business lines and core support services.
  • Understand and contribute to the draft 2012 vision & action plans.
  • Draw up team-specific actions to deliver the plans, particularly around the internal & external customer experience: matching reality with brand promise.
  • Participate in the QBE Big Idea (to make a Big Difference) contest.

We co-designed with our clients (Mo Kang, Helena Christopher and Internal Communications Manager Sam Children and many others) what came to be called the Big Difference programme which all European staff are participating in. Although we designed and extensively piloted the programme, it was run by QBE directors with assistance from trained programme coaches; it belongs to QBE, not the consultants!

The programme continues via:

  • A focus on the wider European Executive team.
  • A focus on internal communication.
  • Building knowledge of each others businesses.
  • Focus on top-team-building.
  • Developing and measuring employee engagement drivers particular
    to QBE.
  • Helping to integrate the latter with personal performance development.

The numbers enfranchised were:

  • UK: 1760 attendees, 26 trained facilitators, 44 visible and active high level sponsors attending all sessions
  • Continental Europe: 700+ attendees