Learning to Adapt

By Desda Moss Mar 1, 2012

March CoverAs senior vice president of human resources for the Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. in the Asia Pacific region, Chris Hamilton sets and directs people management strategy in one of the world's most rapidly changing high-growth business environments.

His functions include acquiring and retaining talent, coaching senior managers in employee relations and labor law, developing training for staff, and promoting leadership capabilities.

Hamilton recently talked about his HR career and how he and his team of 11 HR professionals in nine countries support Chubb's 750 employees in the region.

What are challenges your company faces in the region?

The markets in which we operate in Asia Pacific are diverse, highly competitive, and growing and changing at a rapid pace. They range from Japan and China to Australia. In such a dynamic environment, the shelf life of any one specific training initiative could be limiting. We needed to shape a culture that allowed us to grow and compete and to react and adjust to the business demands around us.

The ability to work across geographies, cultures and diverse business demands is an important skill.

What is the strategy to meet those demands?

Chubb requires that employees have actionable development plans and be engaged in relevant training that address both technical and management skill development. In 2008, we began using a model developed by Willie Pietersen, a management professor at Columbia Business School, to build strategy and shape culture. The dynamic four steps in Strategic Learning (Wiley, 2002) are circular. They begin with a situational analysis to generate insights that then lead to strategic choices about how organizations build winning propositions. The third step aligns those choices to the organization. Implementation is the fourth step. The model repeats itself so you constantly review and adapt based on what you learn.

What's the HR role in this process?

My HR team is a key driver behind the use of this model. We teach it in two-day workshops and oversee implementation for three to five months as participants work through the four stages. We've held more than a dozen workshops in the last three years for participants ranging from Gen Y employees to experienced managers. The workshops drive engagement and innovation, and account for growth initiatives such as expansion in North Asia.

How does the model apply to leadership training?

In 2012, we intend to build on the strategic learning model by incorporating the framework into our senior leadership programs. Previously, in 2003, we introduced "action learning" to leadership development. This is more than just assigning routine projects to participants. Senior and emerging leaders participate in programs designed to develop individual leadership capabilities and organizational skills through the action learning. This combination led to a range of innovative new products, expanded distribution channels and better process improvement. For example, Chubb entered small and medium enterprise market segments as a result of the work that was done.

Chris Hamilton

Education: 1992, executive program in international human resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 1983, Master of Arts, counseling; 1982, Bachelor of Arts, psychology; University of Maine, Orono.
Current position: 2000-present, senior vice president, human resources, Asia Pacific, Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., Singapore.
Career: 1994-2000, senior vice president, human resources; vice president, compensation and benefits; Chubb, London. 1991-94, assistant vice president, international benefits manager, Chubb, Warren, N.J. 1986-91, various HR roles with John Hancock Financial Services, Boston and Brussels.
Personal: Born in Syracuse, N.Y.; age 58; married; two children.
Diversions: Running, golfing, reading Stephen King novels.
Connections: chamilton@chubb.com.

What experiences or skills should HR professionals gain if they want to practice HR in Asia?

Asia is not just one place or one market. Business challenges in China can be very different from those in Singapore or Australia. The ability to work across geographies, cultures and diverse business demands is an important skill.

Why did you decide to go into HR?

My first job was working for a financial services company's employee assistance program. It was a natural progression to go from counseling employees on interpersonal issues to working with organizations on broader HR challenges. Having a counseling background has been an asset in helping employees reach their professional potential.

The interviewer is managing editor of HR Magazine.


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