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Key team members: Claire Cusack, head of human resources; Ruth Bishop, L&D manager; Natalie Staltari, HR business partner; Barbara Walsh, HR business partner
Headquartered in Dublin, international private health insurer Allianz Worldwide Care has grown steadily since it was established in 2000. But, despite the economic turbulence that has beset Ireland, this growth has accelerated in recent times. Over the past 20 months or so, headcount has grown by more than 60 per cent, with staff numbers increasing from 264 to 446. The challenge for our HR team has been to maintain the client-focused company culture as we continue to grow in size. For many companies, rapid expansion can lead to a diminishment in the quality of customer service if it is not managed very carefully. The risk is that you end up with a large percentage of new staff who have not been fully immersed in the company’s values, goals and procedures. We simply couldn’t afford to let that happen. The HR team viewed this as an opportunity to make a real difference to the bottom line. To achieve this, we approached this challenge from several angles, helped greatly by the fact that our chief executive, Ron Buchan, has always been hugely supportive of our HR initiatives. First, we reviewed the process by which we integrate new starters. Previously, our induction programme consisted of a short two-day course, which provided concise information on the company. However, given the accelerated growth of staff numbers, we felt this process needed to be expanded and formalised. Through our new company orientation programme, the HR business partners, together with learning and development manager Ruth Bishop, now have direct involvement with all new starters for the first six months of their employment. They have monthly workshops and face-to-face meetings to instil our corporate values, vision and customer service ethos. Feedback is also more effective as employees can now share their experiences with us, helping us to continuously review and improve the process. The second solution was to revise the personal growth strategy for all staff. Before last year our performance management and development system was primarily focused on performance review. In early 2010 we relaunched it with a greater focus on planning and continuous coaching, making it clearer to each employee exactly how their personal and departmental goals fit in with our overall business strategy. Managers have monthly meetings with their direct reports and there is an online compliance system to monitor this.Our final approach was to optimise the leadership potential of our managers. We appointed an external executive coach who holds regular meetings with managers and assists them in their development planning and progression. We also launched a diploma in leadership, accredited by Athlone Institute of Technology, aimed at enhancing leadership skills that can be applied practically in the work environment. These new programmes are already seeing great results. We achieved the “Excellence through People” accreditation, Ireland’s national HRM standard, and feedback from our staff following these initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive – our recent employee engagement survey showed a satisfaction rate of 80 per cent. Following the enhancements to our performance management and development system, 94 per cent of employees have indicated that they feel their roles are clearly defined and linked to the business strategy. I firmly believe that to achieve ambitious company goals, staff have to fully understand them and feel motivated by seeing exactly how and where they’re playing their part. When they understand our values, they can recognise how those extra steps they take for clients on a day-to-day basis contribute to our success.