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The Strategic Learning Cycle A Case Study - Harris Search Associates

The Strategic Learning Cycle: A Case Study

One of the highlights of the 2011 IIC Partners APAC Meeting was a workshop run by Chris Hamilton, Senior Vice President & Director - Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Chubb Group. Chubb's new approach to strategic development in the APAC region - based on IIC Partners' Executive Lounge Special Guest Professor Willie Pietersen's strategic learning cycle - has revolutionized the way Chubb does business in terms of results - and how quickly it sees them.

Since 2002, Chubb has been focused on building culture in the APAC region.

"Part of the reason we took a holistic point of view is that things are moving so quickly in this part of the world, politically, economically and socially and it's a challenge trying to grow a successful business in a climate of such rapid change," Chris explains.

"From a human resources perspective, it is easy to teach people one-off skills, such as leadership, financial acumen and even underwriting, but the shelf-life for those one-off skills in such a dynamic environment is extremely limited. We needed to embed behaviour in our company culture that continuously and consistently allows us to grow and compete."

"We set out to cultivate a 'learning and adapting' environment which teaches its employees - at all levels and from all regions - a four-step strategic learning process that has seen strategy development within the organization become ongoing.

"It is a model developed by Columbia University's Professor Willie Pietersen, who taught us the process and theory behind it.

"The basic application is that it is not a static four-step process, it's circular. It begins with a situational analysis to generate insight into the environment then moves to the creation of strategic choices. These choices are then aligned with the organization's structure, processes, people and culture before moving into the implementation stage."

Chris agrees that there is always a possibility a prescribed approach in itself can become outdated.

"But the key thing to understand is that this model is based on learning - which is constant - and translating that learning into winning propositions requires that you constantly evaluate your strategy based on what you are learning. Hence the term 'learning and adapting'," he says.

Chubb initially introduced the strategic learning process into its leadership programmes, where people from different countries working in different parts of organization aimed to tackle high level strategic regional issues relating to products, distribution, even operational efficiency and structure.

"Then it cascaded down. Now virtually everyone within the organization has attended one of our 'Learning and Adaptive Workshops'. And as a result, we have found we are transferring knowledge and information much faster, from cross functional and cross geographic perspectives.

"The bottom line is that our top line, or revenue, has significantly increased. We have introduced new products, new distribution channels and we've become Vikings again rather than settling down as farmers," Chris says.

"People ask me, 'Why is HR driving strategy?' The answer to the question is that it's about building culture. How do you create learning as a strategic part of your business? That really has to be driven by the HR function.

"From my perspective, the strategic learning model has been easy to 'operationalize'. By that I mean the concepts and thought behind the model is easy to teach and put into action. But I suppose if you had an environment which didn't value learning, there would be a clash. This is of course is not the case at Chubb. Learning is already highly valued at Chubb.

"Since introducing this model there is no doubt we are strategizing faster, learning faster and doing better and this is giving us a competitive advantage in markets where there is still a lot of opportunity."

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