Managing Change in Business Operations for Improved Performance Management at AXA

Derek Bishop

In the current economic climate, ensuring that you are operating effectively and with the right organizational structure and performance management have never been more critical to business survival. In any recessionary period, alignment and planning and effective leadership are key areas for any successful change program.

Declining Profitability at AXA

At the global financial protection agency AXA, as Head of Direct Marketing Operations I was faced with declining profitability.

A high-level review of the business had been completed and four options were assessed: sell, "cash cow," close down or grow.

The decision was made to turnaround marketing operations and pursue business growth. This included a close look at the following areas within marketing operations: performance management, assessing the skills gap and effective change management.

Performance Management for Operations

Operations was responsible for delivering a significant proportion of AXA Life profits in the UK. Operations was a vital part of the organization and needed to be operating at optimum levels, but performance management proved to be a problem.

Operations suffered from:

  • Lack of leadership
  • Poor internal relationships with other parts of the business
  • Staff that did work they enjoyed, rather than what the business really needed
  • Operations not being seen as important to the business
  • Lack of performance management
  • Weak process, controls and governance
  • Little accountability for delivering results
  • Outsource service providers that were not aligned to deliver the right results
  • Poor communication

It was evident we needed to take a closer look at performance management for operations.

Aligning Operations and Skills for Improved Performance Management

A back to basics approach was required. We defined what operations had to deliver and developed a strategy to achieve the required results.

To improve performance management I set about designing the organizational structure and defined the roles clearly. In doing this I had to look beyond existing staff within the team. I wanted to design the organizational structure based on business needs.

Next, to ensure alignment for performance management, I matched existing staff to roles. There was fallout from this process, and I put some employees at risk of redundancy (who were friends).

These periods challenge your beliefs about whether you are doing the right thing regarding performance management. You have to be confident you are making the right changes for the business and to improve performance management.

I then recruited some new team members—it’s worth holding out for the right person, even if it gives you short term challenges of vacancies.

The next steps included:

  • Aligning employee goals to business operations strategy
  • Ensuring equal responsibility for performance management
  • Reviewing the end-to-end customer experience, processes and supplier chain and creating alignment throughout the business
  • Reviewing outsourced service partners, redefine the process and approach and assess/select partners who could deliver against the new requirements and future plan

Improved Operations through Change Management

Despite an extremely difficult period, operations successfully turned the business around, from declining profitability to growth. But what’s more, we also launched a new product range, including one new tool in six weeks time (something that had not previously been achieved).

We were also able to improve margins through increasing conversion rates by 90 percent as a result of changing the marketing operations’ processes and models.

In addition, operationally we were able to:

  • Select a single fulfilment supplier, migrating from four existing suppliers, and achieve a 48 percent cost reduction and significant improvement in service delivery, to meet increased demands of business
  • Select and implement an outsource call center service provider, achieving a 25 percent cost saving plus improved service delivery and in migrating from an existing suppliers mitigated a profit risk of £4m
  • Mitigate risk of potential loss of £12m pa new business through negotiating workable solutions to new money laundering regulations with HM Treasury, based on the customer experience

Lessons Learned from an Operations Overhaul

During this exercise I was challenged to save in operating costs and evaluate the roles that were crucial to the business.

I believed strongly in recruiting the right people in order to transform the business operations and improve performance management. It was a real test of belief and power of influence, which must be both rational and emotional.

I recruited talent that had great potential but needed immediate development—they proved to be outstanding people. When recruiting, hold out for the right person—it makes a huge difference even if it takes a long time. Give people the opportunity (and support them) if you believe they have the potential—it brings great employee loyalty and commitment.

Achieving Business Growth by Aligning Strategy, Planning and Goals

Be clear on what you are aiming for to ensure you align the company’s strategies, plans and goals. Stakeholder management is absolutely key including staff, peers, managers and customers.

When selecting suppliers, ensure they are fully aligned with your aims, objectives and plans.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of effective two-way communication and get drawn into focusing purely on delivering hard results. Sustainable results and improved performance management can only be achieved through actively engaging your people. Use a variety of different methods that are suitable to your different audiences.

Make the tough decisions and stick to your beliefs, even when you come under tough challenge. Believe in yourself, but positively influence and lead people appropriately (including sensitively where redundancies are involved).

And most importantly, engage the people—not just those in your own business area, but those that are connected to your business area. You need to lead them on the change journey as well.

First published on Call Center IQ.