Creating a ‘Winning Culture’

Article by Griet Houbrechts

Creating a ‘Winning Culture’ – Robin Lewis & Bieke Van Dessel, CIGNA

Robin and Bieke shared their learnings on HR’s role in strategic change. Under ‘creating a winning culture’ Cigna understands building an agile operating model that is close to customers and market, focusing their talent on key business priorities, embedding their ‘Winning Culture’.

The Business leadership perspective is very important and the connection between HRD and the CEO is vital to develop the right talent. The main concern of the leadership is obviously getting results. HRD needs to be able to understand what Cigna is trying to achieve in the market and talk the language of business, not only HR. It is critically important as HR Director to align the business and HR strategy. The HR model should be built to reinforce the key strategic goals and a true collaboration is key. The change process should be seen as a continuous improvement and learning process.

At Cigna the HR agenda is focused on performance. In order to get results, the top talent needs to be aligned to the key business priorities. This requires the development of great career opportunities as well as leveraging Cigna’s global capability. HR needs to understand the capability gaps and contribute to building an organisation that is agile and fast. For critical roles succession and development have to be planned and roles and assignments can be stretched.

Aligning the organisation for faster decision making is done through connecting and collaborating. Cross market teams are very effective for specific strategic challenges or opportunities. A strong functional matrix model makes it necessary that people are truly accountable. The HR lead needs to develop a sense of decision rights to avoid ambiguity of the matrix organisation. Complexity has to be removed where possible in order to speed up decision making and enable a strong customer focus. To avoid the risk of focusing only internally, customer/client insights should be shared and translated back into HR recruiting. A right balance has to be struck between global capability and local accountability.

Strengthening the bench and stretching the leadership capacity can be done through dynamic real-time coaching for leaders and teams. The focus needs to be on regeneration, understanding how teams continuously improve and grow, on scanning the market for the best talent and developing an employer brand.

Building a winning culture is more than putting the right people in the right place. Make sure team is challenged to push boundaries but also that they get opportunities to share their feedback about team dynamics. In order to unpick what this winning culture means, there is a need for communicating and engaging with all teams, as well as for upping the skill sets of managers to empower them to take accountability for their team and results. They need to be actively involved and committed, and create transparency and trust in order to share feedback, surface conflict and be prepared to have challenging conversations.

A nurturing culture can be created through coaching and a continuous circle of challenge-support-feedback. Building the next generation of talent and diversity means to enable the future of work. Cigna has been trying to build diversity into all processes, making sure teams represent as much diversity as possible but also making it clear that leaders value this diversity.

Both internal and external resources were used to train people mangers for coaching. The team coaching is usually done once every quarter. For the facilitation, it is important to understand the roles, needs, as well as the business. The external facilitation makes different conversations possible. The external coaches coach the worker closely with the business leader, but also with the team over a period of time. That way, they become a trusted challenger. The focus needs to be both on the individual and on the team as a whole.

Cigna is operating on five different locations with five different cultures. A series of focus groups and ideation workshops in these locations provided ideas of how to improve the communication and what the organisation can do.

An intranet for the IO/Africa business segment allows to share values and mission; stories created by employees with clients or with colleagues; how each fits in the broader picture; a CIGNA-Erasmus scheme based on a project that improves collaboration and efficiency; Cigna Care box that is created by local colleague for colleagues visiting.

All people managers together define roles and skillsets. The Leadership Development Programme aims at creating people leadership through training, developing connectivity and empowerment.

What were the lessons learnt of the process so far? It is essential that HR is present at the table from an early stage for any business change, and that HR is aligned with strategy faster. Such a change process would not happen without the support of top executives. It was driven by business, and then people at lower levels were empowered as well.

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