So what does this mean in practice? Towers Perrin-ISR says engaged employees display three types of behaviour — rational, emotional and motivational. At a rational level, employees believe in the goals of the company, they support the company’s values and they understand how their own department contributes to the success of the company. At an emotional level, employees will, for example, recommend the company to a friend as a good place to work or believe the company inspires them to do their best work. At a motivational level, employees might work beyond what is normally expected to help both themselves and the company succeed.
It’s that extra effort Duverne was looking for when he threw his support behind Ambition 2012, a group-wide organic growth plan launched in 2005 by CEO Henri de Castries. The programme seeks to improve Axa’s positioning among customers, suppliers and shareholders. “If we are able to achieve that, we should be able to grow faster than the competition both in terms of revenue and profit,” says Duverne. The aim is also to double revenue and triple underlying EPS from 2004 levels in eight years. How does Axa plan to hit its targets? By having great products, excellent distribution channels and — you guessed it — employee engagement.
One catalyst for Ambition 2012 was Axa’s spate of successful acquisitions in the 1980s and 1990s. Shortly after Axa began operating in 1985, it bought a number of underperforming insurance companies — including Australia’s National Mutual, the UK’s Guardian Royal Exchange and Japan’s Nippon Dantai — and turned them around. “Employees were seeing the company grow but it was not by their own doing, through interacting effectively with the customer,” says Duverne. “They were, in a sense, living the victory by proxy.”
Another catalyst was the poor underwriting environment that Axa faced as a result of the September 11th attacks and the stockmarket collapse in the early 2000s. Both developments forced Axa to cut costs, leaving organic growth as the best way to continue expanding.
A cornerstone of Ambition 2012 is its staff survey, based on a Towers Perrin-ISR model. Last year, 84%, or 85,000 employees, responded to the survey, which showed that 73% of them are “engaged” — an increase of 2% between 2006 and 2007. “We are still not where we would like to be,” says Duverne. “We need to be at 80% to be among the best companies.” Axa benchmarks its engagement levels against a cross-section of companies at global, sector and national levels.
What’s the Score?
In the parts of the company where engagement levels are low, working groups are assigned to them to find out why. “We try to organise sessions, sometimes with an HR facilitator, to discuss why the score is low,” says Duverne. “Is it an issue of silos? Is it an issue of internal communications? Is it an issue of perceived lack of fairness in remuneration?” A working group must then come up with a plan. In fact, to decrease the number of such cases, Axa is currently putting its top 10,000 managers through a programme of group and personal coaching to improve their management skills.