There’s a secret sauce at the centre of every Sun Life initiative which not only drives innovation and creativity but also keeps employees engaged and empowered – here, CHRO Carrie Blair explains.
“We try to get employees involved in all of our initiatives and projects because one of the secret sauces at Sun Life is collaboration,” says the Toronto-based HR head. “It permeates throughout the organization and honestly around the world for us.”
According to Blair, the financial giant places huge value on employee feedback and encourages staff to have their say on a wide range of issues – from company products to office environment.
As a result, Sun Life has managed to forge a culture in which employees are eager to contribute and collaborate – even when they’re not obligated to do so.
The culture manifested itself last year when the Sun Life business, Digital Health Solutions, launched a national healthcare provider ratings network, through the my Sun Life mobile app that helps people find service providers in their area and lets users rate the service provided.
“We really wanted a group of people to tell us how the app is going and give feedback about how it could be improved in the future,” Blair tells HRD. “So we opened it up on a voluntary basis and in Canada we had over 800 employees sign up – they’re participating in this pilot like every day Canadians and giving us feedback about things we’re going to test and learn in the business itself.”
The organization also turned to its employees before its recent HQ relocation – setting up a lengthy pilot with 200 team members from seven different business units.
“Those 200 people gave us feedback along the way about everything from investing in sit-stand desks to integrating technology,” says Blair.
“One of the reasons we decided to make the investment for sit-stand desks here in the new building was because the employees told us it was something they wanted,” she reveals. “Now we’ve watched them utilize it and it’s been incredible.”
The firm also has a Lean Six Sigma-based initiative called the Brighter Way which seeks to enhance individual and organizational productivity through a collaborative team effort.
“We’ve encouraged people to bring forward the ideas for continuous improvement and when we’ve harvested savings we’ve turned around and reinvested them into new areas of the business and new areas of growth,” says Blair.
“What we haven’t done is make it an expense grab or an expense effort reduction so employees have really latched onto this and we’ve created this environment where they want to bring forward new ideas.”
The secret sauce, it seems, is working – the company’s last engagement survey revealed scores of 85 per cent which puts Sun Life ahead of global financial firms and closing in on the best companies in the world.
“If you listen to your employees, really take time to understand them, and then act or respond to those things, it tends to work really well,” Blair tells HRD.