To listen can be defined as “to make an effort to hear something or to pay attention or heed what is being said.” A seemingly ubiquitous complaint across the insurance industry is that of management concerned by staff that fails to listen, follow procedures, pay attention, or heed instructions.
If this is something you have ever experienced, then rest assured that you are not alone. It has happened to anyone who has ever managed, taught, led, or mentored in any industry, coached a sports team, or raised a family. Ever wonder why it is happening in claims organizationswhere state statutes, civil law, and procedure manuals should provide sufficient guidance?
Honing A Skill
As I’ve said before, listening is a skill. Just as it takes a certain personality to succeed in the investigation, negotiation, evaluation, and settlement of a given claim, effectively listening requires certain traits.
It is also important to recognize that one’s perception of another listening may or may not be correct. Think back to the old telephone game where you would tell a secret to someone. He or she would then pass along that same secret to another. This would go on for some time, and the end message would invariably differ from the original. By that same token, telling a person to do a more thorough evaluation of a claim is much different than actually instructing him or her about steps that should be taken.
There are also degrees of listening, ranging from the maverick that may hear something loud and clear but develop a better way to the insubordinate that simply have no desire to follow instructions. This can make a fine line in the role of a fiduciary where adherence to civil codes and company procedures is critical to ensuring quality delivery and outcomes.
That said, a little streak of independence can be a good thing, provided that it adds value to the entire end-to-end process. After all, organizations become great when new and innovative ideas continuously percolate. Never thinking outside of the box would result in maintaining the status quo, which can stagnate any industry.
Consider the best of breed, be it Southwest, Honda, Apple, Amazon, E-bay or Cisco. Look at what their innovations have done to the airline, automotive, computing, and retail industries. Their successes did not come from adhering to the status quo. Rather, it came from innovative people with creative ideas. Moreover, innovation was possible because management was confident enough to be receptive and embrace change.
Herein lies the problem. Of the world’s “50 Most Innovative Companies,” there are no domestic P&C carriers listed in 2011. According to Fast Company, which compiled the list, “today’s business landscape is littered with heritage companies who’s CEOs battle their industry’s broken model with inertia, layoffs, and lawsuits (anything that squeezes pennies and delays the inevitable). How many of these companies will be dominant in 2025? Few.”
So perhaps a better question than “why won’t my adjusters listen to me?” would be “what are my adjusters saying, thinking, or doing?” This will enable management to differentiate the poor and the marginal from the good and the great. Remember that in most organizations 80 percent of problems are coming from the bottom 20 percent of employees. Most often, these are the people who are not actively listening; instead, they are likely constantly complaining and dragging down the company. On the flipside, 80 percent of innovative ideas will come from the top 20 percent of employees. These are the future leaders who will define the next generation of an organization, depending upon the open mindedness of today’s leaders.
Listen and Advise
It is also important to remember that adjusters are not alone in listening deficiencies. The 80/20 rule is universal. Somewhere along the way, there may be ineffective management that impedes success. After all, when a football team consistently has a losing record, then the poor performance generally is not attributed to lack of player talent.
Effective listeners differentiate between words and people, as the latter bring meaning to the former. The communication of the message is just as critical as the receipt of the message. Therefore, it is important to recognize the intended outcomes when asking staff to listen and identify those who are ineffective.
Consider the following example in which adjusters are told to contact claim parties within 24 hours, inspect damaged property within 48 hours, and close claims within seven days. In theory, this should improve claim outcomes. After all, these are quantifiable and achievable metrics. Or are they?
Simply getting people to listen to these instructions leaves a lot of room for unintended consequences. By rushing the claims process, an adjuster could overlook fraud or recovery opportunities. Of course, this is actually dependent upon the quality and capability of staff.
Effective performers will not only adapt their processes to improve outcomes, but they will also create innovative ways to receive the message to improve their work. Poor performers will selectively listen to the message and then try to justify deficient outcomes with excuses such as “unfair,” “unreasonable,” or “unrealistic.”
While listening is critical, equally important is messaging. Creating a process by which company initiatives are uniformly conveyed will drive optimal outcomes. Using a calibration process whereby all employees (at every level) receive the same message can dramatically increase the chance of organizational success.
When new initiatives, processes or procedures are rolled out, taking the time to educate staff about not only what is being done, but also why will facilitate an environment where change can be embraced instead of resisted. Far too often, the strategic and the tactical paradigms are at odds, when it takes nothing more than effective communication and listening to bring them into alignment.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” -Epictetus