Amazing! Only in America! What a great country!
Judging by the hornet’s nest of comments created by my recent critique of Allianz Life it is obvious that the issues discussed did touch a nerve rubbed raw by the company’s recent activities and results.
A couple of obvious conclusions can be drawn from such an intense reaction. The issues raised must have some validity or they would not have triggered such an outpouring of comments. The reactions – pro and con – show that there are still a large number of people who are concerned and passionate about the future of the company. That is a good thing.
At the time I am writing this entry more than 40 comments have been posted. That is about half the number that has jammed my personal e-mail box. Sadly, for fear of corporate retribution, many of those writers felt too intimidated to “go public” with their views.
Frankly, I was not surprised by the maelstrom that followed the blog. (In case you missed it, this is the blog that created all the controversy.) It has been over six years since I retired as CEO of the company, but I have remained in close touch with many of the people and the activities of the company. I knew the blog would raise a firestorm, but so be it. The time is right and the issues need to be discussed.
With my background and connection to the company, no one can claim to be more interested in the success of Allianz Life than I. I may have retired as CEO, but neither my feelings for the company, employees or the field went away. An examination of my activity since retirement will show a history of doing all I could to support the company. However, in light of all that has happened at Allianz Life during the past few years I could no longer remain quiet.
I am sure the bureaucratic minions now in charge of the company will not agree, but my objective in going public with my concerns is to help Allianz Life. It was Henry James who said, “The critic is a valuable instrument, a torch bearing outrider.” I offered my views and will continue to do so because the biggest business challenges for Allianz leadership is to understand why business has fallen so precipitously and why so many employees – past and present – are so discontented. And then they must be challenged to do something about it.
The worst thing that can happen is for Allianz management to dismiss the issues we’ve raised as just so much disgruntled disparagement from past and present employees. That’s the bureaucratic way. Bureaucrats discount and dismiss dissent as they plow forward with business as usual – till it is too late.
I would be even more disappointed with myself if I continued to stand by quietly watching the continued decline and destruction of the company. Not to mention seeing more talented good people being “escorted out” or discouraged and frustrated to the point of leaving.
Et tu, Brute?
Believe it or not, I appreciate the comments from those who attempted to “bury” Mac even more than those who sought to praise him. Compliments make us feel good, but constructive criticism helps us to learn and grow.
It is important for the critics to understand that my comments are not Johnny-come-lately. Since the day of my retirement, both behind the scenes and publicly, I have worked to resist and fight the destructive changes that have led to the decline of Allianz Life. One might go back to read my presentation at the 2005 FMO meeting titled “The Agony of Success” (converted to Chapter 19 of “Cheat To Win”). It explains how even extremely successful companies sometimes rest on their laurels, whereupon they stagnate and decline as brighter, nimbler entrepreneurial companies seize the competitive opportunity.
To be honest I am itching to respond to the negative comments of some, but that would shift the focus of the discussion away from the real issues here. The debate and discussion should focus on what can, should and will be done to stop the spiraling decline of Allianz Life as a successful company and a great place to work. For this forum I am satisfied to stand on my record of 20 years building companies, cultures and relationships.
The purpose of my blog was to ask the question and stimulate the debate as to why a great company and a wonderful place to work is being destroyed. My personal belief is that the company’s culture and future is being destroyed by a self-serving, insecure, incompetent bureaucratic management group of Allianz Life and AZOA. I may be wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that these issues do need to be brought to the surface and addressed before it is too late.
Can’t Change the Facts
We can argue about cause and effect, but the fact of the matter is that for the past several years the performance of Allianz Life has been in steady decline. In addition, the culture and work environment of the company has turned from positive to negative. There are also no indications that this poor performance and negative work environment will turn around anytime soon. Or even that there is a plan to do so. (Of course, to do that you would first have to admit that there is a problem and bureaucrats are loathe to do so.)
From my perspective the core, overriding and defining reason Allianz Life is declining is due to a change from a vibrant entrepreneurial culture to one infested and dominated by bureaucrats and bureaucracy. In order to regain its balance, success and greatness Allianz Life must return to a culture based on entrepreneurial philosophy.
The leaders must understand that for successful companies, it is not the company that defines the culture, it is the culture that defines the company.
From some of the comments to the blog it is obvious that many do not understand the real tenants of an entrepreneurial philosophy. Mention the word entrepreneur and many conjure up the image of a wild, swashbuckling dreamer interested only in money. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A true entrepreneur is not determined by the measure of his or her results, but by how those results were attained. Being an entrepreneur is more about attitude than aptitude.
Entrepreneurialism is a way of living life,
not a way of managing life.
The real entrepreneur or entrepreneurial culture has a certain spirit, élan and approach to issues that is just different. And that is the key. In a bureaucratic system that demands sameness, the entrepreneur is willing to be creatively different. Bureaucrats fail to understand that only by being different can things be made better. That is the philosophy at the heart of an entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial culture.
By my definition an entrepreneur is an individual with the experience to recognize an opportunity, the inherent instinct to visualize its fulfillment, and the courage to reach for it. An entrepreneur is by nature a leader who has the talent to clearly, simply, consistently and relentlessly communicate the vision to employees and to others; one who can motivate others to be successful because they believe it is in their own best interest to do so.
Using my definition then an entrepreneurial culture consists of a group of individuals who have suppressed individual interests in an effort to achieve group success because group success will advance both their individual talents and their ultimate success and rewards. This is difficult to achieve when the leaders demonstrate interest only in their success and not others.
Honestly, I ask you – How many of the leaders at Allianz Life and AZOA would qualify as believing, thinking and acting with an entrepreneurial spirit? Just how entrepreneurial is the Allianz Life culture of today?
It is important to understand that bureaucratic management and cultures destroy value while entrepreneurial leaders and cultures create value.
No company starts as a bureaucratic company but it begins to fail as soon as bureaucratic leaders and bureaucracy begin to infest and gum-up company actions and thinking.
Employees wondering if they work in an entrepreneurial or bureaucratic culture need only ask:
- How well does the company communicate its mission to employees? Do I even know where this business is heading?
- Is change resisted, tolerated or welcomed?
- Is experimentation encouraged, important and constant?
- Is risk regaled or reviled?
- Are the leaders satisfied with what worked yesterday, rather than trying to find new things that will work tomorrow?
- Do the leaders find it easier to hire more people from the outside than to nurture and develop them from the inside?
- Do the leaders define success by what they have done rather than what could be do?
- Do the leaders feel that getting better is not as important as keeping what they have?
- Is process and procedure viewed as more important than performance and progress?
- Is extraordinary performance recognized and rewarded or is cronyism the way to the top?
- Do the leaders share in the financial pain of any downturn or do they insulate themselves at the expense of others?
You should ask and answer these questions about Allianz Life and then draw your own conclusion. When doing so, you should also ask the following specific questions about Allianz Life and its leadership.
- How many years has it been since Allianz Life introduced a truly creative and innovative product? (I am not talking about bells, whistles and gimmicks added to “accessorize” existing products.
- How many new markets, i.e. retirement, has Allianz entered?
- What new sources of production have been added in the past few years?
- Does Allianz Life now lead or follow?
- Do the actions of management seem reactive to problems or are they proactive in searching out new opportunities?
- Do the actions of management in an effort to increase sales seem based on short-term fixes and stimulants rather than long-term plans?
- Why does management spend more time planning additional outsourcing and layoffs than it does helping people become more successful and productive?
- Does management make you feel personally valuable and important?
- Do you feel that you are encouraged to “make a difference,” and if you do, will it be recognized?
I could go on, but I think the point is made. My belief is that Allianz Life is declining because weak, insecure, self-serving bureaucratic managers at Allianz Life and AZOA have failed the culture of success at the company and that they lack the vision to build parallel interests and reminisce about the future.
Let the debate begin. Not a debate about how we got to where we are today but how we can get to where we need to be tomorrow.
(While I have you, here is a commercial message. Just to prove to the critics I am only interested in money. If you are serious about this discussion and would like more depth, I encourage you buy a copy of my newest book “Beat The System – Building an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic World.” You can do so here on the Web site or by going to Amazon.com)