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Nationwide Insurance: On Employees\' Side

With more than 36,000 associates, managing Nationwide’s roster of talent is a big job.

November 6, 2007
Related Topics: Technology

Nationwide Insurance’s motto is “Nationwide is on your side,” which extends to its approach to employees,
as well. With more than 36,000 associates, managing Nationwide’s roster of talent is a big job. But the company does so in a way that is personal and resourceful. We spoke with Rocky Parker, associate vice president of talent acquisition, to learn more.

TM: Describe Nationwide’s approach to talent management.

Parker: We take a systematic approach to talent. So, if you look at what we consider the broad buckets of talent management, they include talent acquisition, the onboarding of that talent, performance management, learning and development and the movement of that talent. The gel that holds all of those buckets together is talent planning — driven by business strategies to produce business results.

TM: What processes or programs have you established to improve the performance of the entire workforce?

Parker: There’s a process there, so at the beginning of the year, we set objectives that have cascaded throughout the organization to make sure we have alignment. We create development plans for individuals. We have a midyear check-in and review, and a year-end check-in and review to make sure that we’re doing what we say and course-correct if we need to, based on business strategies.

TM: How is performance management linked to Nationwide’s strategic objectives?

Parker: Our reward systems are based on individual, as well as business, objectives and obtaining those objectives over the period of measurement, which is traditionally a year. There’s a goal-sharing plan for our associates. There is a short-term incentive and a longer-term incentive for some executives and associates.

TM: What challenges affect Nationwide’s talent management?

Parker: They’re the same as challenges I’ve faced in other organizations, and I know other people are facing them too. We get our heads down and are doing all the great work that we need to do, and sometimes we end up doing replacement planning rather than succession planning or talent management or development. You get caught up in the day to day, and you sometimes lose sight of the greater strategy.

TM: How does Nationwide work to change or create leadership and management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?

Parker: Recently, we’ve created six leadership competencies that tie to our strategic business leader intents that map back to our values and beliefs. We start with what we believe and value as an organization. Those things certainly drive how we show up in the marketplace, what we do and how we take care of our customers. Then, the competencies that we look for in a leader map to those, as well.

TM: How does Nationwide develop organi-
zational culture and employee attitudes to optimize workforce performance?

Parker: Over the last six years, we’ve done an engagement survey. Some organizations will do a satisfaction survey. We believe engagement is a different way to look at it, and it feels good for us. Our engagement survey tells us what associates are saying about the organization. Will they stay with the organization, and when they’re here, are they actually serving the organization or the customer to their fullest extent? We take the levers that show up from that engagement survey and then work toward bridging the gap, where we see gaps. We want to bring people into the organization who really understand the customer’s value, and we want to build that skill set or capability within the organization. So, that essence is filtrated through all the learning and development that we do inside.


TM: How does Nationwide use learning and development to manage talent?

Parker: We believe in the 70-20-10 training process — learning comes 70 percent from experiences, 20 percent from others or mentors and 10 percent from classroom or e-learning, something that you would do in a formal setting. That includes not just behavioral learning but technical learning, as well. We also have programs that focus on the talent at the top of the house, leadership development programs and executive-level education programs. Sometimes, the experience people need to get is through community involvement, which is especially important to us at Nationwide. So, serving on a board or participating in volunteer activities at your favorite charity or event — that may be part of the experience that people get, as well.

TM: What processes or programs has Nationwide established to attract, recruit and retain top talent?

Parker: One of our best tools is the employee-referral program. We pay nearly $2 million a year to our associates for bringing in great talent. We have a strong university relations program that has interns and rotation programs associated with it. Obviously, we use the Internet, and we use headhunters. So, from an external recruiting and attracting approach, we use all those vehicles. From a retention standpoint, we feel like we have a great culture here at Nationwide, one that is sort of born from our Midwest farming roots, and we believe that helping people goes right to our saying — being on your side is who we are at our core. Our benefits programs reflect that. We’re one of the few companies that still have a formal, traditional pension plan and a 401(k) plan.

TM: How do you measure workforce performance and use assessments to manage Nationwide’s talent?

Parker: From a tools standpoint, it’s all online. We have an electronic performance management process that all ties back to those business metrics, things that are tangible that we can see and measure.

TM: What is Nationwide’s approach to compensation management?

Parker: From a compensation management standpoint, there’s a couple different strategies that people can take, whether you are the 25th percentile of the market, the 50th percentile or the 75th percentile. You can pick a number based on a skill set or what the market has available, and you set your mark. But we’re competitive. It’s not just a base salary number — it’s a base and a short-term and a long-term incentive. We don’t view compensation just as dollars that you take home. The 401(k) and the pension plan are strong attractors when we’re talking to people and bringing them in. There are many different experiences that you can have within Nationwide, which is one umbrella (one large company of 36,000 employees) but also many different functional and corporate business units. You can have a multiyear career and work in many different organizations. The ability for people to weave in and out of different teams, projects and work is pretty attractive, especially to some of the Generation X and Generation Y individuals who are entering the workforce today.

TM: What is Nationwide’s approach to succession planning?

Parker: It feels like we are doing replacement planning as much as we’re doing succession management or succession planning. But we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-plus successors ready now for our top positions, with the goal of having more.

TM: How do you use workforce performance data to drive future initiatives?

Parker: This customer service thing, when you go back and look at the workforce performance across the organization and match it up to where we want to be and where we need to be from a customer-service standpoint — we don’t think we’re there. So, the focus over the next few years is going to be on implementing that assessment for selection across the board, so that when people join Nationwide, we have a real good idea of where their customer service skill set is. Even if they’re not always in a customer-facing role, we’d want that broad capability to be in the organization, so everyone, even if it’s not your everyday job, sees it is tied to and is aligned with our customers’ needs.

TM: How have your workforce performance management activities contributed to Nationwide’s bottom line?

Parker: There are certainly cost-savings initiatives that have gone on over the past years with names like “Challenge the Base” and things of that nature that have made us think about and look at our expenses differently. Rather than doing the same old thing, it’s stopping and thinking to make sure that what we’re doing adds value to our customers. And when you look at the financials over the past seven years, there has been an increase, and certainly some of it can be tied to the talent that we’ve brought into the organization.

TM: What’s next for Nationwide in terms of talent management and workforce performance development?

Parker: As I look into the future, it’s really taking it to a predictive level. So, it’s taking workforce planning and performance and the development and analytics, and really being able to predict where we have talent gaps or shortages or skill gaps. Are baby boomers really going to retire en masse, and are they going to stay retired, or are they going to come back? And which subset of baby boomers is more likely to come back after they’ve been out for three to five years and realize that they’re bored, and they want to do something different?

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