Coping With Challenges | ATD

Allianz Turkey: 2022 BEST Award Winner, #2

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Ozlem Yanmaz Ates, Head, L&D and HR Business Partnership; İlkay Özel, CHRO

One company found its solutions within strong management and an agile culture that its TD unit nurtures.

On the face of it, the pandemic should have landed a proverbial gut punch to Allianz Turkey, an Istanbul-based provider of insurance products. It seriously disrupted a business plan that relies on face-to-face selling for important accounts, for example.

But that’s not what happened in the wake of unprecedented challenges the company faced during the past two years. Instead, Allianz found the needed solutions within a strong and diversified business model, its multifront training initiatives, and the dedicated employees who put them to work. Here’s how.

The story began in 2015, when the company established a talent development unit and committed itself to excellence. “We set out on a journey to help our organization internalize a continuous learning culture, to be a strategic partner in all transformations, and to offer high-quality and award-winning training,” explains Chief Human Resources Officer İlkay Özel.

In addition, the TD unit set goals to help employees reach their potential while also improving the company, adds Ozlem Yanmaz Ates, group head of L&D and HR Business Partnership.

The concept blossomed further two years later with a new individual development planning process aimed at maximizing employee strengths and bolstering the learning culture. In one-on-one sessions held annually between an employee and the TD function head to whom they’re assigned, they prepare and implement an individual development plan. They discuss opportunities to revise career paths and goals with help from a personal development catalog augmented with gamification and other features.

Today, the 10-person TD unit pursues initiatives large and small. It pioneers new L&D solutions that elevate workforce professionalism while also lifting an entire ecosystem of valued individuals that include employee families, insurance dealers, business partners, customers, and universities—some 20,000 people in all. To date, it has provided more than 3 million hours of training to this ecosystem.

It does so via 61 development programs created within three program management categories. They include strategic development mega programs such as leadership, technology and data analytics, and agility development; functional development macroprograms in such areas as HR, finance, and IT; and personal development microprograms including mini-MBA and a woman-empowerment development program.

The TD unit plans and executes the programs with Özel’s oversight; she determines the scope, roles, and performance metrics in coordination with management and advisory boards comprising the CEO and C-level executives.

Adapting to changes

But no one expected the likes of COVID-19 to severely test the carefully laid foundation. The TD team was able to adjust quickly to employees’ remote learning needs.

For example, the company’s bank-based sales team submitted an urgent request for help in transitioning from face-to-face to remote sales. It asked TD to design and implement a training program to improve remote sales competencies while maintaining customer satisfaction scores. It focused on performance enhancement, sales, coaching, and other areas. A total of 986 people graduated from the program in four 16-hour sessions.

In addition, 363 sales leaders received training in customer-oriented service, remote sales motivation, digital sales preparation, and planning. Success of both efforts were immediate.

The TD team has launched several other initiatives to help employees prosper during the pandemic—each the result of employee focus groups held to generate ideas. However, along the way, the TD team discovered to its chagrin that employees were ignoring L&D appointments on their calendars. With management’s blessing, it designates one entire day per month as Learning Day devoted to a variety of TD priorities.

A popular initiative among employees is called FamiLearn. It provides the perfect image of family togetherness: members of a household relaxing together, each on a personal device absorbing learning content that Allianz developed for them.

A design team that included psychologists, educational scientists, family counselors, and career planning experts devised the initiative. Team members helped develop learning content for employee households around four specific user groups: families in general, parents, teenagers, and younger children. The initiative comprises more than 50 separate courses around a broad range of subjects.

Developing an agile workplace

To help develop faster solutions to customer demands, Allianz has adopted an agile working discipline as a primary business expansion initiative. The TD department uses an agile development program to ensure success of agility efforts, including enhancing an agile culture and developing agile competencies. Workshops promote the competencies company-wide, and the TD team manages the certification processes for technical roles.

The company has also made strides in connecting TD and organizational performance. For instance, it designed a program for data analyzers and scientists who develop mathematical modeling through data engineering. Participants designed and deployed three data projects during collaborative hackathons, resulting in models that can serve instant and customized products. It says that with the new data competencies, Allianz has been declared a “loyalty leader” in every business branch within its group companies around the world.

Last year’s most successful on-the-job training initiative was a career and development project that supports working disciplines and competences within new-generation business trends. It offers active workforce support from teams of multiskilled employees who can fill important roles during seasonal workload upswings. It is called the Joker Team Project. (In the Turkish language, a “joker” is a well-informed individual who excels on many subjects.)

The multiskilled teams comprise existing employees through upskilling and reskilling development and flexible career management initiatives. The teams eliminate the need for new-contract employees or full-time employees to support teams.

The emergency support unit includes 83 people who are trained as multiskilled from within an 810-person function. It has two main values: increasing organizational efficiency and productivity through on-the-job training and shadowing process; and providing development and career opportunities that add value to the employees.

View the entire list of 2022 BEST Award winners.

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