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Julie is in charge of the Talent Management for Allianz. When she started her position in Munich in 2014, after working in Asia where everything already had gone digital, she couldn’t believe how far away Allianz Munich was from digitalization.

Under the radar she started a digital accelerator program, which was separated from Allianz.

In the accelerator they invite entrepreneurs for six months to work on their idea. They get a small salary for this period, and some of them make it while the others have to leave. For instance, one entrepreneur from Russia implemented the use of drones for carrying out inspections of buildings for insurance purposes.

As a next step, Julie set out to host a Lean Startup weekend for interested employees, which was advertised not as a training for work, but a separate program.

Around thirty people came to the first Lean Startup weekend. The majority of the participants came from Allianz Deutschland. These guys always mentioned to Julie that they didn’t speak English- but suddenly all these guys turned out fluent.

Each participant had a minute to pitch their idea, then there was a voting system that resulted in five or six ideas that teams worked on for the next forty-eight hours. They were out on the streets of Munich, they were preparing click dummies, they were going through iterations, and so on.

Word then started to spread, “This is a pretty cool thing.”

Therefore the accelerator decided to go for another run, but this time internationally.  People came from China, Spain, France, and all over, taking their Friday and Saturday off to participate. Each group that worked on a selected idea was supported by an entrepreneur from the accelerator.

The program started to take off, and two groups were invited to present their idea at a huge digital event in Allianz in front of the board.  One of the groups was working on a car-sharing platform. They found out (by going out to the streets and talking with people) that car-sharing wasn’t working because people didn’t trust strangers, but they would do it with their colleagues. The idea was to encourage car-sharing by rewarding workers with little benefits such as using the board’s driver and car parking area for cleaning their personal car.

Julie and her team then thought: why not to have the same program for high potentials in Allianz? It was a disaster.

Half of them contacted Julie and asked to drop out.

“Why?” Julie asked them “You are high potential, right? And hopefully one day a COO”.

The problem was they were all too busy with their other tasks, that they could not do anything extra on top of it.  

So, Julie asked the question: is intrapreneurship about finding volunteers or is it about forcing people to go through it?

It’s about the volunteer. You want people with passion that want to give it their own time, who want to have a bit of skin in the game and who are prepared to take the day off as a holiday day to come and participate.

Now, they’re facing what one could call the ugly side…

Many of the people who have been through the Lean Startup weekends are asking to get a sabbatical and come work in the digital accelerator on their idea.

But it’s Allianz! There are all these HR rules in place and compensation structures and pay bands…how are they going to pay these people?

Now Julie and others are having discussions on how to release them from their normal everyday working life and get them to go into the accelerator. It’s impossible to pay them what they are currently getting paid, because the funds are not available for it. They are thinking of maybe compensating with stock, but the head of compensation and benefit is not convinced by the idea of giving stock to non-executives.

At this moment, they’re also struggling with the implementation of the ideas.

We know how to do this with the entrepreneur, and they get extra compensation. We struggle with the people who have a contact with Allianz. There are so many barriers. But if we don’t find a way, the people that have been through the program will lose their enthusiasm.

Although they are going through a huge internal churn, trying to put all the pieces together, they do know that they are going in the right direction. And slowly, Julie thinks, Allianz is an organization that’s starting to wake up to the fact that going in this direction is a must.

She emphasized that their new CEO, Oliver Bäte, is determined to change the culture of Allianz.

They did a survey worldwide with over a thousand of our people and said to them, “Look, we’ve been a super successful company for the last hundred and twenty-five years based on this and this. What do you think are the things we need to focus on for the next hundred and twenty-five years to allow us to stay in the game? And where do you think we’ve got the biggest gaps for that?”

The four main points that came out were: entrepreneurship, collaborative style of working, collaborative leadership, and customer market excellence. When we recruit now, or run an assessment, we look for people who have these skills in varying amounts.

The Munich office has woken up to the fact that there is a digital world out there, and with a new Chief Digital Officer on board they are now building what they call a Digital Factory.

The idea is that people from all over Allianz can come in and go through the Digital Factory experience. In the Factory, they’ll be looking at different customer journeys, they’ll be learning about agile project methodology, they’ll be going through the lean approach, and so on. And it doesn’t have to stop in Munich, it can be taken to Asia, to America, and wherever.


Questions from the audience

Q: I guess in all of your accelerators and labs, you come up with probably quite disruptive ideas while some of them are quite incremental improvements. How do you fit these incredibly disruptive innovative ideas to the organization and how do you decide if you are taking the right direction? What’s the criteria for that?

A: We are not so structured at the moment. We are still experimenting. One of the ideas that was developed, to track your pets, got some funding and we’ll see if it will fly. What we’re doing at Allianz is still very under the radar screen. The board doesn’t know about it.

However, our COO sponsored the high potential program where the pet tracker idea came out of, and then it got visibility. But he thinks it’s coming just from a high-potential program. So I can’t give you the answer yet of where we’re going to go and what kind of frameworks we’ll put in place, what ideas we’ll put forward.

In the round where the pet tracker was part of, I was in the selection committee, with a bunch of our COO’s. We asked some tough questions and at the end of it we all sat around the table wondering which ideas to pick. The process of choosing wasn’t scientific. We didn’t have a judging sheet or anything like that.

But you could tell from the groups that went on, the pet tracker group for example, that those guys were just so dedicated. They came to the pitch and they’d already contacted the factories in China to find out where the pet tracking device could be manufactured. It was their passion which really convinced us.

Q:  What are the motivations for Allianz’s employees to join the digital exploratory program and work on an idea for a such a big company for several months? And second question is, what happens when the idea is successful and what happens with the people and the idea itself?

A:  So what motivates them? A lot of them have tried things in the past and they failed and they’ve learned from it. But the idea of coming in, where they can do something for a corporation, is attractive for them. It’s low-risk because it’s usually for a four-month period that they would pitch their ideas and have a go at it. They also appreciate the opportunity that they’re going to be working with twelve to fifteen other entrepreneurs who will help with their idea. Also, if they get it right they will hopefully have the backing from the mother ship, which is also a motivation.

The answer to the second question is many of them leave after the four months, the entrepreneurs, they go back and do whatever they do somewhere else. For those who stay, we look at ways to take their ideas into becoming spinoffs.

Q: Does your company give any monetary incentives to the employees?

A:  No, but that’s what we’re struggling with at the moment.

Participant: In my company, we started a program last year and one of the incentives we gave was a five percent on the net profit for the first year times three years, or times five years, it depends, the team negotiates with the board of directors if they think that it will take five years for the product to catch up or three years, so we give five percent of the net profit.