Changing from the inside

previous icon The transformation in Ageas couldn’t happen immediately, and De Smet is keen to emphasise the importance of regaining the people’s trust. He says, “In the beginning, it was seen as a mission impossible. The number of people at that time who were eager to come on board was limited. It took a lot of courage. The first stage was to let people to take the time they needed to rid themselves of the traumatic experiences, the anger and the deception about what had happened.”

“Somebody asked me recently, ‘What you have achieved in the last three years, couldn’t you have done it quicker?’ My reaction was, ‘Probably, but we also might have lost a lot of good people if we’d tried to do it quicker.’ ”

“You have to make sure your teams understand why you do things. They need to follow the reasons and understand the speed behind it. It is my sole conviction that a lot of success in the change is down to the preparation and motivation of the people, getting everyone on board. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that what we were going to change was the best choice. That’s the first stage: give people some time to get into a normal mode.”

Once trust has been established, the next stage is increasing morale. De Smet says, “Then you take up the quick wins and low hanging fruit, because that gives confidence to the troops. Some of the more fundamental steps have been realised, as far as we are concerned. Even the outside world begins to say, ‘Hey, these guys are able to make the difficult choices.’ The recognition from outside is something that is an enormous motivator internally.”

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