Topic: Company Culture


IAG: Using Recognition As a Proof Point of Cultural Transformation

Financial Services


employees across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore


leading brands selling their insurance


recognition moments since program launch

*IAG won the 2023 Breakthrough Award for Elevating Culture

In 2020, IAG embarked on a cultural transformation to better connect their strategy to purpose, and evolve the mindsets, values and behaviors of employees to support their new cultural direction. As part of this transformation, IAG worked with O.C. Tanner—their recognition partner since 2004—to redesign their approach to employee recognition so it would have a more positive impact on employee pride, motivation and performance, and increase the likelihood employees would recommend IAG as a great place to work. Ultimately, IAG saw the performance of its refreshed recognition program as a proof point of its cultural transformation.

Overseeing the cultural transformation was Gillian Folkes, Executive General Manager, Culture and Leadership, who has over two decades of experience in the financial services, insurance, retail and marketing sectors. During her time at IAG, Gillian has been accountable for portfolios including culture, people experience, talent and succession, leadership development and more. When approaching People & Culture, Gillian is informed by a strong commitment to diversity principles, an extensive background in cultural change and talent management.

Challenge: Reinforcing behaviors through employee recognition

In 2020, IAG embarked on a cultural transformation to enable its business strategy, which was orientated towards growth, deep customer-centricity, and an elevated connection to IAG’s purpose—we make your world a safer place. The core of this cultural transformation was to be the introduction and embedment of a unified mindset of “Ready for Anything” and realigned values and behaviors, conveyed via the acronym HEARTHonest and upfront, Easier together, Act and own it, Reimagine today, and Treat everyone fairly.

IAG saw its approach to employee recognition as the ideal vehicle to ensure the desired behaviors were reinforced and embedded throughout the organization.

Their vision for recognition was clear: it should be owned by everyone, authentically modeled by leaders, and consistently communicated across their organization to bring to life the stories of purpose, strategy, mindset and values.

One of their main challenges was unifying well-established, well-known and well-utilized recognition programs in Australia and New Zealand. Every aspect of the new recognition framework needed to focus on creating one organization, a unified experience, and enterprise consistency, whilst allowing for local nuances and cultural identity.

Solution: Redesigning a unified recognition experience for the future

The first step for IAG was gathering feedback and sentiment from people at all levels of the organization. This included interviewing executives (including the then-CEO), running focus groups featuring a cross-section of employees and leaders from across Australia and New Zealand, analysing survey data, and running solution design workshops (facilitated by O.C. Tanner) with key stakeholders to really bring the voice of their people to life. The aim was to understand their perspectives, what mattered most to them, and how they could design for the future.  

The findings from the discovery and solution design process helped inform the creation of a unified, group-wide recognition brand identity. The aim was to build on the strength, cultural significance and brand equity of their existing employee recognition programs in Australia (“Spirit Shout Outs”) and New Zealand (“He toa takatini”)—and hence Shout Outs | He toa takatini was born.

The naming conventions for the different artefacts in their recognition platform were carefully considered to act as symbols of IAG’s culture; instead of sending eCards, their people would send each other personalized “Heartfelt Thanks” to drive key messages related to purpose, values, achievements, and behaviors. Instead of receiving reward points, employees were awarded “Beats” (linking to their HEART values) that could be used to reward themselves in the program’s online catalogue.

A comprehensive change campaign was central to the revamped program’s early and ongoing success, promoting awareness, engagement and utilization at all levels across IAG utilizing channels including email, IAG’s intranet and Yammer.

IAG’s extensive Culture Amplifier network was critical to the success of IAG’s refreshed recognition framework. Supported by 18 executive sponsors, the network meets regularly to review insights and data and share ideas on how they are embedding culture initiatives within their respective businesses. This network has effectively driven and reinforced cultural change from multiple angles, rather than relying solely on a top-down approach.

“What we were doing was not systems change or systems upgrade but rather leveraging recognition as a core lever of driving and evolving our culture. A significant contributor to our success in the uplift around recognition has been the ongoing executive support and leader buy-in and role-modeling.”

Results: Creating a sustainable culture of appreciation

IAG has built strong momentum around creating a sustainable culture of appreciation that has played a lead role in embedding their mindset, values and behaviors. The early success is seen by Gillian as a significant proof point of IAG’s cultural transformation; however, she also acknowledges there is plenty of untapped potential for the role recognition can play at an individual, team and organizational level.  

One thing is certain; IAG has built a strong foundation from which to evolve and build its strategic use of recognition to help propel the business forward.  

Within 14 months of the launch of Shout Outs | He toa takatini, 100% of employees had received some form of recognition, and 90% of managers had submitted recognition through the program.  

In March 2023, the program reached 300,000 recognition moments since it launched. IAG saw an opportunity to better engage with their 2,000 off-shore partner employees across India, Philippines, South Africa and Brazil. Offshore partners are now able to send and receive recognition via the program, which is a great connection point with their on-shore colleagues.

IAG also engaged the O.C. Tanner Institute to conduct inferential analysis on the impact of recognition and performance, the findings reinforcing the importance of recognition as part of IAG’s cultural transformation:

  • On average, the odds of employees reporting stronger pride in IAG increased by 36% for every additional eCard received, and 137% for every nomination received, per month
  • On average, the odds of employees more strongly recommending IAG as a great place to work increased by 31% for every additional eCard received, and 162% for every nomination received, per month
  • On average, the odds of employees reporting stronger discretionary effort increased by 22% for every additional eCard received, and 136% for every nomination received, per month
“While certainly not a silver bullet, recognition has played a significant role in supporting the embedment of our values and behaviors and will continue to be an important proof point in our progress. We continue to listen to the voice of our people, celebrate achievements both big and small, and create meaningful, authentic moments of appreciation at every opportunity.”

Outcomes are everything
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