In a previous article, Flexibility Improves Ease of Business & Underwriting Profitability, we discussed the value of profitable underwriting flexibility and identified four steps to achieve it with your agents.

In this article we take a closer look at how insurance leaders can create an internal culture that inspires individuals on their teams to achieve profitable underwriting flexibility within their organizations.

I was recently driving from Des Moines to Chicago on I-80. There is a rest stop just west of Iowa City (home of my Alma Mater, University of Iowa) that displays artwork with interesting quotes. The following stood out to me and inspired this blog post.

“There is no business, there are only people.
Business exists only among people and for people.” – James Autry

One agent summarized the importance of people in this comment about what agents really want from underwriters.

“Direct access to the underwriter and the underwriter always answers the phone. Eager to find a way to write business instead of a way to decline.”

It is key to your business for your underwriting team members to leave their agents feeling cared for while maintaining their underwriting discipline. Yet our data shows that most underwriters are not able to achieve this balance.

Top underwriting leaders gain the competitive advantage when they nurture profitable flexibility within their team using the following process.

Identify Key Behaviors and Characteristics

To achieve profitable flexibility, the right people need to be doing the right things. To influence this as leaders, we must start by clearly defining what we want. As one of my mentors, Mark Akerley, often says, “Begin with the end in mind.”

We must define the behaviors and skills we want our people to demonstrate.  In Champion Problem Solvers, we outlined the three overarching characteristics of top underwriters as being Competence, Accountability and Creativity.

These are three broad categories that can be applied to any organization. However, your organization is unique. We recommend that you develop your own subcategories of behaviors and skill sets for each of these three overarching characteristics.

To identify what works best for your unique circumstance, first identify your most successful underwriters. These are the individuals who routinely grow profitable books of business. When you use DCC’s Benchmark Analytics, your agents will identify some of these people by name.

The following quote represents the type of comment we typically see:

“I enjoy a great relationship with ______, our underwriter. He does make it easy, and that in turn makes me want to place more business. “

Once you identify your Champion Problem Solvers, listen to them and your customers to learn what they are doing right. Observe the behaviors that set them apart. Compare them to your average performers to determine what makes them the most successful.

Through careful observation and data analysis you can develop written Success Profiles. Your Success Profiles will outline the key behaviors, skills and knowledge needed for an underwriter to become a Champion Problem Solver within your organization.

Having this in writing gives you several advantages. It provides a communication tool used to develop training and hiring approaches. It allows you and the team to periodically challenge the Success Profile document in order to improve and adapt it over time. Perhaps most importantly, it lets the team know what you as the leader will encourage and reward.

Engage and Inspire

People are more likely to agree with the Success Profile when they or respected colleagues participate in the development. For this reason, you should enlist a group of people to help you develop it.

Once the profile is complete and communicated to the entire team, be ready to provide lots of positive feedback and recognition.

The feedback will be most effective when it is specific. For instance, it is nice to hear you are “Doing a good job.” However, it is even more helpful to hear something like, “I was really impressed with how you made that decision and then communicated it in the most constructive way.” Or “It was impressive how you reached back out to your agent to close that great account.”

As underwriters gain the competence, accountability and creativity of a Champion Problem Solver, they will also earn the right to greater empowerment in the decision making process.  This empowerment will help encourage even greater engagement.

Retain and Attract

Identifying your Champion Problem Solvers helps you keep them with your company. Losing them to competitors would be doubly painful. Not only does their knowledge and productivity go to another carrier, so does the strength of their relationships. Good leaders learn what motivates and engages each of their top performers, and they adapt their approaches accordingly.

Many of your underwriters could become Champion Problem Solvers if they only knew how and were encouraged. The knowledge and skills can be developed. Your Success Profile will point the way to the greatest opportunities.

Your Success Profile will also help you more effectively identify new people you want to attract to your company.  If people compare favorably to the profile, they are more likely to succeed within your company. Use the Success Profile to develop screening and interviewing questions that focus on how people will likely behave rather than just on their past jobs.

Pro Trip: Don’t hire only people that are just like you.

As humans we tend to be attracted by people that seem to be like ourselves.  This is often an unconscious bias. In other words, we (me included) don’t even realize we are hiring people just like ourselves or the others already on our team.

However, people that are “just like us” may not be the people that have the best opportunity to bring us success in our current situation. This is especially the case if we are trying to drive change and thereby increase ease of business to attract more profitable business to our company.

To gain a competitive advantage we will often need people that exhibit behaviors that are different than those of our current typical team member.  Using a behavioral assessment to supplement your hiring process can help you avoid some of this unconscious bias by quantifying how a candidate is likely to perform in relation to your Success Profile.

Key Take Away

Profitable Underwriting Flexibility is a competitive advantage that must be nurtured. Behaviors in your underwriting team are an important driver. Identify the key behaviors exhibited by your Champion Problem Solvers. Document these in a Success Profile. Use this Success Profile as a leadership tool.