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NFU Mutual: A Principled Approach to
World-Class Engagement

NFU Mutual Company Front with 2 Employees Walking

NFU Mutual achieved what only 1% of companies have achieved globally within Gallup’s employee engagement database. When compared with millions of employees in companies across the world, the U.K. insurer has been in the 99th percentile of Gallup’s engagement database for six years running and in the top decile for nine years in a row. Eighty-two percent of NFU Mutual teams are in the top quartile of the Gallup engagement database and 62% in the top decile, and there’s a strong commitment within the business to sustain those high levels of engagement and ensure every team achieves world-class levels of engagement.

Kenny Graves

"Our strategy is to lead the way in customer service, and we have an excellent track record of doing just that. Highly engaged colleagues are central to this aim, as an engaged employee is more likely to pay attention to the needs and wants of customers. Driving engagement isn’t easy, and although we’ve had outstanding success, we are never complacent. We focus on it day in, day out in order to achieve one of our three company objectives, which is ‘to be a great place to work.’"— Kenny Graves, HR Director (Chief HR Officer), NFU Mutual

NFU Mutual has good reason to pursue the heights of engagement as it’s a mid-sized insurance mutual facing large-scale competition in a challenging employment market. In a competitive market where insurers are always at risk of their star talent being poached, NFU Mutual understands culture to be more important than ever.

To stay competitive, the company has built an authentic employee experience that attracts top talent, improves the lives of employees and inspires excellent performance. Guided by a clear and consistent long-term strategy and a powerful set of principles, this company is following its internal compass as it transforms employee engagement and reinforces its culture.

99th percentile of Gallup’s engagement database for six years running
82% of NFU Mutual teams are in the top quartile of the Gallup engagement database
The Objective
Make Change and Stay True to Powerful Principles

In 2011, NFU Mutual set an ambitious goal to reach world-class levels of employee engagement within five years (from a starting point of the 19th percentile), transforming culture and the daily working environment for their employees. They did so because employee engagement satisfies their strategic long-term objectives.

Steering everything the organization does, these three objectives are:

To make NFU Mutual a great place to work

To make NFU Mutual a great company to do business with

To have sustainable, profitable growth

These principles cascade from the highest levels of strategy all the way down to individual objectives and role profiles. If a potential course of action doesn’t contribute to one of these objectives, they simply don’t do it.

But for actions that are clearly aligned with their objectives, the company moves energetically. Having a highly engaged workforce, for instance, meets the first objective overtly and sets the stage for the second two.

At the heart of the three objectives is long-term thinking, according to Kenny Graves, NFU Mutual’s HR Director, who remarks, “One of the things that our staff love is that we take a long-term view to every part of the business.”

The Approach
Begin With Trust, Then Strategize and Learn

Trust the engagement research.

From the beginning, NFU Mutual trusted Gallup’s employee engagement data and research. Having seen the evidence that engagement improves a host of outcomes that are vital to business performance, NFU Mutual quickly embraced engagement science.

“The thing that draws us to Gallup’s approach is the powerful logic that sits behind it,” says Graves. “I believe in the power of their data, insight and analytics. I trust Gallup to deliver solid outcomes.”

Focus on exceptional quality.

With a foundation of trust, the company began to plan, creating a multi-year strategy of transformation. Their goal: Reimagine engagement within their organization and reach the 90th percentile, or the top 10% of the organizations Gallup measures globally, within five years.
NFU Mutual employees working together

Along with this goal, they set out to transform their culture. Graves describes NFU Mutual’s ideal workplace as being one of quality — in the highest sense of the word for both business and relationship outcomes. In striving for this quality, the company relies on exceptional, respect-based interactions among employees, customers and agents to create a virtuous cycle that sustains itself within the company’s culture.

"Genuine respect and kindness for each other — whether someone is junior or senior — is quite powerful. It creates a remarkable culture."

— Kenny Graves, HR Director (Chief HR Officer), NFU Mutual

It’s this combined focus on performance and humanity that makes NFU Mutual fertile ground for an employee engagement transformation while ensuring that life as an NFU Mutual employee is a rich and meaningful experience.

Invest in employee engagement.

NFU CHRO and Employee Conversing

To put it lightly, NFU Mutual's engagement and culture work was a success.

The plan to transform NFU Mutual began in 2011, when the company completed its first administration of the Q12, Gallup’s employee engagement survey.

Since then, like clockwork, the company has improved its engagement scores year over year, working with Gallup to reimagine their workplace. They achieved their stretch goal of reaching the 90th percentile a year ahead of plan in 2015. And now, a little over a decade after setting the initial goal to achieve world-class engagement, the company has:

maintained the 99th percentile of employee engagement, the top 1% of all organizations Gallup tracks, for six years in a row
grown key attendant metrics, like employee resilience, with half of all its employees meeting Gallup’s definition of being “highly resilient”

How does the company do it? “You have to be serious about engagement,” says Graves. “And that starts at the top.” Visible commitment and passion from the very top of the organization is vital, and the leadership team, including the CEO, needs to role model the expected principles and behaviors in everything they do.

“You have to integrate engagement into the way you work,” Graves reminds leaders. “It can’t be off to the side. It has to be at the center of your work every day.”

— Kenny Graves, HR Director (Chief HR Officer), NFU Mutual

Study employees. Create development.

When people succeed at NFU Mutual, the company wants to discover how. In fact, they want to know so strongly that they conduct studies of successful employees and then teach what they learn to other employees. For example, the company studies:

Managers who lead engaged teams. Why do some managers outperform others? Can the success of high-performing managers be replicated throughout the company? In partnership with Gallup, NFU Mutual answers these questions, developing and internally sharing powerful best practices for managers.

Winning financial advisors. To learn what their best financial advisors do differently, NFU Mutual worked with Gallup to discover their financial advisors’ engagement, strengths, talent and performance metrics. They then shared the best practices that they uncovered and coached each financial advisor.

Resilient employees. Gallup and NFU Mutual also analyzed the resilience of employees and ran deep analytics to discover why some employees weren’t resilient. Nearly 52% of NFU Mutual employees qualify as highly resilient, which proved to be extremely important when the pandemic hit and helped NFU Mutual continue to maintain high levels of service during the COVID-19 crisis.

Leading hybrid teams. Gallup and NFU Mutual recognized that managers needed to feel equipped with the right tools and materials to lead their teams into a new world of work with new expectations. NFU Mutual deployed a development program and a “Leading Hybrid Teams Toolkit” for managers that was developed based on an analysis of the company’s teams, which led to the creation of Gallup’s four essential dynamics of hybrid work, giving leaders 10 digital tools for creating team charters, preparing for hybrid meetings and having trust-based conversations.

At NFU Mutual, each investigation into success leads to development, which leads to more success, more inquiry and more development. It’s a cycle that helps the company sustain its winning streak.

“Investing in development is absolutely key,” says Graves. “We invest in technical, product and interpersonal skills, which creates a higher-quality experience for everyone — employees and customers.”

The Outcome
Employees Who Win and Customers Who Stay

The measures of NFU Mutual’s success are abundant. It’s not just the highly engaged and resilient employees or the financial success during a pandemic — it’s also the way customers stick around. With a customer retention rate of over 95% as of the end of December 2023, one of the highest customer retention rates in the U.K. insurance sector, NFU Mutual knows its employee engagement efforts are a contributing factor to its success.

Others, including Gallup, have recognized NFU Mutual’s efforts. For nine years running, the company has been a winner of Gallup’s Exceptional Workplace Award and has recently been recognized as a certified U.K. Top Employer by the Top Employers Institute in 2023 and 2024 — one of only 111 companies in the U.K. to achieve this accreditation in 2024.
Group of NFU Mutual employees working together

Even with these achievements, NFU Mutual doesn’t take its employees’ engagement for granted. They know it can disappear in an instant if they lose sight of what’s important. “Keeping a connection with people is more critical than ever,” says Graves.

“To maintain their relationship, our managers strive to have one meaningful conversation per week with our staff — because as a leader, it could be easy to forget about or de-prioritize your people, especially in a hybrid environment, so, we consistently connect, even if it’s informal.”

— Kenny Graves, HR Director (Chief HR Officer), NFU Mutual

It’s the deep connections that NFU Mutual establishes time and again — with employees as with customers — that make them much more than your average insurance company.

Making change that matters.

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