Rohit Nambiar, CEO, AXA AFFIN Life Insurance has led AXA Asia’s successful customer experience transformation program covering 17 entities. He also won the AXA Group Chairman’s Award for 2015. Prior to his present appointment, He was Chief Transformation & Operations Officer at AXA Affin General Insurance from January 2016 and was in charge of Transformation, Operations, IT, and Big Data.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, he shared his experience in managing people, critical jobs in the company, and why he measure performances during the crisis. Read the edited excerpts here.
As a business leader, what is keeping you awake at night?
In today’s context, while COVID has taken lives and impacted many others indirectly, it also probably serves as the single biggest opportunity to drive change at a pace never seen before. Hence, it does excite me, but it also leaves me a bit anxious about whether we are changing fast enough and if the actions we take today, do really position ourselves favorably in a new world! I call it a new world because I do believe that the world will refer to itself as pre-COVID and post-COVID era once this crisis settles down. The changes we will witness across the world and in some quarters will make them unrecognizable.
Cyber-attack is something that is always on top of mind. It’s not a matter of what-if in today’s world, it is just a matter of when and to what extent the attack will affect the organization. In today’s digital world, even with proper measures in place, with software being developed and upgraded at all times, the vulnerabilities are high.
This is a tough time for every leader, what are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
Change is inevitable, and as a leader, managing change is the name of the game. Having said that, the pandemic is a cataclysmic event that brings a level of disruption never seen before. During these unprecedented times, we have to focus on the “controllables” and not let this hinder us from moving forward.
Communicate, Communicate and Communicate: Don’t be worried about over-communicating. Do not under-estimate the common sense of people across levels in the organization. At the same time, do not expect them to know what you know as leaders. This is the time to talk to them, message them, and show them! No single method works, but together all methods work. Personally, I have run a weekly live stream to all staff to update them on the week that passed by. I also do a daily video catch up with my direct reports to see people, talk to them, and make them feel a part. Finally, I have met every single staff in the company, in groups of 10-15 to ensure they have space and place to communicate and express themselves.
Small actions go a long way - We recently sent a care package filled with sanitizers, masks, and a couple of other related items with a personalized letter to each of our staff. It was received very positively by our employees, despite it being a very small token of appreciation to the hard work and difficulties they are going through.
Make yourself vulnerable: Leadership authenticity is key. Yes, people need to see you leading. But, that doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Quite the opposite frankly! Tell them what you know and more importantly tell them what you don’t and how we can engage them in the process of discovery.
People – The secret sauce: Often said that great leadership is the key to success. In my personal opinion, a leader is only as good as the team. Regardless of good or bad times, there is only one secret sauce and that is the people.
There is a debate on the impact of working from home on employee productivity and performance. What is your take on this? What has been the trend in your recent experience of having the entire workforce working remotely?
We have always been an advocate for an agile working environment. Back in 2018, AXA AFFIN was the 1st insurer in Malaysia to adapt an enterprise-wide agile approach and HR policies at the workplace (i.e. staggered working hours, work-from-home concept, casual dress code all week, hot desking, soft phones, four months maternity leave, one-month paternity leave, etc.). Hence, from that perspective, we were less hassled when we had to work-from-home initially. But, obviously weren’t prepared for such a prolonged period.
This situation has also challenged the managerial capabilities of many traditional managers. For long, we have spoken about managing people by objectives versus time. COVID forced them to practice this and many came out stronger in my opinion. Similarly, those who wanted to work away from office all the time now value those brainstorming sessions, walkthroughs and so on much more.
Recent studies have also shown an increase in domestic abuse in some countries. It is vital for us to provide means and ways to help those who are less vocal and may need newer ways of engagement. Beyond this group, there are many others who can do with that little help from a professional on how to handle the “new norm” or “Work-from-home” challenges better.
We have launched a programme with Naluri to provide mental health professional support to our staff through a digital platform. We also run activities with our partners – BookDoc to keep our staff more active by way of rewarding them for walking more and so on.
And finally, my favourite learning - Technology works, it was always us!
When things demanded, technology worked. From softphones to new business submission and Agency/customer portals. The same people who complained about technology are using it more than ever before and we hear lesser complaints than ever before as well. It once again goes back to the same topic – change management and how can we drive faster adoption during normal times!
As a leader, do you measure performances during the crisis? If yes, what are the key parameters that are considered while measuring performances?
I am a firm believer that what gets measured, gets done. Even more so in times of crisis. Hence, from that perspective, my KPIs don’t change. In fact, we need to be even more obsessed with 2 key indicators during this time – Customer and Employee feedback. This is the time to show them we care and we are there for them.
As a company where the business is about protecting people, our key focus is first and foremost to ensure an effective operation to continue servicing our customers especially during chaotic times.
Further, I do believe the time has come to give greater weightage to longer-term lead KPIs like numbers of customers acquired, how long are they staying with us, how much time are they spending engaging with us, how many products does a customer hold with us, Net Promoter Score, etc.
This will ensure the industry moves to a more customer-centric outlook coupled with longer-term value building as opposed to walking on a tight rope between short term financials and longer-term value building commitments.
What are some of the most creative crisis management measures you have put in place?
As our industry operates in a highly-regulated environment, we have specific guidelines and an action plan to follow whenever a crisis hits us. The best way for me to manage a crisis is to be genuine, demonstrate human touch while being transparent in communicating accurate information on a timely basis to the public.
I believe many of the creative side comes in terms of thinking outside the box and move to Plan B quickly. Being the crisis leader, I utilize the unique talents of those around me and seek advice from my team members to develop a quick solution. They are able to encourage different perspectives and I can use their knowledge to devise a creative solution to the problem.
What is that one job that is going to be critical at your group in the future? And why?
There is no one job that will be critical. While it sounds like a cliché, every person within the organization is fundamental to what we set out to achieve. Yes, many of these roles would get automated and not exist in the future, but today they are of significant value. Else, they wouldn’t exist in the first place.
For me, digital is like electricity. For the same reason, I am not a fan of titles like Chief Digital Officer as we never had a Chief Electricity Officer. The single most important skill today and in the future would be digital. Now, that means many things to many people. For some it’s the tech side, for the others it the governance side and for most of us it is the business usage and adoption part.
Besides, I believe with every crisis, there is an opportunity. This pandemic crisis has given us an immense opportunity to fast forward the transformation of our traditional channels to be more open-minded and embrace digital to create a win-win situation.
What are your top three priorities at the moment?
The health and safety of our employees is our top priority right now. We believe that a safe workplace environment is crucial and therefore we have proper Standard Operating Procedures in place at our office premises and branches especially on social distancing rules and good hygiene practices. We have also carried out sanitization work in our office a couple of times as precautionary measure.
While we focus on the physical side, we ensure the mental well-being is not neglected as well. We have collaborated with Naluri - a platform for professional coaching and rehabilitative psychological support. This platform gives our employees instant access to health experts, fitness coaches, dietitians and psychologists for them to remain active and resilient during this period at the comfort of their homes.
Lastly, we are creating a culture of continuous learning within our team. We strongly encourage our employees to come out of this situation with a new skill and more knowledge. This can be achieved with powerful self-learning platform like LinkedIn Learning. An organization’s ability to learn will translate that learning into action rapidly and would put the organization in a competitive edge.