Treat your employees well - Dan Amos
AFLAC Treat your employees well.
“I have a simple management philosophy,” says Dan Amos, CEO of insurance giant AFLAC. “If you treat your employees well, they will take care of your customers and your business.
“Our first job is to take care of our employees. They, in turn, have always taken care of our business.
“Our employees know that we listen to and value their ideas, no matter how foreign they may seem to us at first. As a result, our employees extend the same courtesy to our customers. By appreciating the different viewpoints of our employees and customers, we have developed stronger products, new customers, and long-term relationships with policyholders.”
According to Dan, AFLAC is the largest foreign life insurer in Japan, in terms of profits, and the second most profitable foreign company in any industry. In 1998 AFLAC was ranked the #1 insurance company in Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America, and was included in the overall listing for the fifth consecutive year.
In February 2003, for the third consecutive year, Fortune named AFLAC as one of America’s Most Admired Companies in the life and health insurance industry. In July 2002, Fortune named AFLAC to its list of America’s 50 Best Companies for Minorities. Additionally, AFLAC is a component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and has received an A+ (Superior) rating from AM Best.
“Our success is no accident,” says Dan. “It is a direct result of our people- first management philosophy and the business strategy we have pursued for many years.
“We identify consumer needs and develop affordable products to meet those needs. We create marketing initiatives that help our sales associates sell our products. And, when a customer becomes a claimant, we honor our commitments by paying claims quickly and fairly.
“Keeping the promises we make to customers is the most important aspect of our success, and our ability to do that depends on the positive relationships our employees build with our customers. That’s why we keep our employees foremost in our thinking.
“We want AFLAC to be a company that is known as much for the strength of its character as it is for the strength of its financial performance. Continuing the success that we have enjoyed depends on our ability to nurture and listen to the many voices that comprise our employees, our communities, our customers, and our business partners. I believe that seeking out and engaging the diverse talents and perspectives of our employees produce better decisions for the company, which, in turn, produce better bottom-line results.
“For example, years ago employees told us that childcare was a big issue for our working parents. In 1991, we opened the Imagination Station, offering day care for children of employees. It was so successful that in 2001, we opened the Imagination Station II. Today, we are the largest childcare provider in Georgia.
“The daycare facilities have helped our working parents better balance their lives. They are better able to concentrate on our customers and their jobs because they know their children are receiving good care. The Imagination Stations are located across the street from our work sites, so working parents can check on their children or visit them for lunch.
“Benefits like the Imagination Station contribute to our ability to retain- talented employees. The average tenure of an AFLAC employee is ten years.
“We are also just beginning to see some of the children who grew up at the Imagination Station entering our workforce. These children are an asset to the company. They already know our corporate culture— they know about AFLAC—and are anxious to contribute to the company’s success.
“We make sure that all our employees participate in the success or failure of our overall business. Every AFLAC employee gets stock options and all employees are eligible for our yearly profit sharing program. “Employees have a vested interest in how well we serve our customers. As our business grows, so does their wealth. The profit-sharing bonus is based on both the company’s performance and an individual’s ability to achieve job-related goals. This means that your colleague’s ability to get the job done directly affects your bonus and the value of your stock.
“As a result, we do not hear the phrase ‘that’s not my job.’ Everyone understands that in order for the company to achieve its goals, everyone must work together. These ties build a loyalty and dedication that is made of tough stuff.
“Even when folks leave us, we find they often still remain a part of the AFLAC family. We recently held a state of the company event for our retirees. It was such a big hit that we made it an annual event. Additionally, all retirees receive the company magazine, the AFLAC Family Album.
“All employees are given stock options and most keep their stock even after they leave the company. They remain interested in the company as investors. Many of the employees are second-and third-generation AFLAC employees. They discuss the company at family reunions and with me at the grocery store or in church.
How can a person learn to become a better leader? “My advice to someone who wants to improve their leadership skills is to improve their listening and communications skills.
“I believe that communication is at the heart of good leadership. A good leader communicates the vision and values of the company through his words and actions. He listens to the problems that his employees are facing in executing his vision and makes the necessary adjustments. He cares about his customers’ needs and works hard to make sure that the company’s products and employees meet those needs.
“A company is a living, breathing organization and in order to successfully lead it, you must always remember that it takes people to buy your products, sell your products, and service your products. It is important that your corporate leaders clearly communicate your commitment, your corporate values, and let each employee know how important his or her role is to the success of the company.
“Being a great communicator requires that you connect with people-on a number of levels. You have to understand complicated technical issues, but you have to make sure you can present these issues clearly and understandably to every employee, regardless of their function in the company.
“I use e-mails and handwritten notes to communicate about simple matters and transmit information quickly. I place phone calls and stop by offices for matters that are more complex and require more discussion. When I really need to get a point across in a way that brings attention, I send out a memo. Because memos from me are rare inside AFLAC, they get noticed and acted upon.
“I hold regular staff meetings for my senior managers to discuss issues that impact each of us. AFLAC holds regular State of the Company meetings for employees to let them know how their company is being run. These meetings are any opportunity to help our employees keep the bigger picture in focus, to set the context for everything they do, and explain the complexities that affect our overall business. Most importantly, these meetings are my opportunity to help them understand why each of their roles are important to AFLAC’s overall success.
“We have a program called Bright Ideas that allows employees to submit ideas and be rewarded if these ideas are implemented. The AFLAC Family Album, our employee magazine, highlights individual contributions to the company.
“AFLAC works hard to foster an environment where people know that we are interested in their ideas and their personal growth. We want them to know that their ideas are welcome, and that we’ll implement them, because those good ideas help improve the health of our business.
“At core, communicating should foster a very high level of teamwork and a unified understanding of corporate goals. And if a leader is going to be successful, he has to listen—he has to make sure that he is hearing all of the diverse viewpoints that are present in a big business.
“Finally, a leader has to ask a lot of questions of employees: What motivates them? Which of their needs are being met? Which are not? How can you help them? What impact will helping them have on your business? Listening to and acting on the needs of employees helps our business in the short term and over the long term.”