As a national characteristic, the Swiss reputation for upholding a tradition of excellence, precision and attention to detail is well-known around the world. The organisation at the centre of this Change Diary – an international leader in the insurance space, proudly founded in Switzerland over a century ago – is no exception.
The organisation is, and has been for many years, one of the top employers of choice in our field. In fact, studies show that Switzerland itself shares a similarly favourable reputation amongst job-searching candidates.

In the annual survey from the IMD business school, Switzerland has consistently ranked first for four years running in terms of its businesses’ attractiveness to potential employees. The survey ranks countries by their success in different talent-related areas, including education, training, language skills, remuneration, and quality of life.

The Challenge: a new way of working for the digital age

In the insurance and financial services industries, digital transformation has been a key priority for years. Technology allows us to serve our customers more quickly and efficiently, to advertise more strategically and with better results, and to streamline internal processes, creating efficiencies through automation. But many such organisations – this one included – are of a size so massive and hold a history so long, that like the Titanic, they find changing direction in anticipation of changing conditions to be a difficult and slow process.

The one aspect of digital transformation that I was to be involved in implementing had more to do with employees than employers. Today’s top employees demand greater flexibility than ever before, emboldened by the success stories of peers and companies who have successfully implemented flex-time or work-from-home policies. Our goal was to implement a flexible and agile work culture – one that would extend these freedoms to thousands of employees across the globe and enable the organisation to reap the reputational (and operational) benefits that go along with it. While a well-implemented agile working policy can have great advantages for employer and employee alike (lower resource costs, greater work-life balance, etc.), a haphazard implementation can result in quite the opposite effect, involving a loss of productive man-hours, a lack of collaboration, and a step backwards in terms of transparency, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, and more.

Achieving a successful result in this case would involve a wholesale change of the organisational culture that had served the business so well for many decades, from existing mind-sets and employee behaviours to leadership styles and communications practices.

Our approach: thinking global, acting local

It’s little wonder that much material relating to the ADKAR[1] model of change management is dedicated to understanding the importance of relevance in communication. A change that faces resistance at the middle management level has no chance of success if the organisation’s leaders cannot be shown the advantages they (and their stakeholders) will gain from the process.

Considering just how far-reaching the implications of effective adoption is proving to be for businesses in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a multi-pronged approach was formulated:

Leading from the top

Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus”.

The executive leadership demonstrated this adage to wonderful effect and made the successful implementation of this change a top priority on their agenda.

We conceptualised a global approach that could work across the organisation, emphasising local adaptations that would take each region’s unique national and cultural characteristics into account and maximise the effectiveness of the messaging that would convince these employees to give the change a chance. A stakeholder coalition that would lead the charge was essential, and a remarkable coalition of change leaders around the globe was assembled, supported by local ambassadors that would ensure the messaging was brought into local alignment for maximum penetration.

This coalition took over the communications plans for each location, assembling and dispatching personalised communications specifically for each region. These communications were disseminated among location leaders and line managers and then passed onto their own employees, further emphasising localised messaging and personalisation in the process.

6 years after the initiative’s implementation, I looked back on the change process, it is clear that the programme has not only made a drastic change to employee satisfaction, it has in fact changed the very nature of the organisation. We don’t measure work in the same ways we used to. Our agility has improved, as has our capacity to embrace the technological tools that will ensure we remain leaders in our industry for many years into the future. Our strategic decisions are based not on the way things have always been done, but rather with a constant eye on what is best for the quality of our work and the satisfaction of our clients.

Our organisation now empowers every person to spend time on what matters the most, focusing on outcomes rather than input, and offering our employees – our most valuable assets – the freedom to decide how, when, and where to work and still obtain the best results possible.

[1] ADKAR is a registered trademark of Prosci Inc.