Over the last three years, Zurich UK Life has been on a culture change journey.  Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to take stock of how far we’d come through participation in research led by University of Bath School of Management and CIPD (now published as “Landing Transformational Change”). I want to share our story.

Our journey started when Gary Shaughnessy was appointed as CEO of Zurich UK Life in summer 2012. Shortly after joining, he began working with his top Executive team to create the vision for the organisation and considering the culture which would enable success in a rapidly changing environment. With the attributes of PACE (Passionate, Agile, Collaborative, Externally-Focussed) firmly agreed upon as the behavioural levers on which to build the culture, Zurich UK Life set to work on making the top-down structural changes, building the compelling corporate messaging and inventing the engagement vehicles that would drive, entice and compel the 1,600 employees within UK Life towards the desired end-state.

The legacy of the organisation was strong and its prevailing culture was built on foundations of hierarchy, centralised control and compliance. There had been considerable change at the top of the organisation and this was combined with a tradition of long-service through other management layers. The organisation had been pulled back from the brink over the preceding eight years and had rebuilt its reputation within the Zurich Group and within the UK Market. Employees were proud of these successes and had experienced the rewards that come with being part of an organisation that was exceeding its targets. All these factors in combination meant that our traditional top-down methods of driving change were not going to get to the desired end-state, and certainly not in a timely manner.

PACE Champions

During our transformation journey, it became clear quite quickly that direct staff involvement in the transformation would be key to the successful delivery. With this in mind, Zurich UK Life corralled a diverse group of change agents from across the organisation into the PACE Champions Group.  This Group has evolved over time, but currently has three distinct purposes : 1) role-modelling the new behaviours; 2) channelling communication in to, out from and within their functions; 3) creating, facilitating and promoting change activity to encourage involvement.  Over the last three years, this Group has been instrumental in the delivery of a number of discreet events aimed at helping create the environment in the transformation can occur, some examples are below:

That’s Life: This was internal expo event aimed at sharing the work that each function did, how it did it and the sorts of roles that existed in different parts of the business. This was one of the first events run by the Champions and was aimed at starting to break down the silos which had arisen from the previous hierarchical and centralised control regime. By providing stalls and giving the whole event the feeling of a trade fair, the Champions recruited people from within their function to share their own stories with colleagues and promote greater understanding of how the business worked


Learning Week: Twice, the PACE Champions have facilitated the Learning Week event, which has involved using in-house experts to deliver training and awareness sessions to delegates from around the business.  Sessions have included a talk on “Introverted Leadership” from our COO; an introduction to “Prezi” from some students on placement with us; and a session on “Motivation Theory” from two members of staff undertaking Masters degrees in Coaching. The event served a dual purpose with employees being able to talk about topics that were important to them (thus demonstrating their Passion) at the same time as allowing other employees to learn and develop.

Changing Habits of Life: The Champions delivered an event aimed at causing disruption to the established routines that exist within everyone’s working lives. The Champions worked to foster an environment where change could be experienced in a way that was putting individuals outside of their own comfort zone. With the appetite for change created, the Champions then ran floor sessions with their areas to identify the activities that were the product of habit and challenge themselves as to whether things could be done differently. As the week progressed, actions for improvement were captured and plans put in place to deliver where JDI wasn’t possible.

The Hunger Games: An inhibitor to the ability of employees to collaborate and work with agility is the lack of effective networks at an Individual Contributor or Junior Manager level.  The Hunger Games was a lunchtime “Speed Dating” event for staff at these grades to get to know each other.  Over 50 members of staff from different functions were assembled and then spent 5 minutes in conversation in groups of four. Conversation starters were offered (on both work and non-work topics) and at the end of each period, the room was rotated and new conversations were initiated between a different four participants. This event was held over lunch time with a sandwich lunch being provided.

PACE Awards

Through the research outcomes, a piece that surprised us was the power of the PACE Awards Scheme. The awards scheme recognises individuals and teams, with all nominations coming from colleagues.   The winners receive a certificate presented by an member of the Executive Committee, high-street vouchers and an invite to an annual “Winners’ Dinner”.  This was set up very early in the change journey but has evolved over the course of the last three years in response to feedback from the PACE Champions and the wider business.  The insight from the research was that the PACE Award Scheme provided a translation of the high-level corporate rhetoric into tangible examples of behaviour, to which other employees could relate. The winners are chosen by a diverse group of judges that draw from all levels and functions within the organisation, which ensures that our employees are part of that translation process. By being part of the translation, the definition of the culture becomes organic and evolving, determined by the employees that live the culture. Over time we came to realise that asking people to volunteer to be judges had a positive impact on the perceived transparency of the scheme and by reducing the cash value of the prize but increasing the number of winners, we could provide greater overt recognition of the people around the business exhibiting the desired attributes. This scheme built the link between the new behaviours and the celebration of success, which helped to decouple the old behaviours from the notion of reward and recognition.  This award scheme has now been in place for three years and the number of nominations continue to increase each quarter, suggesting that momentum and participation continue to grow.


The PACE Culture change journey is ongoing within Zurich UK Life. The events above were raised in response to having identified “the next hurdle” and creating engagements that would help move us forward. By looking at the rear-view mirror, we can build a narrative that demonstrates the quantum of change we’ve already achieved but through the windscreen, the destination remains shrouded in rhetoric. Each junction, pothole or hitch on our journey creates the opportunity for a conscious change choice informed through dialogue and input from inside the operation and an action that moves us towards the desired culture and create more clarity on the end-state.