Focus on expertship transforms employee development at Aon

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While organisations make very significant investments in identifying and developing team leaders, such investments are not always the best way to nurture expertise, according to Mark Smith, CIO of Aon.

As a services business that consults around all the elements of risk, Aon is a business of experts, he says, and it was a personal revelation at a management training session six years ago that led him to consider a different approach.

That, in turn, saw the introduction of a new professional development program, that started in the IT group and has now spread across the company.

As with many technology groups, the profile of Smith’s team and the expectations on them dramatically increased during COVID, especially during the early phase.

“It was a crazy time, but the team relished the challenge. The support and the experience and the positivity that came out of that, all the feedback from the business was great, it was just amazing,” he says.

Smith believes that the test in organisational resilience amplified teamwork and collaboration within the company, utilising technology, planning and a commitment to people to move through the pandemic effectively.

A revelation occurring in an off-site program saw Smith realise that all the training was focussing on management, but the company was made up mostly of experts, not managers.

“We might be 10 per cent managers, 90 per cent experts, and I really started to ask the question, why are we not doing anything for the heart of the company, the people who are in front of clients, the people who are designing the solutions?”

Working with Alistair Gordon from HFL, the parent company of Expertunity, the pair built a program that was purely internal, which six years later is a cornerstone of the company’s team development.

Smith credits the course with giving employees time to reflect on the work they do. Importantly, he says it has ended the notion that the only way to progress is to become the team leader.

“There's so many examples I can think of where people, they were the rising stars in the green pool, they became the team leader, they were promoted, they thought that's what they needed to do, and then suddenly their performance started declining.”

“They didn't become bad employees or colleagues overnight, it's just that that's not what they wanted to do. So I think a huge part of it as an organisation now is we have now recognised the importance of and the value of the expert.”

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