Engaging Employees: Key to Success

No matter the size of your company or the lines you deal in, having an engaged team makes all the difference.

After three decades working in this competitive industry, I have come to understand the very significant role that employee engagement plays in the success of any insurance company. No matter the size of your company or the lines you deal in, having an engaged team makes all the difference.

I have seen this in action, first-hand, as the CEO of IAT Insurance Group. When I joined the company four years ago, IAT’s underwriting results were underperforming. For the last three years, however, we have turned an underwriting profit.

What changed? In part, this came about by refocusing the company on underwriting discipline and restructuring key operations. I firmly believe, however, that it is also due in large part to a renewed emphasis we have placed, company-wide, on fostering employee engagement. We could not have achieved such an immediate turnaround in results without the input of our employees.

A focused program of specific, concrete actions key to employee engagement

Employees are savvy. They know when management is all talk. This is especially true when it comes to employee engagement. Insurance companies must take concrete actions that are more than just motivational poster slogans to foster a positive — and profitable — working environment.

See also: Employee Wellness Plans’ Code of Conduct  

This is why we have engaged in a focused program over the past four years with specific tactics to foster an employee culture that creates productivity and growth. This includes:

  • Getting everyone on the same team. IAT has grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions, with many business units operating under their original names and branding. That led to a fracturing of IAT’s internal identity as one company. One of our first initiatives when I joined IAT was to bring all the units together under one IAT umbrella. That put everyone on the same team, pulling together in one direction.
  • Establishing a unified internal “brand.” It was one thing to unify IAT’s disparate business units under one umbrella on paper. It’s quite another to have employees actually feel like one. To help build culture, we established an internal brand that we call “A Family of Answers” to help all employees, at every level, identify as one company with one mission. At IAT we provide answers to each other, our customers and the community. This core identity reflects our company values and unites us.
  • Investing in technology that connects employees. IAT has offices throughout the U.S., which makes operating as a unified team difficult. To foster connections, we have invested heavily in technology that effortlessly links our employees together. We make extensive use of videoconferencing, for example, and for more than just big meetings. Instead of picking up the phone to talk to a colleague from another office, we turn on our desktop video cameras to have that conversation. The company also launched a state-of-the-art Sharepoint-powered intranet, called IAT Connect, that lets all employees access the latest corporate information as well as collaborate on projects.
  • Fostering real openness and transparency. Companies make better decisions when more people weigh in, and engaged employees are more likely to share feedback and ask questions. To encourage more people to contribute, we hold quarterly all-employee webcasts to provide an update on the company and key projects. More importantly, however, we solicit and answer employee questions. We give employees the option to ask their question live during the meeting or submit it anonymously. We make sure every question is answered. If we run out of time during the meeting, we answer remaining questions on IAT Connect. The company benefits from the thoughtful inquiries and insight of our employees, and, at the same time, we are building transparency and trust.
  • Acting on employee feedback. Encouraging employee feedback is one thing, but it will not help engagement if nothing changes in light of that feedback. We make a point of listening to employees — and then acting. For example, during one of our quarterly webcasts, an employee asked if a year-end performance bonus could be distributed before Black Friday instead of in December so employees could take advantage of sales. The executive team discussed it, and the change was made.
  • Encouraging community engagement. Giving back to the community is the right thing to do. It also aligns with our core values and goes a long way toward building a culture of engagement. We provide a company match for employees’ contributions to charities, paid time off for volunteering and a companywide week focused on community service and charity called Giving Week.
  • Investing in training and career development. Investing in our employees’ success is a win/win. We launched IAT University last year to provide free access to an array of courses, from technical skills training to leadership development.
  • Formalizing employee recognition programs. We introduced two programs to provide more opportunities for employees to be recognized and financially rewarded for outstanding customer service and performance.
  • Moving to a pay-for-performance system. Money is not the only motivating factor for employees — but it is an important one. IAT always had a generous bonus program, but all employees were largely treated the same, despite their performance, and a majority of staff found this de-motivating. Based on employee feedback, we moved to a pay-for-performance compensation system that encourages productive employees who contribute to the company and its profitability. The system works and is very generous. In 2017, based on the company’s success, 94% of IAT employees earned a bonus, and the total bonus pool was up more than 14% over the year before.

Measure and benchmark to ensure employee engagement goals are met

Even with concrete actions, no program to increase employee engagement could be considered a success without hard data to back it up. Yes, IAT began turning an underwriting profit three years ago and has continued to do so, but we wanted more direct proof our initiatives were having an impact on the work culture at our company. So, for the last three years we have commissioned well-known corporate leadership consultant Kevin Kruse to conduct an employee engagement survey. Each year’s results have shown marked improvement.

The 2018 findings are particularly noteworthy:

  • An 87% participation rate
  • Overall engagement score of 4.13 out of 5 (up from 3.87 in 2017)
  • Engaged-to-disengaged ratio of 26:1 (an improvement over 12:1 in 2017). The ratio puts IAT in the top 10% of companies surveyed by Kruse

The metrics are gratifying proof that our collective hard work and the company’s investment of time and money into employee engagement have paid real dividends.

See also: 4 Good Ways to Welcome Employees  

Invest in your employees, and they will pay it back, with interest

Peter Kellogg, our owner, has always said, “Take care of your people, and they will take care of the business.” Any company wanting an edge in today’s competitive marketplace would be wise to take a good, hard look at what it does around employee engagement, and make any and all necessary changes accordingly.

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