Let’s Talk Leadership — John O’Donnell, CEO Allstate Insurance Part 2

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Accountability is a vital component of having a strong organizational culture. However, the ability to be held accountable and hold others accountable for their actions is lost on many companies.

One of the comparatives that I often use when I’m talking to clients is, if you’re on a sports team, and if you’re the right-winger on, say, a hockey team, and you’re not coming back to play defense, the defensemen on your team will let you know it, and they let you know it pretty quickly; but I find in business, when some of our teammates aren’t doing their job, that whole sense of accountability is not being fulfilled, and we seem to be less inclined to let them know.

In this interview, John O’Donnell, CEO of Allstate Insurance, discusses the importance of shared goals and accountability in organizations.

People have to understand, it’s their responsibility to hold each other accountable, and when they do, they will make everyone better, creating a better, open and honest environment.

John agrees:

“I think it’s, once again, taking that collaboration to the next step, and understanding that you, in any type of organization, whether it’s a sports team or the military or business environment, it’s challenging to achieve your goals if you function in silos.  Sometimes that’s the pattern we fall into in some of these organizations.  I learned that early on in the military, the integration is key.  Both from a planning perspective, and then throughout the entire mission plan.

“You can’t plan in a bubble; you can’t operate in a bubble.  You have to operate as one joint unit.  Once again, that extends from beyond planning to if there is a certain time on target and someone needs to be there at a given time, and you’re out there, you own it as well.  Same thing in business.  If you’re on the sales team and you need certain marketing in place at a given time, you’re responsible.  Same thing with marketing; it’s not just about creating, say, the creative material and passing it along; you’re responsible for the performance of that all the way through to the desired result,” he adds.

Having shared goals and objectives helps to ensure everyone is on the same page. It also lends credence to a culture of accountability. People know what they are supposed to accomplish and what others are supposed to accomplish as they work toward a common goal.

One of the things that is critically important is that the goals need to, first and foremost, be at the very senior level so everybody knows that’s the direction the boat is going in.  The next part is, “What’s the role that I play or my team plays in helping the senior executives accomplish those overall goals?” because those are the promises you’ve made to the stakeholders.

Once shared goals are aligned internally, communicating them is essential. John provides some insight into how Allstate does this:

“We will communicate in a transparent way throughout the organization.  Everyone’s a stakeholder.  They understand how they contribute.  That is one of our internal goals — for everyone to understand how they contribute to the organization’s goals, whether it’s more directly in some cases than others.  Also, we do have some incentives.  We have performance management, but we also have profit sharing where the whole company is on the same grid, and it’s 50% on growth and profit based on what our goals are, what our plan is for the year.  It’s 50% based on different measures of customer experience and business partner experience through surveys.”A

Everyone has to understand the critical importance that they play in achieving their roles.  You need to have a direct line between where you are and the senior executive in terms of real clarity, so that if you know how you contribute, you’re going to feel more empowered to make the contribution.

“My feeling is that people understand what they need to do to support the team goals.  In some cases, it’ll be more specific in terms of what some of these targets are. In other cases, it may be more subjective in terms of how they’re supporting the overall business.  At the end of the day, everyone understands what the company’s goals are. We try and keep it simple enough that we can be very transparent, and people understand what we’re targeting collectively and then they’re striving for that,” John says.

Part 3 of our interview will continue our conversation with John O’Donnell and look at the important role that mission and vision play for organizations.

Watch the interview video on YouTube

About John O’Donnell

John O’Donnell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, and Vice President of the Allstate Insurance Company of the United States.  John was appointed President and CEO on July 18th, 2011, after having served as Field Vice President – Southeast Region in the USA. John has also held leadership roles with GMAC Insurance, Walt Disney Corporation, and Goldman Sachs.

John earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy, and served as a helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of captain prior to leaving the service.  He also holds a master’s degree in business administration, finance, and economics from the University of Chicago.

About Allstate Insurance

The Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, with headquarters in Markham, is a member of one of the largest organizations in the world, the Allstate Corporation.  Allstate Canada has provided property and casualty insurance products to Canadians since 1953.  Allstate provides a full line of auto, home, individual, life, and financial products through a network of 450 agents in over 250 communities and 1,000 employees.  The slogan, “You’re in Good Hands,” exemplifies the commitment, knowledge, and professionalism of Allstate’s trusted advisers to customers, making Allstate one of Canada’s strongest personal line insurers.  You can find out more about Allstate Insurance at www.allstate.ca.

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