CEO Talent Champion: Jack Roche, Hanover Insurance Group

An interview on building employee and leader connections

A hybrid work environment poses new cultural challenges for executive leaders. The Hanover CEO Jack Roche discusses how he has helped employees and leaders build connections to strengthen culture and decision making.

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Q&A With Jack Roche

Jack Roche is president and chief executive officer of The Hanover Insurance Group, a leading provider of personal and commercial property and casualty insurance. Under his direction since 2017, the company has advanced its mission to be the premier property and casualty company in the independent agency channel, delivering value to its investors, agent partners, customers, employees, communities and other stakeholders. Jack joined The Hanover in 2006 and served in several key leadership positions prior to being elected to his current role.

There’s a lot that we’ve had to manage through over the past few years. But as I reflect on the last year in particular, where we go from here in reimagining the workplace and understanding the new employer-employee relationship is the most important issue we’re facing.

We have worked hard to build our culture over time and that helped us get through the last couple of years and run the company well. But as we look forward, it will be challenging for companies that have a strong culture to provide enhanced flexibility and to change the work environment without giving up the special culture they work so hard to build.

Our top leadership is very visible and has been throughout the whole pandemic in terms of staying in touch with all 4,400 employees. We actually took an extra step in the midst of the pandemic and did a full employee engagement survey, as risky as it was when everyone was so anxious about the time we were going through. We got incredible amounts of data that allowed us to avoid homogenizing the experiences that people were having. It was really detailed data that let us know where people were feeling good about the company’s development and frankly, where they were not fully appreciating the culture that we were working so hard to build. So we used analytics and hands-on leadership attention to ensure that we got the right insights.

The last few years we’ve learned a lot about technology, individual preferences and ways in which people can communicate. And we’ve tried to lean into that opportunity. We’ve tried to learn about what new technology or new opportunities with virtual platforms allows us to do even better than before. But we also try to understand the limitations, too, and not let people rely too much on virtual platforms that don’t allow you to build initial relationships at the same level, or don’t allow you to transfer knowledge effectively, or don’t allow you to onboard new employees at the same level.

What happened to a lot of folks during the pandemic was that they could communicate regularly and effectively, but their audiences were getting increasingly narrow. They weren’t bumping into people in the halls. Instead, they were figuring out new ways to meet new people. So we’ve tried to be deliberate about creating new ways to network and build relationships, be it virtual or in person, and try to truly evolve and figure out what the new hybrid environment is really all about.

I think many more employees are looking for ways to feel like a part of the company, and there’s a whole focus on purpose. People are different — not everyone thinks the same way or has had the same experiences — but most people want to know a little more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And it’s a true opportunity for companies to enhance that engagement with their employees.

Expectations of employees for their employers are changing. The good news for us is that, as we rebuilt the company, we did that with all of our stakeholders in mind. Those who know The Hanover realize we have been attracting great talent from other companies and had to have a strong employee value proposition.1 Fundamental to that attraction is that we’re quite involved in communities and have a philanthropic aspect of the company that they want to be part of.

We know as a public company we have to take care of our shareholders, but because we presented people with a broader stakeholder view well before it became fashionable or expected, I think it gave us an advantage. People know it’s authentic, not something we were doing to respond to ESG2 or the pressures within the inclusion and diversity arena. Before those events happened, we already showed that we wanted to get better.

People think employees want the voice of the company, but I find that what they really want is the ears of the company. The companies that are listening and creating forums to understand are the ones that are really successful. Before you start pontificating, how about understanding others? So we spent a lot of time, and got some outside help, practicing how we build an inclusive environment and how we take in information. Over time, if you have a good leadership team, it becomes easier to figure out when we act, speak, listen, or frankly, just acknowledge that we’re listening and trying to do our best to figure out where we can show up.

We compete against smaller companies, but we also compete against companies that are 5, 6, 7 times our size. We win by attracting outsized talent and getting our employees to collaborate and engage differently than they would in a larger company. And so you can imagine — whether you’re running specialty commercial, or personal lines, or middle market, or finance, or technology and innovation — you need the whole company to embrace the talent initiatives that we have and express the difference we’re creating in the marketplace.

So our CHRO is really leading a lot of the initiatives that we’ve developed together and making sure we have follow-through, that we are getting inputs from outside the company, which has never been more important. But we do not depend on the CHRO to drive all this on her own with her teams, as capable as they are. It’s a very integrated approach that allows us to show that we’re a talent-led business.

I look forward with optimism despite all the challenges that we’ve been through and that we are facing. I hear people all the time talking about how difficult it is to truly work in a hybrid environment or redefine the workplace. I think the [most successful] companies realize that it is hard and it’s going to take time, but engage their leadership teams and their employees in developing new ways to work. As challenging as it has been to get started on this, I now see so much optimism in the eyes of our leadership as they think “I get a chance to build this.”

I think if you really focus regularly on having a culture that cares about the entire employee population and works hard at it, everything else gets easier. When I talk to some of my counterparts at companies inside and outside of the industry, I hear a lot of strain and how it’s been hard, and been hard for all of us. But frankly, it’s been less hard for companies like ours that had real employee engagement — companies where employees knew that the company cared about them. It was hard to start that up in the middle of the pandemic. You either had that going for you or you didn’t. So, anyone who sits in this seat needs to really focus, particularly in this day and age where employee-employer relationships are changing, and make sure that you have an authentic leadership team that is trying their best to get the most out of every employee. If you do that over time, recruiting and retaining talent gets a lot easier.

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