Angela Peacock, Chair, The People Development Team
Global insurance businesses must learn to manage diverse teams across geographies in a fair and totally consistent way to achieve the best possible business results.
Take for a moment the global insurance company expanding rapidly into Asia-Pacific and managing a diverse pool of local market managers – each manager an outstanding talent in their field; loyal, capable and fully equipped with the skills and knowledge to negotiate in the local markets.
These highly talented individuals could well turn out to have some of the best business brains in the entire global organisation and yet statistics and experience tell us we are not seeing nearly enough of these outstanding employees recognised and promoted onto even the regional boards; certainly not on to the global executive teams.
So we have to stop now and ask ourselves: what are the tangible implications of our ability to walk straight past the very talent that is on our Asian doorstep for the future of our businesses? And more interestingly, if we continue to do this, what might the tangible impact be for the future of our competitors?
Why are companies in the insurance sector, as global businesses, not recognising these individuals and providing the inclusive environments within which they can thrive for themselves and for us?
View of a leader
These issues can only be addressed within the heads of the leaders of the companies themselves. Consider for a moment the hidden fear, implicit bias and inherited beliefs that might drive our perceptions of what a leader looks like and then our perceptions of what a leader definitely does not look like.
Is a leader someone who speaks up, shoots from the hip, uses all their available airtime, makes decisions quickly and makes themselves visible at all levels across an organisation?
Because if this is our collective view of a leader, whether conscious or unconscious, we will be immediately counting out much of the potential for local Asian talent to move across into global executive roles and to drive global strategy – and all without a single second’s conscious awareness that is what we are actually doing. And let us not believe for one moment local market competitors are making the same mistakes we may be making here.
So where do we start? Let us try just two simple things that will have measurable and instant impact. Let us try to rethink the way virtual meetings are held – stop looking for instant solutions, start sharing information ahead of time and be patient to seek written confirmation and ideas later in the day, giving your teams appropriate time to consider the options.
And let us start to reconsider assumptions about the minimum duration of regional or global assignments. Just because in the West we have a firm belief it takes a full three years to have any kind of major impact on assignment, the reality is this in itself is not true in the Asia-Pacific region. A 12- to 15-month assignment is much more acceptable and indeed more achievable and palatable.
The implicit and unconscious biases we hold are not just about the direct impact on our talent selection but also affect the very structure and processes within our organisations. Without address, the end result will always be the same: we will not necessarily view talent that is different from our expectations in a balanced and realistic way.
Let us be brutally honest: the leaders of the future will not look like us, will not think like us and certainly will not lead like us.
Insurance companies looking to expand their geographies would do well to take a really hard look at the way they are doing business in emerging markets. We need to recognise we need different brains and different approaches, specifically in Asia – a market that, according to the recent London Matters report, saw overall growth of 11%, while at the same time there was a drop in London market share of 20%. And that is why creating truly inclusive environments that extend from our home markets to Asia markets will be at the very heart of our success.