Friday, 10 June 2011

#ECTalent - Recognising Individuals: GE vs. Aviva


  OK, this was only a competition in my own mind, but after the previous panel session I was still feeling just a little… well, bored is the wrong word, but you know what even the best conferences (of which this is one) are like.  Let’s just say I was a bit last energised than I had been in the morning, so I thought it’d be fun to imagine these two separate sessions running as one – and seeing which company / approach came out on top.

And I do think that doing this provides an interesting competition between two different perspectives:the inclusive and exclusive approaches to talent management, and particularly between these two companies, as almost polar opposite examples of the two approaches.


  John Ainley, Group HRD at Aviva, kicked off first.  For him, developing an Employee Value Proposition depends on recognising the individuality of employees.

Aviva’s Customer Value Proposition is based on the concept of significance. Everyone needs to feel significant as a human being. The CVP is ‘no-one recognises you like Aviva’, differentiating the company from its grey competitors, and they want to do something similar internally as well.

For Aviva, everyone is talent.  It sounds trite but is quite fundamental. If you’re focusing on that top 10% cadre, this means you’re neglecting the bottom bottom 90%, which doesn’t feel right to him.

Reward doesn’t have a particularly important role in significance. Everyone wants to feel fairly paid, that’s all.  So they have a twice a year conversations about their own needs.  These use Real Deal cards to help understand how the company is doing in delivering what the employees value.

The skill of the leader is about recognising the significant needs of the individual.  Aviva isn’t perfect at it.  What’s perfect (John suggests) is their focus on the significance of individual in everything they do.


    Second round: Susan Peters, CLO, GE talking about GE’s Session C.

Susan talked mainly about social media and the way it’s changing the way we work. You’ll need to pop over to Social Advantage for that.

Linked to other conversations earlier in the agenda, GE also takes a long-term view of culture, thinking about how they’re going to attract and retain people in their business in another 10 years time: three to four years isn’t enough – you need to be able to leapfrog in order to be effective in the future.

So, Session C.  This, as you probably know, is GE’s annual review of HR – of peoples’ performance , strengths, career aspirations etc.  And they do this review in aggregate too – in the Session C Wrap.  They sit and talk about people and their succession planning as well.

It’s what provides GE’s magic – that ‘we know our people and we talk about them’.  Note it’s not really about the 20 / 70 / 10 thing (which they’re not forcing as much as they used to historically - and even in the past they never really took 10% out, although the higher you went the higher % went eg it was about 7% at senior levels).

Like BSkyB, the model gives as much weight to demonstrating the values as to performance.


So, both great submissions, I’m sure you’ll agree.  But which will be the winner of this contest?

Now, I love Aviva’s focus on significance.  But I’ve never really been able to understand their talent thing.  How can calling some talent top talent, and other talent slightly-less-good talent be any better than saying you’re excellent or average?  It feels a little bit like spin and therefore comes over (to me at least) as unnecessarily inauthentic.

But I’ve always had problems with GE’s competitive focus too.  And although I understand why being robust and honest is likely to be in lower performing employees’ benefit longer-term, I’ve always felt this has smacked a bit of process for process sake.  Certainly, the greatest benefits from stack ranking come in the first few years of using it, so GE’s determination to keep forcing it for as long as they did seems overly fixated (even if they never really used it as robustly as they said).


But then, these are both minor points.  One of my key beliefs about HCM strategy is that you can make a wide range of approaches work if you’ve got the ambition and determination to make your’s work, and you’re able to align your strategy, your processes, and the people you employ behind it.

The people who are going to work at Aviva are, I’d hope, a very different lot to those who’d work at GE (to the extent that this can ever be the case in such large companies).  I suspect the different processes make the different groups of people feel about equally recognised and significant.

I like the way each of these companies processes are so strongly linked to their way of thinking, and I love the clarity of these thoughts.

So I think I’m going to have to award top marks to both companies (well, say 9.5 out of 10).  Still, if you’ve got other thoughts on marks, let me know, and I’ll think about adjusting!




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