How Sun Life Financial is Rethinking the Future of Work

How Sun Life Financial is Rethinking the Future of Work

Written by

Davin Wilfrid

Published on

June 12, 2020

As a 155 year-old company, Sun Life Financial figured out a successful operating model decades ago. However, the changing needs of its customers and employees prompted leaders to think differently about how to organize and manage the business. 

In a recent LiveCast with Catalant co-CEO Pat Petitti, Sun Life SVP of Global Talent Emily Schur shared insights on how leaders at the company — especially now as they’ve been forced to adapt to a much more digital-first and work-from-home model — are changing the way they think about work

“We’ve been hearing about it for a few years, but the future of work is now here,” says Schur. “For us that means employee expectations are changing. They want to try new things, move around to different teams, and work on cool and interesting problems.” 

In September 2019, Sun Life CEO Dean Connor launched a digital strategy initiative aimed at driving a better client experience with modern technologies like automation and AI, and by transforming to a more agile organization. 

“The new approach means new and different skills and styles of working,” says Schur. “It means new expertise across the organization and becoming far more flexible in how we align people to work.” 

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In particular, Schur is pushing for a change in how employees and leaders define and execute work. Rather than hiring for jobs, Sun Life wants to hire for skills. Rather than management control over employees’ careers, employees will take ownership and pursue paths that might veer across business units or functional areas. 

“What we envision is something that is more cyclical, more dependable, more informational, and more intuitive for our employees,” says Schur. “It’s essentially an internal talent marketplace that is going to require a total shift in mindset from our leaders.”

So how does a business with 155 years of experience change so dramatically? Schur lays out a three-stage approach: 

Stage 1: Launching an MVP

Transforming a large organization won’t happen overnight. Sun Life started with pilot projects in different parts of the business. Employees will be asked to participate by submitting their skills and interests to a database, then to volunteer themselves to projects — typically between 2 weeks and 6 months — that match with their skill sets. 

Moving to a project-based organization will change the way the organization evaluates performance, so Sun Life leadership is piloting an agile performance management framework with early volunteers. They’re also working on a system for internal talent scouting — looking to proactively identify and recruit the right talent for the right work.

Stage 2: Broader Launch and Skills Ontology

Once the pilot programs have concluded, leadership at Sun Life plans to roll out a skills inventory and project marketplace to the rest of the organization. Employees from across the entire organization will be asked to list their skills into a skills database and participate in the organization’s Opportunity Marketplace. 

One critical effort in this stage is to validate the skills in the database and work on a skills ontology to understand how the skills in the organization fit together. From there, leadership will build dashboards to visualize skills strengths and gaps.

Stage 3: Continuous Development and Redeployment

With the right information about the skills inside the organization, Sun Life can focus on honing its future workforce. Continuous assessment of skills, aptitude, and opportunities for improvement will give employees a better experience. Targeted learning and development programs can help internal teams fill in skills gaps quickly. 

Leadership also plans to continuously develop new organizational and work structures to fit a project-oriented approach, integrating flexible talent models into workforce planning. Finally, by operationalizing agile performance management and internal talent scouting, leaders will be better able to execute strategies more quickly by getting the right people on the right work.

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