Exclusive insight from award-winning Kiwi company

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The award-winning AA Insurance has been recognized numerous times for its enviable environment and was identified most recently as the most improved workplace in New Zealand – so what’s the company’s secret?

Here, head of HR Nikki Howell shares her insight into achieving success and the challenges of maintaining that for so long.
HRM: AA Insurance has been identified – again – as one of the best workplaces in New Zealand. Broadly speaking, why do you think this is?
NH: It comes down to the amazing people and culture we have here at AA Insurance, where it truly supports individuals to grow and be the best they can be.  As an organisation we are constantly balancing the needs of our people, customers and business, knowing that we need to invest in our people, while not forgetting the basics of good, supportive leadership. These elements help create the environment needed for our people to flourish. 
HRM: What are the challenges of maintaining success for eight consecutive years?
NH: We complete the survey to get a formal ’moment-in-time‘ gauge of how our people feel and what we may need to keep, stop and start doing.  Our success is the ongoing engagement of our people, but there isn’t a magic wand to make that happen.   Being a finalist for eight consecutive years has been the icing on the cake. The challenges are varied: how do you provide the challenge or psychological sense of progression if promotional opportunities slow down because people are engaged in their roles and not moving; how do you cope with growth without affecting your culture; how do you balance different generational requirements or the pressures a call centre environment brings?  These are some of the trials we have faced as an organisation during this time.
HRM: If you had to choose one specific programme or initiative that’s had the most significant impact on AA Insurance’s workplace – what would it be?
NH: The one thing that has had a significant impact on AAI’s workplace isn’t a specific programme or initiative, but our culture.  Our culture is based on our values of being genuine.  Living these has helped to create a familial feeling where you look out for each other, where you can grow, be heard and supported.  Our culture underpins how we do things and act, creating the right environment to foster engagement.  It has taken a long time to nurture and get right and we guard it fiercely from anything that may detract from it. 
HRM: Are there any particularly unique or unusual programs or initiatives at AA Insurance – no matter how small – that have been introduced?
NH: We are constantly looking at how we can anticipate our people’s needs in terms of providing a challenging, rewarding and engaging environment.  Over time we have created opportunities for our people through our role rotations philosophy, allowing individuals to rotate into different roles around the business on the basis of having the right attributes and then training them in the role.  We have invested in our people with a holistic wellbeing programme to promote a healthy lifestyle, not only for them but their families too. And we’ve also introduced a leadership programme - which everyone from the CEO to the newest team leader has gone through - to ensure a consistent approach to the regular one-on-one meetings and coaching for our people.
HRM: AA Insurance also won the Most Improved Workplace award – can you tell me a bit about the process of identifying areas of improvement?
NH: Every year we look at the information the survey provides us in detail, and listen to what our people are telling us through their verbatim comments. We look at what we need to do from an organisational viewpoint, but also roll the results out to departments and to individual teams and seek their input on what they’re able to change.  Our leaders are encouraged and supported in not only identifying areas for improvement through this process, but also areas to maintain and not take for granted.   Acting on the feedback we have, even small changes can make a difference when your people see that we listen to them. If we don’t make a change however, we follow up with the rationale for this. 
HRM: Were there any unexpected or unpleasant surprises during this process?
NH: If your leaders know their people and have regular catch-ups with them; if we back our promises as a business; and if we provide the right environment for our people, then we should know how they feel. The survey simply confirms this and gives us more information and insight.

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  • Malavika Chakraborty on 28/01/2016 10:00:20 p.m.

    Being a former employee of AA insurance I can vouch for Nikki's every word. This organization indeed takes its survey seriously and the action / results are quite visible....M amazed how intense and detailed the survey is which touches each and every aspect

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