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Agile journey of front-line business leaders towards business excellence

– GOLD WINNER OF THE 2019 EXCELLENCE IN PRACTICE AWARDS –

Global Focus_Issue03_Excellence_in_Practice_2019_PDF Global Focus_Issue03_Excellence_in_Practice_2019_podcast

A partnership with purpose!

Chola MS (Mitsui Sumitomo, JV), a joint venture that entered the insurance business in 2003 with a vision to be the most respected company providing general insurance in India, sought to provide a career for hi-potential branch managers to evolve into the next level of leaders. Chola MS leadership recognise that the insurance sector needs committed and quality talent and it is important to have quality sales managers and agent advisors to ensure need-based and correct selling.

Chola MS partnered with Management Development Center (MDC) at Murugappa, to equip its business managers with the required skills, knowledge and behaviors that will enable them to be leaders. The aim was very clear, learn what it takes to scale excellence as first time business managers.

As a solution, MDC created the “Cluster Leadership Program’ (CLP) to propel the careers of the targeted front-line managers to new heights. During this six-months programme, these participants took the journey with their peers to achieve productivity and growth amid relentless business disruption. With an initial rigorous selection process, which included personal interviews by senior leaders, past performance ratings and psychometric assessments, hi-potentials were identified.

Agile approach from design to delivery

From the inception, business and MDC worked to establish a collaborative and equal partnership that made the most of their joint expertise and brought the best of both sides together. Over a period of six months, we were able to build a sustainable, effective learning journey that took the growth trajectory of the “CLPians”and their business numbers to a new level.

Our aim was to help these new leaders be resilient and confident. Every session was focused on providing CLPians with skills to make an immediate difference to the profitability of business and respond innovatively to any challenge or opportunity. In the end, we were successful in making them realise that “you are more you, with skill.
Mr. Manoj Kumar Jaiswal, EVP and Head Management Development Centre, Murugappa Group

Instead of setting out and implementing a rigid plan, it took a more agile approach, starting relatively slow, building momentum and expanding the programme incrementally. This allowed for relevant feedback from business, test materials and building trust and expanding its impact beyond individual to their teams.

With an aim of providing career development to individuals, Cluster Leaders Program exceeded expectations by providing tangible business impact with 14% GWP (gross written premium) growth, 27% productivity increase and 80% hike in number of insurance policies during the course of the programme.

The business acknowledged a significant 32% increase in customer acquisition and business growth of 14% from November 2019 – February 2019 as a direct contribution of CLP. Overall the organisation assessed the readiness of their talent with 40% of participants ready to independently perform in the new role with little support from senior leadership. The remaining 60% are currently undergoing an extensive mentoring programme with business leaders co-ordinated by the HR function.

Mindset shift with capability building

Changing the mind-sets and capabilities of individual frontline managers can be the hardest part. In our experience many of them see limits to how much they can accomplish; some also recognise the need to restructure their roles but nonetheless fear change. The journey of the ‘Cluster Leadership Program’ started much before the job of coaching had begun. We started to address more insidious mindsets – that frontline managers cannot influence performance and can initiate or advise change at the top level. Every leadership transition creates uncertainty. To address this we started by redesigning the job description as this was the critical element to help these managers understand the transition in their role from branch operational managers to cluster business development leaders (Figure 1).

Branch managers to business development leaders

It took time, however the result was insightful for these cluster leaders as they embarked on the new journey with a better understanding of their expected role and responsibilities. The first interaction in the programme left participants and MDC feeling perplexed and presented a new challenge. The participants’ actual learning pace and business understanding was not to the standard that was initially expected. MDC collated the observations, learning and inputs from other observers and proposed to relook at the design post the session of job description re-design. And this turned out to be the breakthrough in the entire CLP journey.

Breakthrough in CLP journey

The second step in developing CLPians was to introduce them to market intelligence and long term business understanding. Understanding their customers and partners well before entering the market was also discussed and tools were given to gather such data from trusted resources. Every session ended up with project work focused on market analysis, gathering data from customer, while in parallel focusing on achieving low-hanging goals.

Participants were given opportunities to present business updates, best practices and challenges in their respective clusters. Business leaders across verticals functions were invited to view these presentations resulting in significant actions at ground level. These subsequent modules transformed the journey from content to human factor, an initially unintended yet a significantly important outcome.

Progress measurements

The participants were repeatedly up-skilled and reminded of rigorous, regular, review mechanism as an integral part of the entire CLP journey. However, measurement analysis evolved during the programme too as both MDC facilitators, business leaders and the participants progressed in the programme. Figure 2, above, shows the shift.

Business presentations from participants used real-time data and tested their understanding of reading data vertically and horizontally. The participants were subsequently asked to discuss with their respective teams on the data interpretation and come up with recommendations to improve business, operations and team performance. In the end participants had a better understanding of not just how to gather data but also, more importantly, what to gather. This reduced their dependency on data teams at the corporate and senior managers level. The result was visible at ground level by their seniors and the same reflected in the feedback received.

Long Lasting Results and Relationships

The journey started due to the relationship MDC and Chola MS shared being under the common Murugappa brand. The CLP and CLPians only worked to deepen the relationship. On one hand participants were excited to meet peers, share their results and present to leaders. Facilitators had no difficulties in getting 100% of attendees and business leaders to participate in presentations. We received overwhelming feedback from business and also from support functions. Overall, the more MDC and Chola MS have worked together, the more perfect the programme has become – an illustration of how co-operation creates fantastic results for both business and people.

Today, we have two customised leadership programmes running between MDC and Chola MS (Bancassurance and Insurance divisions). CLP batch 2 has been identified and we are about to start their learning journey in October 2019. CLP batch 1 is undergoing the follow up schedule where HR tracks their progress and has quarterly sessions with MDC facilitators. Business leadership is more involved and participants are excited to explore the similar journey. This surely makes us believe more in the saying that: “Leadership development is not a quick trip but a journey which require action and examples.”   

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