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September 30, 2019

Is Your Education Strategy Effective?

Summary:

The key question: Can there be a lasting digital transformation without an education strategy to support it?

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

Independent insurance agencies (along with carriers, brokers and other insurance firms) are going through digital transformations. They’re moving from (or trying to move from) a paper-based, process-focused insurance experience to a technology-driven, customer-facing insurance experience.

We know the reasons:

  • Demands by customers for a digital insurance experience.
  • Agency need for greater ease of doing business.
  • Competitive pressure to increase speed and accuracy.
  • Carrier demands for greater productivity.
  • Massive insurtech investments targeted to reinvent distribution, underwriting or claims.
  • An emerging workforce that was raised on digital (not paper) experiences.

You could add to this list. But the key question is: Can there be a lasting digital transformation without an education strategy to support it?

We hear discussions about digital transformation around water coolers and from convention stages. A digital transformation of customer experience and financial performance can make or break agencies, brokers and carriers alike.

I’d like to take on several questions related to learning and digital transformations. I am passionate about education and firmly believe it will be the differentiator among insurance firms navigating a massive wave of technological change:

Is it possible to create a learning culture while in the throes of transforming the operations and workflows of an agency to a digital platform?

To be effective in the long term, insurance leaders must create a culture of learning. Education is the most effective tool to help a firm and its people adapt and improve.

In fact, a transformation is the perfect time to commit to a learning culture. Creating an environment in which learning is valued and individuals are supported as they master new skills is a sure-fire route to success, both for the organization and the employees. Leaders must commit to helping their teams learn new skills to succeed. In my experience working for a national member organization of technology users, I see, time and again, successful change happening when learning and developing new skills are the standard.

See also: 3 Phases to Digital Transformation  

How can leaders empower their employees in the midst of a digital transformation?

Employees must first be included in the transformation process —starting at conception and continuing to completion. Successful organizational leadership involves key team members in every step of decision-making.

Gone are the days when the boss buys software, then presents the office manager with the manual and the command to make it work. Instead, when leaders partner with key employees early in the process, the team can look for roadblocks and challenges — and minimize their impact.

No change comes without conflict. But waiting to confront challenges doesn’t make them easier to overcome: Instead of saving time by involving staff early, you’ve guaranteed chaos when the time comes to introduce the concept. That chaos saps the excitement and energy that should surround a new opportunity and replaces them with angst.

Leaders need to clearly communicate the rationale for the change — to help everyone understand why, for example, the new software is needed, how it can improve daily workflows and how it can create a better customer experience. Then, it’s vital to find out what is most important to each team member affected and give him or her information to understand and embrace the solution.

And while there might be doubters, naturally, there also will be raving fans among staff. These individuals can rally others to put forth the needed effort. Often, the biggest critic at the outset — if engaged in the process — turns out to be the most enthusiastic cheerleader. And finally, leaders must acknowledge that change takes time.

The “factory” can’t be shut down while a process is retooled. The learning, adopting and adapting must take place simultaneously with delivering on the agency’s promise to its clients.

Can a more digital work environment (in terms of workflows) actually create opportunities for greater education and knowledge?

Having a digital work environment means that barriers disappear or are minimized. The cloud is a great equalizer. No longer is information accessible only to those who know what file drawer it’s in. It’s out there ready to be consumed by anyone who needs it and has the authority to access it.

A huge benefit of a digital work environment is the ability to create a knowledge base of agency best practices and workflows — a learning tool that can be a big asset. With such a knowledge base, no matter where or when a firm’s employees work, they have access to the information they need to do their job for the agency and client.

This just-in-time knowledge for the task at hand is invaluable not only for learning but for customer experience. What’s more, the inevitable updates are simple — changing a shared resource means the organization is always working from the most up-to-date version of training and reference resources.

Also valuable is third-party information such as online help from technology and service providers, often via keyword search.

When so many insurance firms are going through transformations, does the firm with a learning culture have a competitive advantage?

We cannot expect changes in technology to slow, so it’s imperative to have an information-sharing practice that works across systems, divisions and roles.

Yes, there’s a competitive advantage to having a learning culture in an insurance firm, especially when so many insurance firms are going through transformations. A workplace that is easy — and even fun — and that lets workers give input and take risks surely holds more appeal for job seekers.

It’s not just hiring, though, that’s affected by a learning culture. Being agile and informed is a competitive advantage for any insurance organization — not only for leveraging technology but also for having the freedom and confidence to habitually peer over the horizon for what’s next. By being able to spin up a new software or business process quickly, your firm is already way ahead of a competitor that takes a wait-and-see approach. Being first isn’t easy. But it does create a window where the competition isn’t. If your staff is already looking for the next big challenge and has confidence in their ability to adopt without sacrificing legacy promises, you’re light years ahead of everyone else.

Many people in the insurance industry take pride in their credentials — and they might perceive that those credentials (and their experience) aren’t as relevant in a digital environment, where technology skills might be more front-of-mind. How can an insurance leader deal with how this might affect morale?

A successfully implemented digital environment creates space in which work happens effectively. Without the knowledge gained through our industry credential programs, all you have is a technology shell. Without the knowledge of insurance pros defined by the credentials, the digital resource is useless.

As an aside: Our industry’s credential process needs an overhaul, too. The industry platforms on which most learning is built are anything but leading-edge, and they’re due for a digital transformation. Too many don’t require continuing education, and those that do — with few exceptions — are lax in assessing whether the individual is maintaining current knowledge.

Predict the insurance curriculum of the future. How will it be different?

In my view, successful insurance learning experiences will be:

  • Easy to access.
  • Delivered just in time.
  • Taken in small bites.
  • Interactive and collaborative.
  • Leading to innovation.
  • Platform-agnostic.
  • Built for an adult learner.

On the other hand, we’ll see fewer:

  • Feature-based presentations.
  • Long webinars or recordings.
  • Topics that aren’t tied to business outcomes.
  • Programs designed to check a box rather than advance real learning.

What insurance skills might need to be created or developed for a digital transformation?

Insurance professionals with tech savvy will be in high demand. Their skills will enhance workplace efficiency, for sure. But these individuals also will play a key role in developing consultative sales and service approaches as clients and prospects face similar transformations in their business and personal environments.

As businesses retool their approach to technology and work to gain the competitive advantage that leading-edge implementation will afford, it’s likely new employees will already have exposure to those emerging technologies. But to help them start their insurance knowledge journey, training and development professionals will be in high demand,

What management or leadership skills will be needed for a digital transformation?

Business operations, human resources and training are all affected by the speed of adoption required for digital transformation. The ability to develop a strategy that aligns with business goals for growth and efficiency will be essential.

Gone are the days of incremental software updates and break-fix approaches to technology and processes. A leader who can see over the horizon and inspire the commitment needed to tackle sweeping change will be a game changer. Hiring individuals already experienced in a digital environment is key to growth.

See also: Culture Side of Digital Transformation  

Training is the passport for insurance firm leadership and the workforce. Having a plan and good people is only part of the equation. We must be able to guide employees through a learning journey that is formed by just the right amount of support, flexibility and challenge to keep everyone engaged and convicted about the bright future.

No matter how important technology is, people are still the center of our industry. As we continue to experience unprecedented attrition of veteran insurance professionals, we must find a way to engage with those just beginning their careers. We must be willing to embrace our differences and give folks the freedom to do more of what they are good at. And we must let go of what worked in the past.

The independent agent channel can surge ahead through the effective use of new technologies. We just have to get out of our own way. The future is bright, although a little scary. But what we can’t see or understand today should not stand in the way of marching ahead.

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About the Author

Debbie Ivie, CPCU, AIM, NcIA, is learning experiences manager of NetVU, the Network of Vertafore Users. She’s a ruthlessly optimistic insurance educator who believes in empowering people to create change that works for them and their clients.

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