Toni Handler is chief talent officer at MetLife. She is responsible for creating, and implementing a global talent management and organizational effectiveness strategy that aligns directly with MetLife's strategic goals. She also oversees all recruiting and enterprise-wide learning, including leadership and management development, sales development, professional skills, and service knowledge.

Learning Executives Briefing: Can you describe the shift in the MetLife culture as a result of the changes in business strategy?

Handler: MetLife has undergone a number of organizational changes, including the acquisition of Alico, which has significantly moved the organization toward our refreshed business strategy of being the leading global insurance provider of income and protection products and services, and employee benefit programs. Other business changes that have and will continue to shift our culture are the move from a performance-based culture to one that focuses on performance and potential; the changing demographics of our clients; and the formation of our U.S. business to include both institutional and individual clients. Also, the expectations of the newly appointed CEO are being embedded into our work.

LXB: What impact did that change have on the company and its employees?

Handler: The globalization of MetLife will require the company's associates to re-evaluate how they conduct business and shift their mindset to think and operate globally. We are making great strides to understand the capabilities of our talent, further grow and develop that talent to meet the changing needs of the organization and the industry, and acquire talent where needed. In addition, we have implemented a more formalized and automated performance development process as well as a more structured talent review process.

LXB: How do you translate business goals into practical talent practices?for example, how talent is identified, developed, and deployed?

Handler: We've developed a talent strategy that includes partnerships with businesses to evaluate associates and identify key and high-potential talent using a custom six-box talent assessment guide. Data obtained from using this assessment tool is discussed in formal talent reviews and is used to identify aggregate strengths and development needs. Awareness of individual and aggregate development needs enables us to create programs that build the needed knowledge, skills, and competencies through both individual and organizational initiatives including assessment, coaching, education, mentoring, and career movement. Our strategic goal is to create a global workforce with the capabilities to achieve strategic business outcomes and competitive advantage resulting in enhanced shareholder value. This will allow MetLife to have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs at the right time.

Handler: One way is to show up with the research that illustrates the problem. Gartner and others are respected organizations in the IT field. If you bring this kind of statistical muscle into the discussion, it at least focuses their attention. Once IT is educated as to what the learning organization can do to make a difference, it becomes a win-win for everyone.

LXB: What are the key features of the talent strategy you developed?

Handler: We have instituted a global, enterprise-wide center of expertise in talent management, leadership development, and learning and development. This team has created tools and processes to ensure consistency in our talent strategy for all levels of associates. The key features of our talent strategy are our talent assessment guide, our executive selection and talent acquisition capability, our leadership development, and executive education programs that focus on aggregate development needs, our commitment to assessment and coaching for individual development, and our ability to deploy talent for succession and development.

LXB: How are the skills and competencies of global employees evaluated, and how do you match them to future and current job openings?

Handler: Skills and competencies of our global employees are evaluated during the performance management process, which focuses on business and development goals and includes bi-annual manager or associate discussions. Evaluation also includes the use of our talent assessment guide and formal talent reviews. We match talent to current and future job openings by continuous, focused attention on the needs of the business through the involvement of key stakeholders and by keeping our pulse on internal as well as external talent.

LXB: Do you have a program or process for high potentials? Describe it.

Handler: We have a number of programs that concentrate on growing our leadership. Growing Your Leadership Potential is a program targeted at identifying and growing high potential talent to fill key roles in the business. This program is a part of our overall leadership development strategy to build a robust pipeline of leaders that will be ready to fill critical roles to meet our growth strategies. This nine-month modular program includes assessment, instructor-led sessions, simulations, role plays, and coaching. In addition to this program, we offer individual assessment and coaching for people identified as high-potential and key talent.

LXB: How did you get the leadership on board to a new way of doing business, and how did you communicate to employees any changes that were made?

Handler: We have a top-down commitment that has been a critical to our success in implementing the talent strategy. This includes acknowledgement from the CEO and the executive group that the business case and strategic imperative for our work is strong. We secured visible commitment as evidenced by a commitment to frequent and rigorous talent review discussions; the weaving of talent management into key messaging; an officers meeting that highlighted developing and managing talent as a key business imperative; and the institution of a strategic objective of organizational effectiveness. In addition, we involved leadership in the change process, ensuring we understood their needs and expectations; establishing the need for change early in the process; and ensuring that business leaders realized the consequences of not having an improved talent management strategy.

LXB: How do you measure the impact of these changes over time?

Handler: We have outlined a multi-faceted measurement strategy to assess the impact of the changes. We are implementing and analyzing our employee engagement survey every other year and conducting regular talent review meetings that focus on a broader and deeper level of talent. Additionally, we are looking at the development and completion of individual development plans, and the impact of leadership development and executive education programs.

LXB: Did you do a base-line engagement survey?

Handler: We conducted our most recent engagement survey in 2010 to our United States and select global employee populations. This allowed us to check our progress from prior surveys while also establishing a baseline to use for the organizational changes. Prior to our 2010 survey, the last U.S. survey was conducted in 2006 and the last global survey was 2003. To gain a deeper insight, we also facilitated focus groups specific to strategy and talent management.

LXB: What were some of the key insights from having managed this large-scale change?

Handler: There were several insights that we gained. The first is that we have to be aligned to MetLife's overall business strategy from a talent perspective;?we must align our people processes to our business strategy position. Second, it is absolutely necessary to have commitment and clear accountability from the top. That is what has made us so successful. Without that top-level buy in, it would be grassroots and, in most cases, those scenarios don't work. Third, it is critical to have resources and the time to create the change. If you mandate such a far reaching change at the management level, and don't have anything in place, it won't work. Finally, it is critical to organizational effectiveness to bring out the best in our people. A vital component in executing our business strategy is our accountability, which cascades downward.