Anyone can do it, is advice Mike Plaxton the CEO at Krungthai AXA Life gives to those who aspire to lead of an operational sales organization.

At the successful Krungthai AXA Life Insurance company in late 2009, in a  context of what their business Intelligence system (BI) deployment needed to deliver, a conversation I had with CEO, Mike Plaxton, went something like this.

I grew up as an ordinary kid in the midlands of the UK. So being a CEO does not mean you need a pedigree or be a genius. There are just a few things to get right. Having a clear incentive based performance management model to motivate people is one. Ensuring clear linkages and standards are set and  followed is another.

At Krungthai AAX, which is basically a sales organization, that not only applies to sales production, but equally to delivery and in-fact all areas including finance and support.  That needs regular information and metrics to maintain momentum and keep things on track. 

To achieve that means all the information must be in one place so we can have better conversations to manage growth and see what is happening.’

Sometime in January 2010, over a coffee at his regular Starbucks hangout with David Korunic, his CFO, we were discussing the best way forward on what was moving into place. With just a couple of months in we had set up a data-warehouse and begun deploying a business intelligence solution, for daily sales reporting, amongst other things.

The access I had to these guys was story in itself. Mike always had an open door policy. For a guy who headed up a 10,000 strong workforce, allowing such free access to him was a testament in itself to his competency.

His clear mind meant five minutes or less with him was always enough to get direction and valuable clues that could save people weeks of jumping over typical internal minefields that normally exist in corporations.  Under his guidance, in his organization, which seemed to employ not only great talent but also engendered a team players spirit, that saw people emulate the very successful right of access policy of this this walk around and listen style CEO.

Going back a step to December the BI project had gotten a huge impetus when it was driven a chance doorstop conversation in his office. By then, as part of our immediate value start approach, we had already created a platform to measure the effectiveness of the academy function to aid in improving the effectiveness training and quality of selling programs.

When I joined Mike briefly at that time for a go forward discussion, he pointed to his white board across his spacious office, with his VP of Distribution, Roger Deacon present, and said:

“Roger’s’ teams are going for an all time record in sales this month. 

We would love to be able to let everyone see their daily performance against the plan across the full span of control of every sales team, right down to agent or advisor in all business channels. 

Is that possible and if so let me know what road blocks you need shifted to get it?”

That was all we needed to motivate the project into top gear with immediacy to get the daily new business data into focus in a workable format. It came in warts and all and I with some reports not that elegant as the source data was not all that seamless or well defined in terms of its integrity.

clip_image002But not being feint hearted we began deploying it as is as something initially usable to the top guys. To let it go further we knew would have spelt suicide to the project, but it did more than the trick to bond the Executive to see all the potential of this now transparent tool.  As issues it began to show up and got fixed the tracking of daily numbers first in December 2009 and then ongoing thru January 2010 as the first full monthly cycle, was seen as a huge win.

The value too as history appeared was seeing the spikes in pipe-lining and delivery delays which became very obvious. And issues like cancellations and un-booked sales that were being funnelled till the last few days of the month could also be seen. So even thought the project was nowhere near being at production quality, immediate operational steps were able to be taken to rectify issues and fix bottlenecks, This included speeding up confirmations and pre-emptively streamlining underwriting.

And despite the issues it raised on data quality, which got fixed over the next few months and another story also adding real value in itself, we did it all this via our test database to get immediate deep access to detail previously not possible. In the meantime the paper based and paper over legacy systems continued in parallel for daily sales and monthly financial reporting but by now the gaps had these now under serious challenge to be retired.

Back to that January 2010 chat over a coffee, Mike’s continuing sound advice is something that has continued to resound with me ever since.

“Getting the numbers and having them right is so important to ensure credibility. But seeing them in a timely way so you have time to respond to achieve your target is critical. 

Pipelining and slipping a deal till next month is common place reaction by many a salesperson, so reducing the opportunities for this and using the rhythm and beat of the numbers to ramp sales efforts up and keep them there, gets the momentum. That what is needed to succeed in Sales”

As we talk further about integration and particularly the relationship with the financial reports he added another gem, saying,

One thing we do know is a game is often won or lost in the last few minutes. 

It is no less so in sales. Hence you need to score consistently throughout the game and put in the extra at the end to be sure you win convincingly to be energized for the next game. 

Important too is to ensure scores are fully counted after the whistle with all sales booked. 

Saying it does not matter as they will just get booked in the next month is a no-no, It is so de-motivating. and just kills the momentum, which is what it is all is about.  Solving this by having two sets of books is even worse. Sales and Finance do need to agree. 

So even though accountants dislike me saying this it, holding the books open a day for last minute stuffing to make the numbers, is perfectly acceptable to me. It also makes the difference to move the whole organization from mediocrity to being an exceptional performer.”

David who has a reputation and stands out as a quality CFO, then added something that made so much sense.

Giving the agents direct access to view of how they are going and how they can earn more money is our longer term aim. 

Giving them and managers supporting them the ability to see and translate actions that delver immediate and ongoing value to their monthly pay-check, naturally sorts out those who want to perform from those who are just on for the ride.

Being able to see the progressive in competitions and marketing campaigns with a BI tool for such self management is one of our key objectives.

It was an absolute pleasure working with these guys. These kinds of open and regularly informal reviews in the life of the project development also helped make it work as they both took executive and operational sponsorship lead to ensure the BI progress and value was delivered.

In April 2010 when our work was maturing they allowed me make public a “Mike Plaxton quote”, which bears repeating now to underpin a major part of what has made that BI installation so successful.

clip_image004[1]I spend my time in conversations asking questions as I try answering none. 

My job is to listen so I can help people focus their efforts in discovering the answers they need to do their job from the data they collect in their job.  The key is to engage peoples hearts and minds to focus so they know they are well supported. 

When I talk more and listen less, I only engage their minds and my ego.

Having our up-to-date performance information on tap and in sync that we can trust and all share, means we can have very good conversations. I can then listen more to help them increase their momentum.

My job is to get them to use the information they have by asking questions that help them understand our business. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power – their power not mine.”

– Michael George Plaxton  CEO Krungthai AXA Life Insurance Co Ltd

But that was not the end of the story. To make this all happen, Mike and David also appointed a permanent Information Manager to take care of the system and facilitate ongoing use of the Business Information to maintain momentum and grow the business. The person they appointed was a bright business analyst who had been involved in the project. It was a career move for him for sure.

Mike also lead the further system roll-out out himself, by making it the center piece of a strategic planning workshop in July 2010, of that year. The  the event was held at the Westin Hotel Convention Centre, where he brought the cream of his business of eighty of his top people in from all the regions.

I was invited to join in and take part in that planning day, which in itself was a brilliant case study in how to fast track information based culture change for managing a business where he used the now very live business intelligence data to spawn strategies that directly ended up in the business plans.

The agenda and approach he took on the day was so simple and again bore out his brilliance as a leader. The first hour he spent with his executive team reviewing the half year performance and the business objectives for the next two years.

Then after his newly appointed Business Information Manager showcased the BI tool he formed eight teams’ of ten people and reassigned them for the day completely new functional roles. He move people from different disciplines such as having the CIO run the Direct Sales Agency as he swap around to new roles Bank Assurance and various Agency channels and Support teams like Marketing and Finance.

With the new role playing clear he asked each team to spend the rest day to break out and formulate strategies to grow their part of the business by a given quantum in the next two years. The final presentations by these quasi teams to the real board of management, who reassembled at the end of the day, as they delivered with rational and hard numbers their plans supported by look back and other evidence they found in the BI system.

As he said to me when he was planning this workshop, this type of engagement had a risk that could have meant the whole day’s effort could completely fail.  But it became clear after the first 20 minutes into the risky part of the day that the results were going to be incredible which they were.

The rest is history with Krungthai AXA now on their way to another record year of exceeding the market and their own 30% growth of last year 2009 by orders magnitude. They are also now set on a course with a well planned approach and commitment to it plus the tools to manage doubling their size in the next few years. I have no doubt as do all who are involved they will do it.

The results and growth of this company are truly outstanding and continues with this ongoing information culture approach. As an advisor, be-it only a bit part in of my role leading a consultant firm, I am proud to be part of it.

~000~

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About: Krungthai AXA Life Insurance Co Ltd

AXA; the leading European insurance company is a shareholder and partner with Krung Thai Bank PCL of  KrungthaiAXA Life Insurance. In Financial Markets AXA is positioned as a Global Leader in Financial protection. Krung Thai Bank PCL symbolized by the “Wayupak bird”, is one of the leading Thailand banks. It proudly boasts one of the most established and enviable branch networks and brings to the partnership a truly dynamic value with its Bank Assurance Channel, a key contributor to the business success.

In terms of New Business, Krungthai AXA is ranked 5th on the leader board of the 24 major players in the market.

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