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Janine Milne

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HRD Insight: Allianz’s Philip Gennoy on aligning HR and business goals


For Allianz Insurance’s HR director, Philip Gennoy, the key to ensuring that HR strategy and business goals knit tightly together is to keep a close eye on both the day-to-day nitty-gritty as well as the bigger, more long-term picture.

The idea is that by breaking strategy down into bite-sized tactical pieces, it becomes possible to build expertise in core areas such as recruitment and staff development which, in turn, feed into corporate goals.
“You have to be able to deliver a good idea, but it’s no good having a master plan for talent if a manager in a call centre has 10 vacancies and no one to fill them,” Gennoy points out.
In other words, it is important to break that annual “master plan” down into practical steps. Gennoy will be outlining his tips for doing just that at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual conference in Manchester next month.
Allianz Insurance is the UK-based general insurance arm of one of the world’s largest financial services companies. It employs 4,000 staff in the UK who are supported by a further 1,200 workers based in an Indian call centre.
The aim, says Gennoy, is to ensure that each employee works towards a common goal and that they all have common values – and HR is key to ensuring that such a scenario takes place.
Bigger picture
“We have a mission to be the outstanding competitor in the markets we operate in, to create the products and services that people recommend, to have a good combination of profit and growth and by being a great place to work,” he says. “That locks HR into the business plan. You can’t be a great place to work without HR helping to develop that. We’re right in there.”
To this end, there are four main areas on which the department focuses. Firstly, there is the firm’s graduate management programme, which Gennoy believes, provides a good example of long-term thinking.
When the scheme was introduced 10 years ago, Allianz Insurance received just 30 applications and took on six university leavers. “Now we’re recruiting 50 graduates a year and 15,000 are applying,” he says.
It has got to the stage where specific advertising is no longer required, but despite this, Gennoy is clear that the company needs to deal consistently and fairly with the 14,550 who don’t gain a place so that they go away still feeling positive about it.
Again, the key is in ensuring that the details are looked after in order to contribute to a positive bigger picture.
Staff development is another area in which HR has made a significant contribution to the business, however. In 2001, the firm launched an Underwriter Academy in recognition of the fact that furnishing staff with good technical skills would offer it a big competitive advantage.
The Academy provides underwriters from across the business with more than 600 days courses, seminars and workshops per year in order to help them gain the skills that required to gain their Chartered Insurance Institute accreditation.
Avoiding complacency
Since it opened its doors, more than 5,000 underwriters have completed the technical training and development scheme. “It’s the best example of training in the industry. It gives us a huge reputational advantage,” Gennoy attests.
A third field in which HR has played an important role, particularly in today’s troubled economic times, is compensation. In order to identify and reward those people who are contributing most towards the success of the business, the company’s bonus scheme is linked to staff appraisals.
The final arena that Gennoy feels HR has had a significant impact is in its focus on employee engagement and wellbeing – rather than old-fashioned health and safety.
“We talk about fitness, absenteeism and how resilient people are – these are all tough topics,” he says, while pointing out that they provide a great jumping off point for encouraging people to engage in dialogue which, in turn, helps to generate improvements.
One way that the firm has tried to motivate staff, for example, is by working with a local hospice charity. During this year’s London Games, it also invited Olympic veterans Steve Cram and Sharron Davies, as well as a clutch of 2012 medal hopefuls, including Paralympian David Weir who won four golds, to talk to, and hopefully inspire, personnel.
“Things are always changing and you can’t stand still. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but day-in and day-out, I’ve got to keep learning. You can’t get complacent,” Gennoy says about his role – and HR generally.
Even a couple of years ago, he would never have thought it possible to recruit using social networking sites, for instance, as they were alien concepts. “But unless you keep being mindful of the way things are now, you’re dead in the water. So there’s a consistent need to be aware of what’s happening around you in this job,” Gennoy concludes.