The fact that H.W. Kaufman Group has recently won awards for both talent development and official recognition and certification as a Great Place to Work shines a light on a HR program that is committed not only to getting good talent in the door but also to keeping employees inspired and motivated to come to work. The intentional focus on the company’s people has earned them a handful of hardware along with differentiating Kaufman from its competition. As chief human resources officer, Christine Tricoli has spent the past three years building on the progress of that effort while leading her own transformation along the way.
Transformation isn’t a new venture for the CHRO. Tricoli spent fifteen years in Buffalo, New York, in international law publishing, banking, and plastics manufacturing before becoming the senior vice president of global talent for the New York Stock Exchange in the heart of New York City.
“There was a lot of doubt in taking on a role that big,” Tricoli admits. “I think there are a lot of people who are afraid to make that jump, but it’s not something they should be afraid of if they have meaningful experience.”
Prior to moving to the Detroit area, Tricoli helped guide companies through multiple mergers and acquisitions—a significant bonus for Kaufman, whose appetite for acquisition is extensive. She’s built out HR experience on a global level, but her philosophy is much more localized.
“Forming connections is really what my role is all about,” the CHRO says. “I think what probably transcends multiple organizations was my ability and willingness to talk to the people doing the work. Early in my career, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t being asked about decisions impacting me. Now, that is what I spend so much of my day doing—talking with people about what they do.”
Connections, Tricoli says, play out in multiple ways in her role. She says that 2020 was a year spent encouraging leadership to partner with HR in identifying talent. “We’ve been doing more in the last year to make sure our senior leaders are aiding our candidate searches,” Tricoli says. “We want them to leverage their networks and feel empowered to talk about their work and the insurance industry with potential talent.”
While the past year hasn’t allowed for much gathering in person, the HR team has still managed to excel in their recruiting efforts. “The focus on extending our networks have really paid off this last year,” Tricoli says. “That communication has helped our leaders find outstanding talent who are a great fit here.”
Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, Kaufman decided it was the year to benchmark their company’s culture performance against more than themselves. Kaufman was recognized as a Great Place to Work and Burns & Wilcox, a leader in wholesale insurance brokerage and underwriting and Kaufman’s flagship company, was named one of Insurance Business America’s “Top Insurance Workplaces” for 2020. “It’s nice to know it’s not just us thinking that we have the best employees,” Tricoli says.
The HR team has worked to improve employee experience by utilizing tech to make work easier. Integrating a new CRM system, the CHRO says, helps employees connect to clients easier and spend more quality time serving them. It also provides more clear data and information that helps the organization plan for the future. Other tech innovations were necessitated by the pandemic. The HR team had to completely overhaul its onboarding process, and it has been met with resounding positivity.
The CHRO says that driving transformation in the insurance industry presents its own unique challenges. “The industry itself tends to exist in a little bit of a bubble,” Tricoli says. “We’ve worked hard to bring in high-level executive talent to help drive change and bring in new perspectives to the company to move our industry forward. We have great respect for people that have come from different backgrounds, and we look to that experience to help us navigate our future.”
Tricoli’s decades of HR experience have amassed a winning strategy, but the CHRO says other HR professionals shouldn’t be worried about knowing every facet of a new industry before taking it on.
“If you have good experience, you can adapt and learn quickly,” Tricoli says. “You have to be smart enough and confident enough to surround yourself with people who are experts in their area and trust them to make decisions. Add them to your cadre of senior leadership to help you be successful, and it makes them feel good, too.”
The idea of connections is the one that drives Kaufman’s CHRO. Whether it’s connecting her team, her leadership, her employees to clients, or talent to the organization, the themes remain the same: Stay transparent, stay focused on those doing the work, and don’t be afraid of a change, because it’s always coming.
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