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Case study: Aon - an employer of choice for talent

By Cranfield Executive Development

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Lauren Pulsford, Culture & Change Partner at global professional services firm Aon joined us on our recent webinar Retention Redemption: Optimise your UK talent strategy to showcase how Aon is using Cranfield's Level 7 Senior Leader Executive Programme to attract, retain and engage talent across the firm. 

Lauren explained how and why Aon is working in partnership with Cranfield Executive Development to position the firm as an employer of choice for talent. 

It's vitally important to develop our people

"As a professional services firm, Aon’s strength lies in our people. To retain our talent and continue to offer market-leading insights to our clients, we need to ensure we are supporting colleagues to elevate their skills throughout their careers. The market landscape in which we do business is constantly changing and our clients’ needs evolve with it, so we need to support our colleagues to develop the capabilities required to continue delivering excellent results for our clients.”

Positioning Aon as an employer of choice for talent

"Being able to attract, retain and engage talent and be an employer of choice is crucial for Aon. Offering leading talent development opportunities for our colleagues is therefore very important, and each year we see consistently high demand for our programmes.

"Leadership development is a particularly important area, as colleagues who are promoted into leadership and management roles are often technical experts who have not previously received formal leadership and management training. It is therefore important that we can support them to take on these roles by offering comprehensive leadership development programmes.”

Investing Aon's apprenticeship levy funding

"It is strategically important to us to invest in leadership development, and apprenticeships provide a fantastic opportunity for us to do this as they are cost-effective, and the practical emphasis makes for a highly effective learning approach.

"Executive learning means we need to be applying those skills in the workplace, so the classroom-based learning is just the beginning. It's then about applying that knowledge and getting feedback, so an apprenticeship is ideal.

"Internally we created Aon's Leadership Pathway, using Level 3, Level 5 and Level 7 apprenticeships. We offer each of these levels so our colleagues can experience leadership development early in their careers and move from a team leader, to leading larger teams, and on to Level 7 as a senior leader when the focus becomes more strategic."

Why Cranfield? 

"We partner with Cranfield Executive Development to offer our Level 7 Senior Leader programmes. We have been running an Aon Leadership MSc programme that's going well and we're already seeing great payback from our learners in terms of the real-life business projects they're working on. We recognise however that the MSc represents a highly significant investment for both colleagues and our business, as it takes three years to complete.

"Consequently, when Cranfield came to us with the Senior Leader Executive Programme, this was attractive as it was still a Level 7 apprenticeship but much shorter at around 15 months. Our leaders would still be learning the same knowledge, skills and behaviours, but in a streamlined, practical format.

"We have worked closely in partnership with Cranfield to develop the programme and contextualise it to Aon’s culture, strategy and colleague needs. Feedback from learners is that the apprenticeship is meaningful in the context of Aon's environment, which is incredibly important to us.

"Our learners also value the CMI accreditation due to the opportunity to attain an externally recognised qualification."

Focusing on well-being

"A popular part of the programme so far has been the focus on whole-person performance. Cranfield uses electrocardiogram sensors to monitor heart rate variance and look at physiological reactions to work and stress, helping learners to understand their performance through understanding their physiology.

"Colleague wellbeing is core to Aon’s strategy, so it is great for us to be able to support this within our leadership development offerings and we are getting a lot of positive feedback from the leaders who are currently on the programme.”

Witnessing the ripple effect

"We expect a high payback from our learners enrolled on leadership apprenticeship programmes, as they represent significant investments. Based on what we've seen from our MSc students, payback is immediate in terms of the leaders’ capabilities and engagement.

"There's also a ripple effect; by educating a small group of leaders, their teams also benefit from the learnings as the leaders put them into practice. Some of our MSc students have run internal masterclasses on subjects such as corporate strategy, based on their learnings from the programme, and this has been a great way to increase the impact."

Programme implementation

"Launching the programmes was a fairly seamless process. We started by producing programme brochures (one for colleagues, one for line managers). These outlined the programme objectives, benefits to the individual and the wider team, eligibility guidance and the time commitment required. We circulated these to relevant colleagues and HR Business Partners as a first step.

"We then held information webinars in partnership with Cranfield, to provide more details to potential learners and their line managers. It was important at this stage to make sure that both parties had a clear understanding of the time commitment required, as, in our experience, the main reason for apprenticeship drop-outs tends to be participants finding that they do not have sufficient time to complete the work. This is particularly important for the Level 7 Senior Leader apprentices, as this target audience tends to have extremely busy schedules.

"Once the final cohort was confirmed, we agreed the module dates with Cranfield then hosted a successful 'meet and greet' session to kick off the programme. Ahead of this, Cranfield created a brochure of learner profiles, to help the learners get to know their fellow students.

“We are now around three months into the programme and three modules have been delivered, covering personal impact and influence, research methods and change management. Feedback to date has been positive. Some students initially found the apprenticeship structure to be complex, but later found that they were able to get to grips with it with the support of their Cranfield apprenticeship tutors.”

Working in partnership with Cranfield 

"I work closely with Cranfield to manage the programme. Communication is clear and timely, and the team is proactive and organised. They frequently raise new ideas with me and share best practice from working with other clients. Academic delivery to date has been high quality and they have brought in facilitators with a good range of backgrounds, e.g. corporate strategy, organisational psychology and management.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the programme can add value for our leaders and we are hoping to continue running this programme on an annual basis going forwards."

Tags: leadership, talent, apprenticeship, management, Apprenticeship levy, skills

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