Impact Story: Allianz
According to its own corporate website, The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers, with more than 100 million private and corporate customers in more than 70 countries. It is also one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 793 billion euros on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, the Allianz asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors (AllianzGI) manage more than 1.8 trillion euros of third-party assets. In 2020, the group employed more than 150,000 people and reported total revenues of 140 billion euros and an operating profit of 10.8 billion euros. It is also a founding company of ESMT.
With the business landscape constantly shifting and evolving, and with new major challenges constantly springing up, Allianz Chief Human Resources Officer Renate Wagner believes that more than ever, leadership needs to continuously transform with the times.
“Business models, the nature of work and the composition of workforces are changing radically,” Wagner wrote for the World Economic Forum in 2020. “Only companies that transform continuously will remain competitive. Successful transformation depends crucially on whether a company’s leaders have the right mindset and skills.”
The Allianz group realized its leaders needed to learn to adopt habits and modes of thinking that prioritize curiosity, flexibility, resilience, and cooperation. “Mindset alone, however, is not enough,” wrote Wagner. “Leaders also need to have the right future-oriented skill set to be effective.”
Wagner wrote that this skill set includes not only up-to-date technical skills, but also emotional intelligence and an appreciation of the benefits of inclusion—“on top of the more standard leadership skills, such as empowering your team, coaching and giving feedback, which will remain equally important in the future.”
With this in mind, Wagner set out to establish and sponsor a learning and development program for top HR talents to enable them to have transformational impact and get ready for executive-level leadership responsibilities.
Allianz and ESMT took a multi-step approach to revamping the leadership-development pipeline. First, they established three pillars that support success as a transformational HR leader:
- encouraging peak performance by being a good business partner
- creating enthusiasm through powerful communication and brand shaping
- acting as a change agent and culture builder
As the learning-and-development overhaul took place, they realized that the skills they were focusing on were not specific to HR, but were applicable across the business. And as they recruited candidates for the program, they saw that the candidates came from a variety of backgrounds and had different learning needs, and furthermore, these needs changed quickly. So they set out to develop a program that deemphasized HR content and was flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of the participants.
Together, Allianz and ESMT identified some guiding principles.
They decided to focus on a target audience of HR talents who had been identified as having potential. They also allowed for some “wild cards” so that exceptional employees who didn’t fit the profile would have a path into the program.
They determined that the program should span a full year, because the kind of transformational changes they were planning to instill would take time to develop. And they decided that the program should be blended: an online and collaborative component, as well as individual learning plans and small-group work on long-term strategic projects.
They acknowledged that for the success of any program to groom high-level leaders, the current leadership generation would need to give their strong support. Wagner agreed to stay involved throughout the program, and a multi-point approach to securing buy-in was developed.
The Learning Design
Together, ESMT and Allianz created a highly individualized one-year learning journey for Allianz’s top HR talents.
A pre-program baseline assessment was conducted for every participant, which then enabled the team to map a personalized learning journey for each individual. These journeys included group learning, individual learning, a mix of classroom and practical learning, guided one-on-one development conversations, and regular in-house mentoring.
At the same time, participants took part in expert-led teaching on core topics, as well as group work on projects of strategic relevance to Allianz.
Because of COVID-19, the entire program was shifted online, and the organizers had to stay agile to adapt to the changing constraints on the office environment. They settled on a mix of interactive lectures, workshops, livestreams, virtual social events, and moderated talks, all to take place online.
In response to participant feedback, as well, they added a component where HR executives from blue-chip companies like Pepsi and Deutsche Telekom would speak on innovative programs in their own firms.
The desired result was to prepare the next generation of HR leaders to make a transformational impact on the business at executive level.
To assess the success of the program, the partners tracked impact in several ways, including:
- ongoing participant evaluations
- comparing post- and pre-program participant assessments
- tracking participants’ career moves over time
- tracking implementation of strategic projects within the company
among other metrics. Overall, the partners considered the program a success. The final self-assessments showed that participants have shown strong progress toward the program’s goals.
In talking with participants, ESMT focused on concrete steps to guide behavior changes in a beneficial direction. This included helping one participant develop active listening skills, helping another adapt to the culture in a new country, and helping a third learn to better prepare for assessments.
“The program was outstanding. It was varied, informative, and innovative. The program took into account people's needs and the content reflected that perfectly. Concretely, it covered my main development areas, i.e., strategy, lean, storytelling, and analytics. I am now feeling more confident to tackle my challenges, e.g., overcoming blockers of implementation, using analytics for decision making, or communicating messages that stick. The exchange with the startups and the provided tools and frameworks were helpful to create a profound market analysis and adjust our existing business model.”
— Colm Loughleed
“Being able to participate in the AZ HR Leadership Program has been an amazing experience and enabled myself to grow and develop both personally and professionally. The tools that we were give were utmost valuable and to have that exchange with peer colleagues at other entities was also great. For me, the greatest learning experience was to be given a global project to work on. Never before have I gotten so much exposure to senior HR management at Allianz and exposure to challenges that you need to tackle when rolling out a wide scale HR project from beginning to end. Fantastic experience and personal development!!”
— Milena Gasser