Consolidations, mergers and acquisitions are not unusual in the insurance industry. Therefore, it should not have come as a surprise when Canada Life Assurance Company, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario acquired Crown Life of Regina, Saskatchewan in May of 1998. However, because rumors of the acquisition had previously been denied by Crown Life, employee trust and credibility were at a low ebb and personal uncertainty was at an all-time high. Complicating matters was Canada Life’s decision, based on the amount of business predicted with the addition of Crown Life, to reduce Crown Life’s total employee base of 1000 to 700 in order to serve policyholders in Western Canada. According to Garry MacNicholas, Canada Life’s Actuarial Vice President who led their new western headquarters, “The problem was not how to get from 1000 to 700, something which can be accomplished in as little as a day, depending upon how you go about it. The challenge is to have 700 motivated employees, upon which to build your future business, at the end of the exercise.”At the time of the actual transition (January 1, 1999), knowledge of the coming layoffs led to uncertainty and even some “who bought whom” issues. Personal anxiety was high, as employees grasped the inevitable layoffs and how their personal stake in the company would be affected. The employees had been committed to Crown Life and felt like the company had been pulled out from under them. MacNicholas’ real challenge was to get past all of these emotions and form a cohesive, successful team.Having just completed The Pacific Institute’s curriculum in Toronto, and knowing the positive impact it had on his own life, MacNicholas decided, on the day of the announcement, that he wanted to bring the Institute’s curriculum to the newest members of the CLA team. He determined that the most successful way to come to a common vision and goals was to provide the employees with the tools to embrace the changes going on around them, and, indeed, to direct those changes themselves.
Based on his experience at Canada Life in Toronto, and seeing ways to improve on it in Regina, MacNicholas decided to begin with leadership on a voluntary basis. “I couldn’t just say, ‘Here’s a great program, and I want you to use it.’ The leaders had to want to take ownership.” After an Institute presentation, geared to provide a general understanding of the concepts and applications of Investment in Excellence®, the leadership team couldn’t wait to get started. From an initial leadership team of 60, 50 volunteered to become program facilitators. Another presentation to the entire organization resulted in 97% voluntary employee participation. Facilitators were paired, which had the benefit of building management teamwork as they supported each other during initial facilitations. Perhaps more important was that employees could see senior management committed to the curriculum. If management wasn’t behind the program, employees wouldn’t buy it either.“The leadership team does have to have the right spirit of intent,” says MacNicholas. “I really do feel that the key to a successful organization is the people who make up the organization. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we don’t act in accordance with it.”
Employee turnover in the four to eight months after the transition from Crown to Canada Life was consistently in the 25-30% range. By the end of the first year, it had come down to 20%. Six months after completion of Investment in Excellence®, the turnover rate was only 6% (Because the company has since grown so much, the turnover rate now hovers around 8%). Canada Life utilizes an employee satisfaction survey throughout the entire organization. Prior to Investment in Excellence, Regina scored 2.25 on a four-point scale. After IIE, it increased to 2.7, which MacNicholas considered a “very large move.” The Regina results no longer looked any different from those in corporate headquarters – a group that overall hadn’t faced the same level of acquisition uncertainty.“In terms of growth and new business, we’ve had great success. Sales have gone up, and we finished months ahead of schedule on the integration project, finishing $10-12 million under budget.” MacNicholas’ personal goal of all 800 employees through IIE in six months was also realized. “Even though we spent a lot of time focusing on the people side, we still finished our projects early and under budget. So, from all sorts of angles, we are very pleased with the results.”According to MacNicholas, “I know that The Pacific Institute was a key element to this achievement. It’s one thing to say we’re going to invest in people, and another to really invest in the tools to help people invest in themselves. I really think that The Pacific Institute was a critical part of our success here in Regina.”
One of the challenges is to keep the curriculum alive in the organization.
- MacNicholas continues to encourage vision and goal-setting as the organization strives to improve customer service and increase shareholder return.
- People have formed their own The Pacific Institute lunch groups, as well as networks of friends from the seminars, so the concepts are reinforced and supported.
- MacNicholas looks for ways to build the concepts into the goal-setting process and documentation, thereby reinforcing the curriculum and the attitude of success.
“The Pacific Institute has really helped us revitalize the organization. It has taken people who were in the throes of uncertainty and tremendous change in their lives, and helped build them into a strong, confident, very successful team of employees.”