A virus plaguing the insurance industry
[T]he work we have done for many years has essentially remained unchanged. What has dramatically changed, however, are the ways work is done or not done.
By Dr. William T. Hold
You do not have to read many magazines or watch much TV to understand that “cancel culture” has infected almost all aspects of our personal and business lives. What you do not see or hear a great deal about is how it has or will impact the insurance industry-both companies and agencies alike.
In spite of the widely held belief that our industry will be suffering a major intellectual talent shortage now or in the near future, companies and agencies are in many ways cancelling one of their most valuable intellectual assets: the experienced employee, partner, or owner. This movement is especially important in independent agencies, where an overwhelming number of firms have fewer than 10 employees.
For these agencies every employee can be a “key employee.”
The important question is, “Why is this talent shortage happening?” One reason is that there is a mistaken belief that individuals who may be in their sixties, seventies or even eighties must have diminished intelligence and related abilities. This perverted correlation between age, intelligence and ability is deadly to the lives and careers of many people.
Clearly there are individuals who have diminished capacities because of various illnesses; this is simply a fact of life. We all know that while age and experience parallel each other, some individuals do not learn from experience because they have essentially “the same experience every day.” Many of us “kicked the slats out of our cradles” the first time we heard the joke on this subject.
We also need to acknowledge that there are experienced individuals who have “just had it.” They want out. They are simply tired of working. In a significant number of cases these people become “tired of being retired.”
Last, it is important to recognize that experience is only important when it is used wisely and contributes to avoiding mistakes and developing solutions.
A second aspect or reason to utilize “cancellation” is that experienced leaders cannot adapt to change or they actually resist change. A frequently ignored fact is that a successful manager or producer would not have experienced success over several decades if they had not adapted to many changes or actually initiated important changes.
It is important to realize that the work we have done for many years has essentially remained unchanged and its purpose has remained quite constant. What has dramatically changed, however, are the ways work is done or not done. We have incredible communication technology, but we avoid really talking to people; we deliver hundreds of millions of packages, but we don’t sort them by hand, and we don’t go to the store to pick them up. We still underwrite, but we do it with computer models utilizing big data.
Another tactic of the cancellation process is to invite confusion and promote miscommunication by inventing new terminology or using new and complex acronyms. This is especially prevalent in the technology, regulatory, and human resources arenas. Doing this promotes the image or appearance of superior knowledge and the “out of it” mentality of individuals “not in the know.”
Paralleling the notion of experienced people being “not quite with it” is the inability to sometimes remember various pieces of information such as names or the exact timing of events. This problem is often termed “a senior moment.” One interesting and plausible explanation is that the mind of an experienced person is like a computer packed with a great deal of information; it takes extra time to sort out and provide the information. Alternatively, the mind of a less experienced person is akin to a new computer loaded with far less information; therefore, it delivers information more quickly but not always with greater accuracy.
Limiting the experienced individual’s access to various departmental and management meetings is a third form of cancellation. The rationale underlying this course of action is that this person retains a considerable amount of influence within the agency or company and will unduly influence others or in some cases inhibit others from contributing to a meeting. In addition, the experienced person will ask questions that may embarrass or irritate elements of current top management.
Limiting access to meetings, etc., can take the form of purposefully not communicating meeting dates, altering the names of meetings, or changing the meeting agenda. Paralleling the above action is simply not informing individuals of important activities or changes within the organization. While all of these efforts can be successful, they will remove even the opportunity of the experienced individual to continue to make useful observations or suggestions.
It is important to be clear that, to productively utilize people who may be close to retirement or who are occupying lesser roles within the organization, the experienced person should cooperate and be part of the solution. This person cannot go through the office like a “rolling ball of butcher knives” mowing down all in sight and criticizing current management decisions. They must support the agency or company’s management team. Make no mistake, there are important responsibilities on both sides of this crucial human equation.
Given that we live in a time of rapid change marked by a sharply divided society and unpredictable economic conditions, it just makes sense to maximize the available intellectual talent to manage and develop our businesses. The less experienced can listen, and if they don’t like what they hear or read they can simply follow their own path.
But not listening or providing others with at least the opportunity to be heard is the severest form of cancellation. Those who have worked for years to contribute to the success of a business have, in effect, shared their success with the new management. Why not ask those who have benefited to share some of their future success?
Our future success, both individually and collectively will depend significantly on our willingness not only to “read what others have read, to see what others have seen, to listen to what others have said,” but also “to think what others have not.”
Let us all think and work together for the greater success.
William T. “Doc” Hold, Ph.D., CIC, CPCU, CLU, is executive chairman of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, which he co-founded in 1969 as The Society of CIC. Under his leadership, The National Alliance has grown to become one of the most prestigious insurance education organizations in the world.