How a Culture of Change Helps Modernization Efforts

By Judy Busby and Jessica DeMars | November 4, 2019

Technology and innovation have become competitive differentiators as the insurance industry evolves. Insurance companies are connecting with individuals in new ways and working toward providing personalized and innovative customer experiences, while streamlining internal processes. As organizations explore modernization initiatives and partner with insurtechs to develop cutting edge offerings, change management is playing a large role in effective implementation.

In order to successfully adopt new processes and tools, it’s important to have the right talent in place to lead these strategic initiatives. Additionally, forward-thinking companies are creating a culture of change within their organizations to help ensure modernization efforts are embraced and executed as smoothly as possible. This includes being thoughtful about specific transitions, as well as hiring and developing innovative talent that will lead future change.

Human Element of Change

Effective modernization involves much more than implementing a new system or process. Today’s leaders must not only plan the logistics of a transition, but also prepare their employees psychologically and emotionally for the change. Many professionals have a fear of failure and the unknown, sentiments that should be accounted for and acknowledged during this time.

Similar to grieving, individuals commonly go through a certain process when faced with a major change. This change curve includes an initial reaction — often shock or denial — and disruption, which may manifest as fear or anger. The final two stages of the change curve are exploration and rebuilding. During these stages, the change is accepted and employees begin to commit to the new way of doing things. Rather than expecting employees to embrace a new idea right away, anticipate these four stages and adjust your strategy and timing accordingly.

At the same time, it’s important to have the right leaders in place to lead through the change. Without empathetic, emotionally intelligent and forward-thinking individuals spearheading the charge, it’s unlikely modernization efforts will be easily adopted by employees. These leaders should focus on the “who” just as much as the “what” and encourage both formal and informal two-way dialogue.

Employees throughout the entire organization or department can be change advocates. In fact, there are typically three categories employees fall into during times of transition: early adopters, neutral individuals and resistors.

Early adopters are excited about changes; they willingly embrace new concepts and actively take on challenges. Most organizations have a handful of these individuals; leverage their energy to build momentum and influence others, including their peers.

The neutral — or wait and see — demographic, comprises the largest group and tends to adopt change when there is perceived personal gain. They can be swayed through incentives and influenced by early adopters.

Resistors are the most difficult to successfully manage, as they are the least likely to adopt changes and can potentially create organizational roadblocks. Expect this group to question everything and to be skeptical of changes. Use their hesitations to your advantage. Talk with members of this group in private and ask them to share apprehensions and fears. Use this information to better position broader communication around the change and proactively mitigate concerns that might be raised by others.

Communication and timing are key when undergoing technological transformations. Be transparent and provide as much information as you can up front. Share details about what a modernization initiative will entail including the timeline, and current and future impact on roles and responsibilities. By offering information, anticipating concerns and building momentum throughout the process, leaders will be able to cultivate a culture that embraces change and can effectively and efficiently adopt modernization projects.

Ignite Innovation

In addition to successfully implementing and managing change, organizations must create a culture that encourages innovative thinking to stay ahead in today’s quickly evolving climate. Companies can gain inspiration from insurtech firms, which encourage agile and flexible environments focused on pushing boundaries. Consider your organization’s existing talent and grow those individuals into innovative leaders capable of leading modernization efforts, while identifying any gaps. Are they constantly curious? Can they translate technical language into common terms and articulate executable business strategies? Do they have a natural tendency to influence?

When bringing in external talent, think outside of your organization’s standard talent pool to include individuals with the right skills and attributes to move your company forward. These may be individuals from within insurance, insurtech or outside of the industry completely. Look for those who are solution-oriented, with a growth mindset and strategic vision. These characteristics and skills should align to your organization’s needs and overall strategy.

Insurtech companies are also constantly innovating and coming up with new, more effective solutions. Incorporate some of these philosophies into your organization by inviting employees of all levels to contribute ideas. This could be through methods such as a world cafe or other structured discussion format. Provide prompts such as “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “I wish my leaders would…” to provoke thoughts and conversation. Advance innovative thinking by inviting employees to contribute ideas for other functional areas and departments. Take this a step further by gaining outside perspective from customers. It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines and daily tasks. Set aside time for everyone within the organization to think about ideas and share challenges, solutions and opportunities.

While change is often difficult, it’s necessary for staying relevant and successful. Innovation and modernization can be ignited across the organization, from every level and department by intentionally planning for those who can affect, and who will be affected by, a change. Insurance organizations that attract the right professionals, emphasize innovation and grow empathetic leaders will be best poised for future success.

Busby, senior vice president, executive search and corporate strategy, and DeMars, vice president, talent partnerships, are both with The Jacobson Group, a global provider of talent to the insurance industry. Emails: jbusby@jacobsononline.com; jdemars@jacobsononline.com.

About Judy Busby

Busby, senior vice president, executive search and corporate strategy, is with The Jacobson Group, a global provider of talent to the insurance industry.

About Jessica DeMars

DeMars, vice president, talent partnerships, is with The Jacobson Group, a global provider of talent to the insurance industry.

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Insurance Journal West November 4, 2019
November 4, 2019
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