How Max Life Insurance is positioning women leaders for succession and higher roles

How Max Life Insurance is positioning women leaders for succession and higher roles

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Max Life Insurance (Max Life) centers its business strategy around its people and the community it serves. It is on a mission to increase the life insurance penetration in India through a motivated workforce that aligns with its values, says Shailesh Singh, Director & Chief People Officer, Max Life Insurance

"Our culture centers around building a workplace with a blend of superior human capital and organisation values of care, collaboration, customer obsession and a growth-mindset."

It was with this culture that Max Life ranked amongst the top 50 Best Workplaces in India for the past four consecutive years. This year, the insurance provider came in 24th, which Singh believes is a true reflection of its "high service commitment" to the employees. Max Life today boasts of more than 15,000 employees working across more than 260 offices across the country. "This family is served well by a strong HR team spread across locations in the country," Singh notes.

In this exclusive interview with Priya Sunil, he delves deep into Max Life's commitment to being a "mini-factory of talent", its three-tiered approach to driving women leadership, and even continuing to hire more than 2,000 employees through a full digital process amid the pandemic.  

Q You’ve been with Max Life since early 2012, and since then, have been committed enhancing culture, raising engagement levels, developing talent and leadership, and more. How have you been doing so, and how have these efforts progressed since you first took the helm in 2012?

My work at Max Life has been extremely fulfilling. From leading and partnering to contributing and creating, my role has enabled me to strengthen the people agenda of Max Life systemically over the years. My journey has been one of growth, fulfillment, and joy; a journey where I have basked in the glory of a growing organisation that has a solid people foundation and deeply believed in the power of '‘talent and culture'. The Max Life DNA has people commitment at the centre stage, where supervisors lead 'culture & values' and where HR function has delivered impact, to harness the power of robust human capital.

In our progressive journey over the years, we have continued to raise the bar on our talent and culture. We hire the best and invest significantly in them over years. We have a rigorous ‘organisation & talent review’ (OTR) process led by all supervisors for their constituencies that covers all aspects of talent development, retention, engagement etc., resulting in a rich pipeline of internal candidates for future requirements. The richness of our culture is also evident from the long tenure of our mid- to senior-level leaders and the fact that we have hundreds of employees who have returned to Max Life for a second stint of service.

The strength of our talent bench is also evident from the number of CEO/CXO position holder roles in the insurance sector who have worked in Max Life at some stage of their career. We take pride in being a mini-factory of talent.

Simultaneously, we have also focused on enhancing employee experience significantly by simplifying things, strengthening our caring culture and instituting multiple listening posts (from hiring till separation) and working relentlessly on their feedback from time to time. In Max Life, leaders' first priority is to create leaders.

Q You're passionate about D&I, and so is Max Life. How are you driving this passion in your workforce?

Gender diversity and inclusion is very close to us at Max Life Insurance. This passion has been translated into an important agenda for the company and is a key pillar to augment our gender footprint in due course.

Our philosophy circles on harmony and togetherness and we are proud to share that 45% of our sales agents are women, the highest in the private life insurance segment. Over the long term, our diversity ratios have seen a consistent upward trend; we have recorded a 50% increase of women employees in the organisation since 2012.

We have crafted programmes for employees at the middle and senior management level for a holistic journey of individual development through sustainable interventions such as workplace projects, coaching, supervisory guidance, leaders sharing their experiences, and mentoring on leading self, others as well as business. Such programmes focus on key competencies of interpersonal skills, communication, executive presence, decision making, networking, and critical thinking, and overcoming self-limiting barriers. 

In essence, our programmes are designed to encourage women employees to build their brand as women leaders through a three-tiered approach. Our Catalyst initiative enables women employees at the mid-management level to pursue their aspirations and strengthens them for better succession planning.

Additionally, we currently have two programmes in the pipeline - Roar Ahead slotted for this month, and, She Leads planned for the next quarter. Max Life's Roar Ahead aims at selecting a group of high-potential AVPs & VPs to overcome self-limiting barriers, and demonstrate leadership traits while enabling them to stretch beyond their limits to take on higher roles. The She Leads initiative will focus on the creative talent pool among senior women leaders such as CVPs.

Q What are you doing for your own employees' health and wellbeing? How this is being enhanced today, with COVID-19 pushing your ‘People First’ priorities to take centrestage?

The physical and mental wellbeing of our people is at the forefront of Max Life Insurance. Post the lockdown announcement in March, our strategic planning and digital readiness enabled us to transition 80% of our workforce to work from home effectively within three to four days to ensure their physical safety. Moreover, to reinforce the need to stay safe and spend more time with family, during the initial days of the lockdown, we initiated a 21-day challenge titled #The21DayDifference to engage our employees in small tasks that encouraged them to pursue mindful living.

We are also constantly encouraging employees to take care of their health and mental wellbeing while working from home by engaging in unwinding activities like Zumba with family, and online yoga classes. We have also instituted monthly pulse surveys to gauge levels of engagement in different functions and locations. This helps us take appropriate curative actions to manage this transition better. We continue to adopt new technologies with agility to continue with our growth momentum and benefit our customers as well as employees at large.

Apart from these, the organisation has implemented varied initiatives including Family Hour from 1pm–2pm, Wednesday's Lights Out at 5.30pm, and no official calls/meetings post 6.30pm. This will ensure that the workforce has ample personal and family time and to create pertinent work-life balance in today’s work-from-home culture.

Q Overall, how have your employees responded to these initiatives, and what gaps are you and your leadership team looking to address moving forward?

Max Life has been an organisation that has always believed in having an 'employee-first' DNA. With the lockdown affecting the social interactivity of the employees, Max Life has initiated varied employee-focused initiatives that have helped the employees to remain balanced and spend quality time with themselves and their families. We continue to service customers well while according high priority to the safety and wellbeing of our employees.

The initiatives as conceptualised have been embraced whole-heartedly by the Max Life family and have helped us create stronger team bonds, bring more efficiency to workstreams, and create a pertinent work-life balance. We pulse our teams at regular intervals and design our initiatives/strategy in line with what we hear from them.

Q With India on lockdown for months, many organisations have had to implement hiring freezes. I understand, however, that Max Life has continued to hire, and onboard new staff virtually. Tell us more about this commitment.

In line with our 'People First' priorities, we at Max Life Insurance have been able to consistently navigate the challenges of current times by reinforcing our hiring commitment. In just the first half of the year, we have hired more than 2,000 employees across branches and verticals and onboarded 170 people, which includes hires from campuses as well. Through our seamless digital onboarding services, under the aegis of the e-Bandhan Process, we demonstrated swift response to the overall crisis and ensured that the induction was hassle-free. E-Bandhan is a virtual platform designed to provide a holistic view of the organisation to new employees segregated into a five-day induction programme, covering everything from Max Life’s organisational values to HR, IT, compliance policies, performance management systems, and more.

This virtual platform allows the new joiner to ask any question instantaneously and be responded to in real-time. To further make the experience seamless, speaker presentation decks are available to download and refer to anytime in the future. Furthermore, "Ely" – our chatbot, is available on our employee app that helps new joiners with all their queries and guides them to the right resource.

Furthermore, we hired more than 40 leaders across the board. To bolster our talent mapping efforts, we reached out to more than 500 candidates expressing that we liked their profile and would stay in touch for a job opportunity in the future. We believe the same has helped us sustain engagement with the talent pool out there and allowed us the opportunity to remind them that while times are challenging, not all is bad.

Q How did you ensure a smooth process, without heavily impacting costs?

Post the nationwide lockdown, Max Life was able to transition most of its operations to digital processes, and we ensured that the recruitment initiatives were also seamlessly transformed digitally.

We realised that the introduction of smarter platforms was the need of the hour, both to influence internal colleagues, external talent and end-customers. We now have digitised the onboarding journey for new hires, building on concepts like artificial intelligence and matchmaking for mapping talent and instituting more intuitive ways to influence customer journeys. Right from e-interviews, to digital interactions, Max Life’s recruitments are being done via innovative digital platforms on-the-go which allows us to reach the right talent while keeping the costs under check.

At Max Life, our relentless focus remains on hiring fungible talent with cross-functional capabilities. Also to ensure smart hiring, we have revamped our early career hiring strategy with the inclusion of top graduate institutes and have been continuing our synergies with top B-Schools amidst unprecedented COVID times. Other initiatives including in-house sponsored robust mobility programmes, successor readiness programmes, and curated development journeys for hi-pots, have helped make the onboarding journeys for new hires more intuitive and engaging, thus helping reducing cost streams for the organisation.

Q Looking ahead, how do you see the role of HR evolving in the next five to 10 years?

COVID-19 has been a great lesson in building resilience for organisations. It has drawn greater realisation to the urgent need of reimagining processes to remove friction, enable virtual prospecting and developing a digital sales force. This 'new normal' requires a focused approach in building tech infrastructure which complements the ecosystem.

To this effect, the emphasis on digital collaboration is greater than ever before. Investment in remote user technology such as virtual desktops & VPN is essential to ensure the BFSI sector continues collaborating and servicing customers seamlessly through this period of lockdown. Companies will have to embrace tech-led solutions to enable hyper-connectivity and drive work-from-home efficiency.

HR has an influential role to play, and there is a clear push to pursue digital adoption in the interest of speed, process efficiencies, consistency of deliveries, and employee safety in the immediate term. HR, as a function, will need to stay dynamic and evolve more to stay lean, agile and a credible partner in value creation for the enterprise.

Q What is the most important piece of people management advice you’d like to share with other managers and HR leaders?

As an HR professional, knowing why an employee feels engaged to his/her role and what inspires him/her to positively contribute to the business goals remains paramount. Therefore, working with employees to leverage their current strengths and inspire them to learn/grow all the time will be a great service to them and to the enterprise. This will help create superior value for customers, career growth & fulfillment for employees, and business growth for the enterprise.

Photo / Provided [Featuring Shailesh Singh, Director & Chief People Officer at Max Life Insurance]

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