Willis Group Holdings plc

The science behind a high performance culture.

Risk management and insurance intermediary.

Willis Group Holdings plc is a leading global risk advisory and insurance intermediary, human capital, and benefits firm. With roots dating to 1828, Willis operates today on every continent with more than 18,000 employees in over 400 offices.

It offers its clients superior expertise, teamwork, innovation, and market-leading products and professional services in risk management and transfer. Its experts rank among the world’s leading authorities on analytics, modelling, and mitigation strategies at the intersection of global commerce and extreme events.

The challenge: Identifying the right high professionals and high potentials.

Renowned for the depth of knowledge of its industry experts, risk analysis teams and client advocates, the challenge for the organization was to reset its global performance management structure, ensuring that the assessment and development of talent was inextricably linked to the business growth strategy.

To further differentiate itself from the market competition, Willis also sought to transform its culture and implement a behavioral blueprint based on its core values, one that would underline the importance of collaboration and its strong reputation for client advocacy.

Distinguishing between performance and potential was pivotal to future success, as it would enable the company to more accurately select its high professionals (“HiPros”)—the industry experts, client advocates—as well identify its high potentials (“HiPos”), the aspiring strategic and highly learning agile leaders of the future.

The solution: A people framework for all levels.

Having successfully implemented integrated Korn Ferry succession management solutions in previous organizations, Senior Vice President, Group Head Talent Management and Organizational Development, Ronny Vansteenkiste, was confident that this would act as the catalyst to bring about the change required.

“Korn Ferry’s approach provides you with a core platform from which you can hang your recruitment, development, and training plans. This people framework applies everywhere—at all levels of the organization,” stresses Vansteenkiste.

Using the nine-cell performance and potential matrix, the evaluation of a talent review process began in earnest, starting at the top of the house for the CEO and top 23 executives. This would then be followed by the next 100 leaders and then further down the talent pipeline.

Once the Korn Ferry "Talking Talent" talent review process for the firm’s sales teams was in place within the countries, individual assessments were first evaluated and then calibrated, so that competencies and capabilities could be consistently measured throughout the organization. “We did this from the top down in each country, starting with the sales director, cascading down to area sales managers and so on down the sales pipeline,” Vansteenkiste adds.

The focus: Filling the “Einstein Quadrant.”

While the accurate identification of “HiPos” for senior leadership roles remained a priority, a key objective was to unearth a greater number of “HiPros”—consistently top performing functional, technical, and managerial experts—for Willis’s mission critical roles.

As Vansteenkiste explains, “The talent matrix that we implemented using the Korn Ferry methodology allowed us to dive deep into our talent capabilities. People assume that the nine-cell is only for the top of the house but you can take it very, very deep. In terms of the grid, we focused on strengthening the "Einstein" quadrant—where the subject matter experts, who bring such exceptional value to the organization and are so hard to replace, reside.”

Pinpointing these deep industry experts and client advocates proved the winning formula. “We needed to distinguish between our sales executives, the people developing and winning new client business (“hunters”) and the sales/client support staff (“farmers”). This enabled us to provide more customized solutions for each country and industry vertical,” continues Vansteenkiste.

Willis used Korn Ferry’s tools to develop specific success profiles so that they could forensically ensure they had the right people in the right category. "Talking Talent" sessions enabled the organization to review its recruitment, selection, and training holistically—adopting a future looking perspective.

By benchmarking the talent needed against current skills, and then setting about closing the skill gaps, Willis has been able to ignite its talent. “It wasn’t just coaching for coaching’s sake—it was coaching with a very clear purpose. Talent needs to be looked at scientifically,” opines Vansteenkiste.

Einstein would have approved.