What It's Like to Work at ... AFLAC

Interviewee: Philip Smith, promoted last month from senior programmer/analyst to manager of client/server Web developmentCompany: American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus Inc. (AFLAC)Main location: Columbus, Ga.

Number of information technology employees: 400 in the U.S.; 20 in Web developmentNumber of employees (end users): 4,900Web site traffic: "That's increased exponentially since the duck campaign started this year [the company's TV advertisements feature a duck quacking the company's name]. In August, we had 1.1 million hits on our home page, vs. 98,000 in August of 1999.That's a 946% increase. It's amazing what a little duck can do for you."

What kind of pressure has the duck put on IT? "Sales leads for the first three months of this year outpaced all of those for 1998 and 1999 combined. So we've had to beef up a lot of our extranet systems for our field sales associates. Everything is moving online anyway, but we pushed it along a little faster. But we've had no major meltdowns, knock on wood."

What activities fall under the Web development group? "The Internet site, the intranet and an extranet for our 30,000-person independent field sales force."

Major initiatives: A Web site redesign to give it a "real fun" look and feel (with partner Macquarium Inc. in Atlanta) and a new e-mail application that will enable AFLAC to send mass e-mails to the field sales force.

How is your transition to management going? "It's definitely a different monster. I'm used to being all technology-oriented, and now I have more of an administrative role, making sure people follow through and meet their dates. But I was always a task-oriented programmer into the details, so I think it will work out pretty well."

Have you had any management training? "Not yet, but I have a list of about 15 to 20 classes that I'll take over the next few months. We have six or seven in-house instructors that provide a wide range of training, and we have an external training vendor."

Employee reviews: An annual self-appraisal system; supervisors review the self-assessments and add their own comments, and the final document is stored online for viewing by other managers as needed.

Bonus programs: "In the past couple of years, they've been incorporating more project-oriented incentives, like a $100 cash reward for meeting a project milestone. And we have a companywide yearly bonus based on revenue."

Dress code: Business casual

Workday: "My team gets here between 7 and 8 a.m. and leaves between 4:30 and 6 p.m. We're good about keeping normal, steady hours."

Come on. Really? "If a deadline is approaching, we might have some long days."

Kind of offices: "Cluttered, right now. We're building a large new campus that will \[consolidate\] employees from several different locations, but we've already outgrown the campus, and it's not even built yet. Right now, we're spread out all over Columbus. The majority of IT is all together in an old building that was a dairy before, but we also have local IT support in each location."

On-site day care? "We have a dedicated day-care facility for AFLAC employees that's near several of our major buildings, and there will be a second one on the new campus."

Office mascot: The duck. "There's been a craze to get stuffed-animal ducks - quackers and nonquackers. You see them everywhere."

Little perks: Restaurant gift certificates, reward luncheons and annual Christmas partiesLast companywide perk: The annual employee appreciation week in May, which includes performances, games "and a big event for the grand finale - like taking your family to a Braves game or going to Six Flags."

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO? "Probably not."

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