THE EMPLOYEE INTERVIEW: A STRATEGY TO POSITION YOU AS THE UNDERCOVER BOSS
Use employee interviews to get in touch with the realities of your client’s organization
As an agent or broker, you understand the critical importance of risk identification, assessment, mitigation, and transfer. Today you likely employ an array of strategies to evaluate risk, including an analysis of claims, policies, employee manuals, business income worksheets, safety committee minutes, and policies and procedures, as well as training and orientation materials. These diagnostic efforts elevate your status and lead to client acquisition, retention, and cross-sell opportunities.
I would like to suggest an additional strategy: interviewing the employees of a prospective client. The employee interview is a simple yet powerful method to gain an inside look at the corporate culture and perspectives of risk from the people who are in the know. Correctly conducted, the one-on-one employee interview will separate you from
In the 12 months after attending a Beyond Insurance Purple Cow Leadership workshop, Parker Rains, vice president and 32-year-old producer with Fisher Brown Bottrell in Franklin, Tennessee, has produced over $175,000 in new business revenue by interviewing the employees of prospective clients. Parker says, “My request to perform employee interviews weeds out non-qualified suspects who otherwise would have required me to go through the entire quoting process, wasting my firm’s marketing time with the chance of getting rolled by the incumbent at the last minute.”
Parker started an office from scratch and has been in the Nashville market for only two years. “The accounts that I have taken through the employee interview process have all led to broker of record letters; some had 20-year relationships with their previous agency. Prior to my first meeting, these firms had never heard of me or Fisher Brown Bottrell. Through the art of the employee interview, I uncover risk issues that have a material impact on the prospect’s bottom line.”
The Undercover Boss
Let me explain the employee interview in the context of Undercover Boss, the television series where senior executives work undercover in their own companies to assess processes, operations, and employees first-hand. Often they end up implementing changes that will improve business.
In each episode the executive alters his or her appearance and assumes an alias and fictitious backstory. The fictional explanation given for the accompanying camera crew is that a documentary about entry-level workers is being created. The boss usually spends one or two weeks undercover working in various areas of the company with the goal of being exposed to a series of work issues and predicaments. At the end of their time undercover, the executives return to their true identities and request the four or five individuals they have been working with to travel to a central location, often corporate headquarters. The bosses reveal their real identities and thank the employees for teaching them things unknown to them that threatened the integrity, market share, customer experience, and reputation they worked so hard to build.
I have found that ground-level employees are often more willing to express concerns and issues with regard to their company
to a neutral third party than they are
directly to management.”
—Stuart P. Harris, CPCU, CIC, ARM
As an avid viewer of Undercover Boss, I am fascinated by the show’s focus on organizational dynamics and corporate culture. In each episode we see that most well-intentioned business leaders are out of touch with the realities of the inner workings of their organization, as they have never taken the time to get “down and dirty” in their own business. It is also obvious that lines of communication are in desperate need of repair. Simply put, there is a disconnect between the business leaders and their rank-and-file that creates risk and impairs culture, productivity, and performance.
Positioning the employee interview
I stumbled across the employee interview a number of years ago through a conversation with Peter Kellogg, my college roommate from Princeton. After graduation Peter took a position with Booz Allen, a management consulting firm. As I explained the risk management process, he suggested that I include employee interviews as an essential part of the client discovery phase. Peter had learned through his hands-on consulting experience at Booz Allen that employees often tell business leaders what they want to hear. Therefore managers and supervisors make decisions based on what they are told rather than the realities that face the organization. Simply put, the truth is buried within the inner workings of the business. The key to understanding these issues is held by the employees, not the CEO and his or her leadership team.
At the midpoint of the initial prospect meeting, I ask one simple question: “If you are in my shoes, how can I best learn your business from the inside out without taking your valuable time?” To my pleasant surprise, the vast majority of business leaders suggest meeting their employees. When I get the green light to perform employee interviews, I am off and running.
I put together a picture-perfect, 30-minute, confidential, one-on-one interview script through which the employee offers his or her perspectives in three areas:
- Perceived strengths of the organization;
- Future opportunities for growth and prosperity; and
- Risk issues that affect organizational culture and performance.
These open-ended questions set the stage for a fascinating session, in which the employee opens up to explain the realities of the business and its issues. I listen actively, take copious notes, and probe as needed. If the company is safety-sensitive, I include a 10-question safety opinion survey.
As you can imagine, when I present my findings to senior management, as well as practical solutions suggested by the employees, they are totally blown away. Never in their wildest dreams did they expect me to teach them things they did not know. The employee interview empowers the risk advisor to gain valuable insight into the strengths, opportunities, and risk issues that affect the culture and ultimately the performance of an organization.
“I have found that ground-level employees are often more willing to express concerns and issues with regard to their company to a neutral third party than they are directly to management,” says Stuart P. Harris, CPCU, CIC, ARM, commercial risk management consultant with McClure Bomar & Harris LLC in Shreveport, Louisiana. “Knowing that the interviews are anonymous allows them to be truthful without fear of repercussions. Management is often surprised to hear that things aren’t always going as well as they perceive them to be.”
Much research supports the employee interview process. Huthwaite, an international sales and negotiation consultancy, studied 35,000 sales interactions over a 12-year period, placing the consumer’s “purchasing strategy” into four value-creation categories focused on both the perceived importance of a product or service and the difficulty of obtaining it. Huthwaite concluded that consumers are willing to pay a premium, redefine the buyer/seller relationship, erect barriers to the seller’s competition, and establish the seller as a trusted advisor when the seller accomplishes two things:
Reveals to the buyer an unrecognized problem; and
Establishes for the buyer an unanticipated solution.
In the book The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, the authors reinforce the findings of Huthwaite by saying, “Surveys of customers consistently show that they put the highest value on salespeople who make them think, who bring new ideas, who find creative and innovative ways to help the customer’s business. In recent years, customers have been demanding more depth and expertise. They expect salespeople to teach them things they did not know.”
The employee interview is a tool that will put you in the control seat of the risk management process. It will position you to become the undercover boss.
Scott Addis is the CEO of Beyond Insurance and is recognized as an industry leader, having been named a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award as well as one of the “25 Most Innovative Agents in America.”
Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. Since 2007 the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed organizations as measured by enhanced organic growth, productivity, profitability, and value in the marketplace.
To learn more, contact Scott Addis at firstname.lastname@example.org.