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From productivity & teamwork to ESG & DEI

Howden Insurance Brokers is placing abundant emphasis on technology, learning and emotional skills as it marches ahead:

Learning and development (L&D) is a key differentiator for skill building at Howden Insurance Brokers India. Over the years, L&D has risen to become more than a program operating in the background. It has evolved as a part the Howden India culture – and one that more and more employees are seeking out.

More specifically, the respective department heads give special focus on the conduct, values and practices of the company during the ‘on job training’ to ensure maximum alignment with the company norms and IRDAI regulations.

Mahesh Chainani, Director & Principal Officer, informs: “We have drawn up a training calendar based upon the training needs of the various teams. We conduct regular induction training programs both at time of joining and once during every quarter. We design every training program with the program outcomes in mind, while addressing the challenges faced specific to the insurance broking business.”

Skills, Standards, Sessions

The training needs of the various teams include soft skills, product knowledge and functional skills. Soft skills training covers communication (oral & written), conflict management, negotiations, problem solving and time management. Training also covers knowledge about lines of business (liability, fire, marine, claims, etc.), functional skills like MS Office applications, fire drill and safety, software tools, quality and security process.

The company gives special focus to the IRDAI regulations and guidelines as per ‘Insurance Brokers Code of Conduct’ which covers various factors such as during sales practice, while furnishing information, while explaining insurance contract, etc. Mahesh updates: “We conduct a special session on the Insurance Brokers Code of Conduct during the induction program. Our employees also undergo brokers’ composite exams from time to time as mandated by the IRDAI. Apart from the structured training programs, we also conduct insurance quizzes and crossword puzzles that are popular with our employees as they promote informal learning.”

Measuring Progress, KPIs

Howden Insurance Brokers India measures progress through self-assessment questionnaires, informal feedback from peers and managers, focus groups, on-the-job observation and actual KPIs. The company assesses feedback of each training program and conducts a regular productivity review of employees’ performance to assess the impact of the trainings. The company addresses concerns, if any. Focus groups provide specific feedback on what went well as well as what needs to improve. Managers provide regular inputs regarding on-the-job trainings and employee productivity. Finally, the annual appraisal cycle is based on the ‘Balanced Score Card’, where KPIs of every eligible employee is discussed, rated and assessed.

Mahesh cites an example: “Recently, we conducted instructor-led training programs on communication and negotiation skills, and we received positive feedback from the participants. Many stated they found useful tips, practices to implement at work. In the long run, we consider broader parameters such as retention of new skills and knowledge, business performance/productivity metrics, stakeholder perception, application of knowledge and employee engagement.”

Celebrate Great Work

Today’s workplace has 4 generations – Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers – working and learning side by side. This dynamic creates a blend of communication and working styles, that Howden Insurance needs to build and evolve to greater levels of synergy. There is also a need to run more campaigns around ‘Allofus’ and socialize the core people values.

The purpose of the ‘AllofUs’ campaign is to put a concerted, group-wide effort behind attracting, and most importantly, retain the very best talent out there. The campaign will make an explicit commitment to greater inclusivity; celebrate the great work that is already happening across the group to attract and retain talent so that it shares great ideas and make some noise about it. The campaign will also use the company’s collective power by motivating and uniting its people behind the campaign to build a business for the future. Mahesh points out: “We have already started working on this and hope to see the impact soon in areas of hiring, diversity and inclusion, equality and rewards.”

To ensure that the company achieves its strategic objectives, it needs to put many enablers in action. Experiences offer practice to enable employees to gain further expertise in a particular area, help learners apply new skills, offset the forgetting curve and enable ongoing connections after. Going ahead, the company would like to use a holistic learning and performance ecosystem approach that has several components that touch learners at different points of their learning journey. Mahesh adds: “This approach will enable us to sustain and maximize the business impact of our learning initiatives. Accordingly, we would add elements that engage and motivate learners, inspire sticky learning the successful completion of training.”

Tech enables WFH

Covid forced companies not already promoting a remote work environment to make the transition more quickly than expected. Howden Insurance made a seamless transition to 24×7 WFH. It found an incredible productivity boost among remote workers, it also saved high costs in travel, cut back on carbon emissions, and made IT more agile and scalable. Technology has further revolutionized the way the company communicates and shares information. Applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and social media platforms like Workplace are well leveraged in Howden Insurance, these have made its communication easier, faster, and more efficient. Apart from this, mobile-first business environments are now here to stay.

Many of Howden Insurance’s trainings have moved to online mode as the ‘Teams’ technology has empowered it to reach its employees across different geographies effectively. Further, since technology is being deployed in almost all functions, it has designed separate training programs for the same. Most of the HR functions are now online including performance appraisal. The use of Workplace has brought the entire Howden Group together, it has helped to celebrate milestones and share achievements seamlessly in real time. E-learning is another tool deployed for continuous learning. Some others have also started applying tools learnt in the ‘Time Management’ module to achieve better work-life balance.

Mahesh proudly underlines: “We enable on mobile everything from our sales process, content marketing, and customer relations. Our leaders are able to communicate with their teams across the globe virtually. This has helped to socialise many new strategies and themes. We have deployed a special learning platform ‘Virtual Abridge’ where a variety of self-learning courses are available.”

Although the pandemic created emotional challenges for many people, it also normalized mental health needs at work, moving it from a nice to have to a business imperative. Some of the life skills that are coming to the forefront in Howden Insurance’s list include emotional skills (self-awareness and coping with emotions/stress), social skills (empathy, effective communication, and interpersonal relationship skills) and cognitive skills (problem solving, decision making and creative thinking). In the age of the great resignation, Howden’s key objective is to make sure that its employees are happy and fulfilled in their current roles. For this, it is running several initiatives such as EAP, financial counselling, flexi hours, etc.

DEI Plans

Another objective is to increase employee involvement in volunteering activities and train its leaders on diversity & inclusion. Sustainability is another key area of focus and Howden Insurance has initiated many steps in this direction – including the rollout of the ESG policy and controlling carbon emission through awareness training programs.

To make this a reality, the company plans to create a volunteer group for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Empowering its volunteers to take the lead will provide an authentic connection to the DEI initiatives, connecting all its regions as well in this initiative. Once Howden Insurance has assembled its DEI volunteer group, it would train and orient all members about DEI to ensure they understand their role. Howden Insurance will also connect the volunteer group to the local DEI community, possibly an online member community.

Mahesh elaborates: “Online communities are a fantastic platform for individuals to discuss relevant volunteer experience or industry information. This will provide an easy way for our DEI volunteers to communicate and will help them exchange ideas for upcoming initiatives or events.”

Howden Insurance will also socialize the above concepts through awareness trainings, aiming to recognize and value the abilities of all employees regardless of differences. When employees feel valued and accepted, they will go above and beyond. The most important focus would be to change its language, making it clear to employees and candidates that the company values diversity and focuses on creating a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace. Training also includes increasing awareness of unconscious bias and reducing bias that can negatively influence management practices in a subtle manner.

Howden Insurance communicates its diversity and inclusion goals everywhere, including employee manuals, employment contracts, hiring, and onboarding materials and other company documents. The company already has a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policy in place hence it is imperative to help employees understand the essence of it. The company also pays attention to pay equity. Mahesh reveals: “Our employee-led D&I committee will ensure to provide a supportive and accepting environment that will encourage employee engagement and collaboration.”
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Gujarat, Telangana & TN lead CV finance at IKF
Gujarat, Telangana & TN lead CV finance at IKF

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