When you think about exciting workplaces, you tend to think about technology companies, world-changing NGOs and – if you’re in touch with your inner child – waterparks. And unless you’ve got a very particular personality, you’re never going to be sent into rapture at the thought of working at an insurance company.
After all, they’re boring. And don’t most people hate insurers whether they’re paying in or trying to get paid out?
Here’s the thing though: they don’t have to be and Lombard Insurance is out to prove it.
Founded in 1990, the company started out as a niche insurer operating specifically in the guarantee market, before developing into a multifaceted business that provides diversified insurance and related solutions to the business market.
As well as trying to foster the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit as its founder George Lombard, the company tries to ensure a collegial atmosphere among its employees, and an environment in which they feel trusted and cared about.
Engage Me recently got the chance to sit down with Lombard’s Lynda Gouveia and Sarah Williams to talk about some of the initiatives they’ve put in place in Guarantee, the company’s largest division, as well as some of the things the business as a whole does for its employees.
Among the latter initiatives is Chataccinos, the company coffee shop where we conducted this interview.
There’s also a weight loss competition, coaching and mentoring programmes, internal training sessions, regular staff functions and coffee chats where staff get to know each other better.
According to Gouveia, it’s all about “encouraging a level of engagement, enablement, and energy in our people with a view to enhancing their sense of well-being”.
Here’s a deeper look at how they go about building these.
Building leadership, building teams
Lombard puts a fair amount of work into ensuring that the various business units feel a sense of unity: with each other, with the rest of their division, and within the company as a whole.
Within Guarantee that entails a lot of one-on-one work between Gouveia, the teams, and their managers.
“Within Guarantee there are a number of different teams and divisions,” she told us. “We like to be aware of what the needs are for each of those teams, so most of the engagement work I do is on a one-on-one basis”.
Gouveia says she takes a coaching approach, with a particular focus on leadership within the teams.
“In identifying a collegial environment as key to the Guarantee strategy,” she told us, “the decision was made to look at the intrinsic motivators that drive the engagement of our senior team in particular”.
Taking a top-down approach, she spends a lot of time individually with the Guarantee division’s executive committee (exco) and senior management getting feedback on where the various teams are at and what the division could be doing differently. Focus is then placed on exploring solutions that can be implemented specific to the needs of each team and the individual members.
But, Gouveia admits, the one-on-one approach is only really possible because “the size of the business is small”. “The one–on-one approach does pose challenges in terms of our next levels of rollout, because you’ve got to then make sure that your leaders are completely onboard and are driving engagement through their teams”.
One critical process to facilitate this is Coffee Conversations, a manager-coaching initiative which has been running for eight years. Coffee conversations are where individual team members meet with their managers on a regular basis, away from their desks, to have a conversation about themselves, their career, their aspirations and any concerns they may have. This provides a sense of their engagement, well-being and development needs, outside of their operational duties, and enhances the manager-employee relationship.
Getting behind the brand
That tailored coaching approach is, however, only one aspect of building a strong team. Another thing which Lombard Guarantee has found effective is having tangible symbols that people can get behind.
A good example of this is the internal logo created for the Guarantee division. Consisting of a dump truck, a ship, and a crane, it speaks to the fact that Lombard Guarantee primarily serves the mining, freight-forwarding and construction sectors.
The logo appears on balloons when it’s someone’s birthday, baby-grows if someone has a baby, and for various other occasions around the office.
According to Williams, the logo has played an important role in reminding the Guarantee team that they’re all part of the same division.
“Yes, you’ve got your own teams and you work within the construction team [or any other team]” she told us, “but we’re one division that looks after you”.
The importance of values
Another place where Lombard Guarantee’s internal logo finds prominent use is on a floating trophy given out monthly to someone who, according to their peers, went “above and beyond” their job description.
Most importantly, the act should reflect the values of the company.
On that front, Williams says, there should “be a story” behind each nomination. “When that story gets told,” she says, “other people get to see how the values are lived out”.
Within the wider Lombard group, values are also celebrated. At the end of year party, trophies and monetary rewards are given to people who embody each of Lombard’s six values (“Love life and live with passion”, “Make it happen”, “All about excellence”, “Create and sustain true partnerships”, “Be true to ourselves and others”, and “See possibilities, seek opportunities”).
Getting behind those values helps to further foster a sense of people working as a team and being connected by a common cause.
Getting out of your comfort zone
Of course, it’s difficult to be an effective team player if you don’t know much about your teammates. That’s why Lombard Guarantee encourages staff initiatives that help people within the division get to know each other better.
When we interviewed Williams and Gouveia, for instance, the well-being team had instituted a “summer bodies are made in winter” initiative, with weigh-ins, tips on healthy eating, recipes, leader boards, and prizes for the monthly winners.
According to Williams, it’s gone a long way towards bringing together people who wouldn’t usually interact.
“I’ll hear people talking about that competition in the corridor,” says Williams, explaining that “it becomes another point at which people can connect”.
The well-being team aren’t afraid to take people out of their comfort zone either. One initiative saw staff having to get answers from a colleague to a set of quirky questions such as: “Where did you grow up? Who is your favourite superhero? Tell us something we don’t know about you?”
Getting answers to all those questions earned the employee concerned a cup of jelly beans. And because each employee had to get their answers from someone different to the person asking them questions, they ended up having two separate conversations and getting to know two different people.
According to Williams, there was initially a fair amount of resistance.
“People were upset that they had to do this,” she told us, “because they didn’t know who the people were, and it was uncomfortable, and it was awkward”.
But once they’d been through the exercise, they seemed to change their minds.
“The feedback we got from that is that they just loved it.” Williams says.
Interestingly Chattaccinos, the Lombard coffee shop, has also been a great way to serendipitously bring together people from different parts of the business.
“The risk is always that people operate strictly within their divisions, and even then, within their siloes of teams within that division,” Gouveia told us. But get to the coffee shop at eight o’clock in the morning, she says, and you’ll see “a long queue of people from across the business and everyone’s chatting and connecting”.
Making it count…without counting
Both Gouveia and Williams do however say that there’s no way they would’ve been able to implement the programmes they have without the buy-in of the senior executives in Lombard.
Evidence of that buy-in comes from the fact that they are not expected to provide data showing how well these engagement and well-being programmes are working. Instead, initiatives are evaluated consistently by connecting with employees, all with a view to enhancing engagement and performance while adding value to the business.
“If the senior management know and believe in employee well-being and engagement and they know that anything done towards that is good,” Williams told us, “then they’re happy for us to go ahead with it”.
Most importantly, it appears to be working, especially at a managerial level.
“They’re in touch with the issues within their own teams,” Gouveia says of the Lombard Guarantee managerial team. “They’re bringing those issues to me, their manager and one another, the issues are being discussed and they’re finding ways to solve them.”