The German-based Allianz Dresdner Asset Management consortium, which operates mainly in Europe, North America and East Asia, is one of the largest investment organizations in the world. In the United States alone, the group manages assets worth more than $500 billion for institutional and individual investors. To handle these extensive holdings, Allianz Dresdner employs some of the best and brightest in the field of financial management.
“We have a very unique population here,” said Karen Kendrick, senior vice president and chief learning officer of Allianz Dresner Asset Management North America. “It is a Wall Street kind of culture. We hire mostly people with Wall Street experience, and we do business with Wall Street.” She added that approximately 75 percent of the workforce has advanced-level degrees from some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. “They tend to be a very sophisticated audience relative to other companies I’ve worked for. It’s like managing CEO-level talent,” she said.
Because of the intellectual refinement of the learning population, as well as the flat, feedback-scarce structure of the organization, developing educational programs for Allianz Dresdner employees can be demanding. “The challenge has always been, what can you teach these folks that they don’t already know?” said Kendrick, and added that the 1,800-person workforce could be indifferent to redundant learning offerings because of their existing knowledge and skills.
Connecting learning and development to overall business objectives is part of the solution. These links are established by soliciting views on the company’s priorities and goals throughout the enterprise, Kendrick said. “What we do is take a look at our strategic plan every year and we look at what the business objectives are, and then we align learning strategies and people development strategies with those business objectives. It’s kind of a two-way process. It’s cascaded down, but it’s also rolled up from each business in terms of what projections they make. We talk to the business unit leaders and say, ‘Based on these business unit objectives, what are the learning objectives that make sense?’”
“We’re doing training that’s highly driven by the business, that’s very practical and wouldn’t involve a lot of philosophical-type concepts,” Kendrick added. “It helps, obviously, in getting buy-in from the business leaders, and they see that it’s adding value if it’s giving them practical things that they can go back and use immediately.”
Developing these programs remains a challenge, though, as Allianz Dresdner North America is comprised of many different branches involved in a plethora of trades, which may be dealing with various obstacles. “The business is in various states of flux,” Kendrick said. “It feels like I’m running separate organizations. I oversee all of these different operating entities. Some of them are doing extremely well and growing, and you’ve got other businesses at the same time that are struggling and laying people off. My job is trying to figure out how I create tools and products that are probably going to have to be customized to those individual business needs. There’s not a cookie-cutter solution that can be rolled out enterprise-wide.”
Fortunately, Kendrick and her team have created a solution that drives hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings and provides greater interaction within the organization. “We’ve got the brain trust, and we leverage those people,” she said. “We have a huge willingness on the part of these senior VPs, EVPs and managing directors to actually deliver content. A lot of it is because it is so sophisticated, in some ways you may not be able to outsource it. If you want to tell somebody about the latest economic policy in China, we have someone that used to work for the IMF (International Monetary Fund) on our staff. He comes in and gives an hour talk about global economics and how it’s going to impact China. Or we’re talking about portfolio management theory, and we’ve got a Ph.D. in particle physics from Harvard who’s the head of our analytics group, who delivers an hour-and-a-half on portfolio management theory. We tend to get more traction with using our senior executives to talk about pretty technical topics.”
Another learning program kept in-house is the orientation curriculum required for new employees, which hastens the on-boarding process. “We have a six-week program that we put all new investment professionals through at one of our business units,” Kendrick said. “It’s a total immersion program. We own them for the first six weeks of their lives. It’s all taught by internal staff because of the technical nature of the content. We teach them everything about philosophy, culture, strategy, products, different operations procedures and selling techniques.”
Because of programs like these, employees’ attitudes towards learning have shifted significantly. “It was kind of a startup function when I got here,” Kendrick said. “Now, we’ve got all the basics in place, we’ve got all the infrastructure built, we’ve built our brand, people respect us and come to us with business challenges. Now, we’ve got more work than we can handle.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Filed under: Learning Delivery