James McGlennon is executive vice president and CIO at Boston-based Liberty Mutual, the sixth-largest property and casualty insurer in the world, with more than 45,000 employees operating in 29 countries.
McGlennon and his team are responsible for building, managing, maintaining and innovating the company’s global technology portfolio. And like many IT leaders, McGlennon has been on a journey to reimagine IT to support a new era of business productivity, a move accelerated and shaped by the pandemic.
McGlennon sat down with Clint Boulton at CIO’s 2021 Future of Work summit to discuss the transformation journey and partnering with the business to ensure successful outcomes. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation. For deeper insights, watch the full video interview embedded below.
On Liberty Mutual’s transformation journey:
James McGlennon: I think our journey started several years before the pandemic showed up or before the virus showed up. Our goals and objectives were very much around agile, enabling the enterprise, and that involved a complete transformation of how we build and run our software for the company with our business partners.
We also made a decision several years ago now to begin to move all of our infrastructure and backend processing out onto the public cloud environments.
And then, of course, like many companies, we identified years ago the value in data insights and what that brings to bear.
But the arrival of the pandemic and the virus really gave us a shot in the arm (no pun intended) to try to go much more quickly with the transformation that we knew we needed to make.
On accelerating digital enablement:
[We] were already on a multi-year journey to be able to digitally enable every single interaction that our employees have with our customers or that our customers have with us, either directly over the internet or over mobile applications. [But] the focus for digital enablement wasn’t simply the website and the mobile app, but also how do we digitally enable all of the channels that we that we operate in.
We’ve used everything from robotic process automation technologies to machine learning interfaces that helped guide us as to what our customers wanted. And, like a lot of other companies out there, we focused on instrumenting the journey, so that we could see exactly what was happening as we measured every interaction, both from a customer satisfaction point of view, and where were things confusing, and how might we make that more simple for our customers.
On ensuring successful business outcomes:
Our goals and objectives, our business metrics, they’re not stage-gate milestones for our technology projects. They’re outcome driven, where we tried to drive customer satisfaction, retention, margins, the premium—all of the things that you would want in the context of all these improvements.
[W]e’ve been really focused with our business partners on teaching and learning so that we make better decisions together about where we need to invest for the technologies for the future and learning what’s worked well and what hasn’t been where we wanted it to be.
On the talent challenge:
The war for talent is real. It’s out there. We’re constantly trying to understand what our employees need, what our prospective employees would look for.
What we’re finding is that more and more, people are interested in where we stand on ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues, on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. Our company has been very focused on how we impact the communities in which we operate. Our employees really resonate with that.
The other part, which is not going away, is that we need to continue to retrain, upskill, reskill our employees. So, if we can’t find more and more people to come in (although we’re doing a decent job of that), we want to take a look at the employee base we have and say, what skills will we need in another year or two that we don’t have enough of today? And start those internal retraining processes and models.
[And] we’re focused on our annual intake process. We’ve hired some 150 or so new graduates every year, so we’re looking at the makeup of that cohort, and we’re really focused on diversity and inclusion and looking broader in terms of where we can find folks.
On making hybrid work:
I’m not going to declare victory or that we have the only model that works. I will say that when the pandemic arrived with the virus, we figured out that now the ban was not the time to change our core principles. It was not the time to change the values on which we’ve kind of built our decision-making model.
So, things like putting people first, keeping it simple, treating people with dignity and respect, all of these kinds of things. We decided we’d put those front and center in terms of the decision making, and that has of really helped us.
The other thing we said was that pre-pandemic, we trusted our team members and we trusted our employees to do the right thing. Managers or senior managers or executives can’t make all the decisions in an organization. In fact, they don’t even know all the decisions that are being made on a day-to-day basis. So, you have to empower and trust folks to make the right decision.