Let’s Talk Leadership: John O’Donnell, CEO Allstate Insurance — PART 4


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Your team should always be acknowledged and rewarded for the good work they do. Feedback is an essential component of a high performance environment.

Leaders need to be willing to listen to what their employees have to say and consistently provide positive feedback to your team about how they are doing. Frequent feedback and rewards keep people engaged.

In this interview, John O’Donnell, CEO of Allstate Insurance, discusses the importance of reward and recognition in organizations.

Since the insurance business is very data driven, reward and recognition play a big role in organizational performance.

For reward, one of the things that I really like that we do is the profit-sharing because it is tied to the common goals of the organization, both in terms of the balanced growth and profit, and the targets we have set for ourselves there as an enterprise,” says John.

“— we also, of course, have sales targets and sales goals, but the unique thing on the sales side is it’s not simply about production, as some sales targets may be, but it’s also weighted highly (and even more so in some of our bonus components) on [customer] retention, which directly reflects the customer’s experience,” he adds.

Many companies overlook the importance of customer satisfaction and retention because they get caught up in the numbers, meeting sales targets, and other defined metrics. Allstate avoids falling into this trap by offering awards and rewarding team members for customer retention and satisfaction in addition to meeting performance metrics.

Recognition also plays a huge role in how Allstate operates. John explains:

“Even a simple thank you or recognizing people for the work, in fact, that’s something we measure, as well. Every year, our employees, because we believe employee engagement is absolutely critical to fulfilling our mission and our vision, but we take the Canadian Leadership Management Survey every year.

“One of the questions is: ‘Has your manager recognized you in the last week for some work that you’ve done?’ We measure that across each area along with  other engagement, but specific to your question about recognition: That’s good feedback and learning for the organization and keeps it top of mind, because that’s critical for people to see, once again, how they fit into the organization’s goals.

“We also have wow cards, where that’s a peer-to-peer recognition for going above and beyond. Then we also have some formal recognition programs. We have employee excellence awards, where employees throughout the organization … Of course, we also have some sales awards, which also, of course, the retention, as I mentioned, is factored into.

“But separate from that, we have employee excellence awards, which will award people throughout the organization for the strong work they’ve done in living up to our mission and vision. This year, it was a weekend in Toronto, and people came in from across the country. It was a great ceremony. People got – in front of their spouses or partners – got up on stage and were recognized for what they had done. I believe it was meaningful to them. It was meaningful to me.”

When you start to use recognition effectively, it really starts to communicate to other people in the organization these are the behaviors we want to see modeled. It reinforces that, and that’s such a critical element of it.

Leaders also need to spend time gaining personal insight into what is happening and not just reading about what is happening on the front line. Allstate uses a process that they call a skip-level meeting.

John explains: “I would meet with all the direct reports of my direct reports and just understand, from their perspective, what they’re seeing. It really helps you understand what talent you have in the organization, as well, because they will be our future leaders at Allstate.

“Also, I try and have, on a monthly basis, we just have coffee. I have coffee with a random group of frontline employees. The only request I make is we don’t have any managers because I just want it to be people truly on the front lines. We have a national advisory board of agents, so when we’re making our decisions in the four walls of the head office, we can actually bounce it off how this is going to play out on the front lines.

“This is really an important element of listening, and I don’t think every organization appreciates just how valuable that tool is to get those absolutely fresh insights. It really goes back to what you talked about right off at the beginning. It’s about trust. For someone who’s non-managerial, who’s three, four, five levels removed from you, to be able to look you in the eye over a coffee and say, ‘Here’s what I think needs to be done,’ you got to have built that trust in. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the truth.”

Reward and recognition, when done properly, are the most powerful tools for building an engaged work environment. Use them wisely and add them to your management toolbox.

Watch the interview video on YouTube

For more information about this topic or to book Bill for a leadership speaking engagement, contact Bill Hogg or visit us online at www.BillHogg.ca where you can sign up to receive an article like this each month.

About John O’Donnell

John O’Donnell was President and Chief Executive Officer of Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, and Vice President of the Allstate Insurance Company of the United States from July 2011 until January 2016, before returning to the U.S. to take on a new role as a senior vice president, with Allstate Insurance Corporation. 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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bill Hogg
Bill Hogg works with senior leaders to inspire and develop high performance, customer-focused teams that deliver exceptional customer service, higher productivity and improved profits. Sought after internationally as a speaker and consultant, Bill is recognized as the Performance Excelerator because of his uncanny ability to create profound change and deliver extraordinary results with the most demanding organizations.


  1. I appreciate the focus on employee engagement. Almost regardless of how it is defined, engagement / loyalty translates into a competitive advantage. But how best to increase engagement? Companies like Southwest Airlines, (a client of mine), treat their employees like trusted business partners, enabling them to make more money for their company and themselves. They consistently see both profits and engagement soar. This Forbes article provides more background: http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-in-making-money/
    Minneapolis based Carlson Travel is a great example, as can be seen in their 3 minute call center video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RJAEHPOxPQ


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