Aflac’s CHRO on Developing Top Talent

Matthew Owenby, Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Aflac, discussed what it takes to develop and retain top talent during his keynote presentation to Argyle's CHRO membership at the 2016 Human Capital Leadership Forum: Fall Event in New York on Sept. 22. In his presentation, "Developing Top Talent: Strategies to Retain High Performers through Coaching and Employee Empowerment," Owenby described how HR professionals can coach and empower workers as they prepare to become leaders within an organization.

Today, Aflac represents a leader in the insurance space thanks to the hard work and dedication of its employees. And to foster engagement among employees, Aflac constantly explores ways to ensure its employees are satisfied with the support they receive from management and are committed to staying with the organization for an extended period of time.

"Retention is all about relationships," Owenby said. "We are keen on making long-term relationships with people that work at the corporation. … We are very focused on ensuring that people that we hire are going to hang around with us for a long time."

Owenby pointed out that many employees stay with Aflac for more than 30 years, and perhaps for good reason.

Aflac remains in "employee development mode" at all times, Owenby pointed out. As such, the company boasts the skills and know-how needed to identify top talent and help workers build their leadership skills.

"We focus very heavily on hiring the right people," Owenby said. "The hiring process for us really begins the developmental journey for the employee … When you show up at Aflac, there's a 90% to 95% chance that we're going to hire you."

In addition, Aflac has been successful at recruiting and retaining Millennials thanks in part to its engagement efforts.

"The hiring process for us really begins the developmental journey for the employee … When you show up at Aflac, there's a 90% to 95% chance that we're going to hire you."

Owenby stated that after a new employee joins Aflac, the organization will send out an organization-wide update that highlights this worker's skills and background. By doing so, Aflac is able to take a positive first step toward fostering a long-lasting partnership with its workers.

"We're showing people that at initially we care and that this is going to be a journey for them," Owenby pointed out. "Hopefully, over time, it's not just 'initially,' it's long term."

Aflac also remains a family-focused organization and continues to explore ways to employ military veterans.

Owenby stated that Aflac's family-centric mission corresponds to the mission and goals of many veterans and has helped the organization find and retain loyal employees as well.

Furthermore, Aflac's internship program has enabled the organization to attract and recruit top talent consistently.

"We don't lost track of our interns," Owenby stated. "We rotate [interns] through various aspects of the organization … and when they leave, we connect with them, and we continue to connect with them as they continue their education processes so we don't lose track of them."

Inspiring employees is paramount too, and Aflac often tries to find ways to promote community involvement among employees.

To date, Aflac has launched numerous community involvement campaigns, encouraging workers to work with community members and become active participants in their respective communities. These campaigns have been successful, Owenby noted, because they enable employees to focus on addressing new and complex challenges.

"[Talented employees] want to give back," Owenby said. "It's not just about making money here. It's about giving back to the community."

How management connects with employees also may impact an organization's ability to recruit and retain top talent.

"[Talented employees] want to give back. It's not just about making money here. It's about giving back to the community."

If an organization strives to foster collaboration among management and employees, then it may be better equipped to thrive in a highly competitive global marketplace. Comparatively, an organization that fails to provide workers with ongoing opportunities to collaborate with management risks falling behind its rivals.

"We believe that when we're trying to develop and retain our top talent, connecting them with the people that are running the organization outside of just a once-a-year activity is really important," Owenby stated.

Encouraging employees to build deep relationships across multiple levels within an organization fosters trust, according to Owenby. These relationships drive teamwork and enable workers to better understand how different departments within an organization can work together toward common goals. Therefore, giving employees the opportunity to collaborate with one another and with management can deliver long-lasting results for organizations of all sizes.

Ultimately, an organization that promotes relationships can foster connections among employees day after day. These relationships can serve as the backbone of an organization's everyday efforts and may make it easier for workers to achieve their career goals. Meanwhile, strong relationships can drive results across an organization as well, ensuring an organization can engage its employees and develop mutually beneficial relationships with them.


Matthew Owenby has more than 15 years of experience in the financial services and human resources and is senior vice president, chief human resources officer at Aflac, a company with more than 9,500 employees. At Aflac, he is responsible for providing strategic direction for the Human Resources function and executing on global initiatives for the corporation. Matthew joined Aflac in 2012 as vice president of HR Business Partners, bringing with him more than a decade of HR experience at Bank of America and General Electric.