The Culture Front

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Let’s face it. The insurance industry is still holding on to the 1990’s. No, I am not talking about technology. I am talking about culture. I am talking about culture driving results. I am talking about culture dramatically improving your top and bottom line. Now I have your attention.

My intention in writing this article is not to convince you to come work at Steadily. Well, for integrity’s sake, mostly not. My intention is to encourage my peers in the insurance industry to recognize the shift and its pace. The disruption taking place in our industry from Insurtechs is not just on the technology front. There is an equally disruptive cultural front too. Tech companies learned a long time ago the importance of attracting and retaining top talent and what it takes to do it. In large part due to the rise of Insurtechs, the insurance industry is learning. And the curve is steep. 

How many agencies, brokerages, MGA’s, TPA’s, Carriers, etc are spending vast sums of money improving their technology? A lot. How many of these companies are spending vast sums of money sourcing, selecting, hiring, and developing top talent? Not as many. Using the thumb in the wind method, I would say the ratio is 10 to 1 in favor of technology. If companies were weighing the importance of each, it should be 1 to 1. I am not talking about payroll expenses on a financial statement. I am talking about investing in attracting, retaining, and empowering people.

At Steadily, our mission is to become the best Insurtech in the world by leveraging the best technology and hiring the best people. Our tech is incredible and investors love us for it. But our people drive the overall customer and employee experience. If we want to be the best, we have to hire the best. More specifically, if we want to be the best, we have to hire and empower the best. We provide context, not control. If you give them the context, great people will do great things.

I admit I was skeptical. I didn’t think that the model could apply throughout an organization in all roles. Our founder and visionary, Darren, broke down that wall on my first day. It works. From the CEO to the most junior CSR, if you hire well, provide context, and empower your people, you will get outstanding results. Our people at Steadily are fantastic across the board. They are the best at what they do. I can attest that when you are surrounded by excellence, you want to be excellent too. 

At Steadily, we are KPI skeptics. Sure, you need metrics to evaluate how well your organization is doing financially and operationally. But KPI’s should not be the center of the company universe. Doing what is best for the company at all times should. For example, if you constantly emphasize and measure the number of applications underwriters process each day, all they are going to do is process applications. Easy, quick applications in particular. What about the countless other tasks underwriters have to do for your business to be successful? What about the applications for equally important customers that take a long time? An alternative, which we firmly believe in at Steadily, is hire the best people, share your goals to provide context, and let them do what they do best. KPI’s encourage people to do what is best for them, not the company.

Companies in the insurance industry need to first recognize and then act on the massive cultural shifts in the industry including the pace at which it is happening. The industry has been making steady progress for years in improving culture. Insurtechs are accelerating the pace of that change. For an industry that focuses so much on adverse selection from an underwriting and ratemaking perspective, we are not paying close enough attention to the adverse selection taking place with our people. It’s pretty simple. The best people want to work for the best companies to work for. What do I mean by best companies? Companies that provide the most flexibility, the best benefits, and most attractive culture are winning. Companies that are not are left with mediocrity.

An example. An insurance firm hires a high performing employee after a rigorous and disciplined hiring process involving dozens of candidates. The manager is proud to have landed such an outstanding employee and the new hire is excited to make an immediate impact. Soon, the new hire feels claustrophobic because all of the ceilings, rules, and controls put in place by the manager and firm, both intentionally and unintentionally. The new hire becomes frustrated and regresses to the performance mean. What happened? The new hire needs to be unleashed, not controlled. Provide the context, structure to succeed, and reasons to stay, and both the employee and company will thrive. 

COVID-19 enlightened many industry skeptics on the merits of remote work. I have heard many insurance executives comment on how successful remote work has been. How many great people did they lose or miss out on pre-COVID that could have been retained with more work-from-home options? A lot. The technology was there. The mindset shift was not. What are the things like work-from-home that companies are missing on now?

What is culture? For the purposes of this conversation, culture is the canvas, infrastructure, and shared consciousness companies create for their people to operate and thrive. Company philosophies, actions, policies, and leaders impact culture in both good and bad ways. Think strict promote from within, minimal annual merit increase, and be physically at your office desk pecking at your keyboard from X time to Y time cultures as examples of the bad. Tailor your culture for single moms, dual-income households, employees who live in far away cities, and homes with women as the sole breadwinner. They can be your best employees. Don’t make them adapt to you. Adapt to them. Flexibility for you is cheap, as COVID demonstrated, but for your employees it is life changing. Life changing leads to loyalty. Loyalty from high performers leads to sustained, amazing results.

I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given and all of the amazing people I have worked with and for over the years in the insurance industry. As a relatively young insurance executive, I am frequently asked by other executives how to attract top talent. They are having trouble finding good people. The answer is complicated. People no longer work for the same company for 40 years. People, particularly great people, the people every company wants to hire, have options. Lots of them. Insurtechs may provide some of the answers. Not just for technology, but culturally too. 

If you agree with my sentiments, you will love working at Steadily.