For some of us (especially the Northern Hemisphere) September marks the end of Summer holidays and the time to go back to work. No matter whether you’ve taken a week’s break, or a bit longer, you’re hopefully feeling fresh, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world again. It’s the perfect time to re-assess your professional life; to look at how you can improve, develop new skills and bring your career back into focus. One of the best places to start is by talking to people who have been in similar situations.
At AXA, we value our people and trust that innovation can come from anyone. That’s why we decided to set up ‘Start-in’– a participative innovation program dedicated to promoting our colleagues’ ideas to create tomorrow’s solutions for our customers.
Over the next few weeks, this blog series will feature some of our colleagues who participated in Start-in 2016. They’ll be discussing what they think about innovation, the challenges of combining professional and personal lives, and providing you with some helpful tips to develop your skills.
Let’s start with Berny, aka Bernadette Cichostepski and her top tips for innovating at work…
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Bernadette Cichostepski (pronounced in English as SEE SHOW STEP SKI) but most people know me by my nickname, Berny. I’ve been working at AXA for 18 years and am currently the assistant to the Chief Marketing & Digital Officer. I have two children, aged 6 and 8. I love crafts, DIY, making jam and baking.
How do you perceive innovation in general and in particular at AXA?
A company that invests in research with a dedicated Fund, grounds its operations in emerging countries, opens labs in different countries, signs partnerships with unexpected companies – for me, that’s an innovative company. Focused on the future and its customers’ needs but also those of its employees. Having worked here for 18 years, I’ve seen how AXA has evolved and I’m proud of it.
While working on your Start-In project how did you manage to stay motivated and rise to the challenge?
To be honest, the last week of Start-In was the hardest because we spent a week in a loft space working all day on what to present at the closing ceremony. When you know that a busy week is coming up, it’s easier to organize yourself. I am also lucky to have assistants and colleagues in Group Marketing & Digital who are always ready to help and boost your motivation.
Making a business plan, speaking in front of experts and CEOs to pitch an idea is not something you usually do every day but it’s a great learning experience.
What have you learned from this experience that will be useful to you for the rest of your career?
I noticed that the people around me (at work and at home) had more confidence in me than I did. That pushes you to go further, but it’s also scary because you don’t want to disappoint them. I would like to thank the people who helped me. A person can work fast on their own but as a team we go further.
In particular, I’d like to thank Olivier Lair, International Partnerships & Marketing Manager at AXA Assistance, with whom I had the pleasure to work on my Start-in project.
What would you do differently if you could do it all again?
Absolutely nothing. You need to accept life with its ups and down. That way, you learn and improve. Whereas if everything goes smoothly, you only remember one thing: “It was great.”
What key skills do you think are important when innovating?
Not being afraid to start over from scratch, despite the time and effort already invested. Knowing how to challenge the work you have done. Reading and doing research so you have the information you need to argue your case when the time comes.
You need to be gutsy. Quite late one evening, I had drafted an email for Serge Morelli, but as I was about to send it, I thought, “Wait, you can’t email a CEO. He doesn’t even know you and won’t answer.” Then, as I was getting up from the sofa, my computer slipped, I caught it and – bing! – off went the email.
In the end, Serge kindly answered my questions, connected me to a few other people and I was able to finish my project!
Watch out for the next blog in our series coming soon. If you’d like to share any of your own innovation tips or find out more about AXA around the world, follow us on DiscoverAXA on Twitter or Facebook.