Tag Archives: onboarding

Bridging the Gap in Employee Benefits

Onboarding new groups remains an arduous, cumbersome part of the enrollment process for employee benefits insurers. While proposals are well-automated, and so is policy administration, between the two comes group onboarding. And that area has not been automated, leaving a gap that carriers fill with a hodgepodge of methods.

Complexity lies in the fact that each product—group medical, dental, life, vision and disability—requires different data to be collected. But the data gathered during the rating and proposal process isn’t sufficient. The employee’s gender, date of birth, zip code and perhaps salary aren’t enough to issue policies and pay claims.

Besides additional employee information, the insurer needs corporate information, such as affiliates, federal tax identification numbers and ERISA plan numbers. Many employers have multiple billing divisions that pay premiums separately. How to collect that information has plagued insurers for decades.

See also: 4 Key Elements for Onboarding Producers  

Two factors compound urgency. First, because about 80% of group plans renew on Jan. 1, insurers face a big crunch in the fall gathering data from paper forms, emails and the like. Additionally, employers—especially those sponsoring small and medium-sized groups—are changing insurers more often as they try to save every dollar on employee benefits. Groups of 50 to 200 lives often go out to bid annually.

Thus, the costs of onboarding a new client can no longer be amortized over five years. Carriers need more automated, cost-effective ways to onboard groups.

Some insurers have tried using CRM systems and other workarounds to improve efficiency. But those attempts have failed, and the process remains largely a manual one.

Enrollment solutions that address onboarding are, however, being developed. Successful vendors will have to provide the following:

Automated data capture. Manually entering information into the policy administration system results in missing data, errors and time-consuming back and forth. It can make onboarding a three-month process.

Effective importing tools will allow onboarding software to import and map data to system variables for seamless integration and efficiency. Additionally, the solution should include a support portal where human resources administrators can log on and enter data right into the system or use the import function to upload the entire groups.

Data integrity. Employee data must be correct and complete when entered. Built-in rules will enforce quality. For example, if a date of birth is missing or a year is entered incorrectly, the software will flag the error and require the user to fix it. This ensures data integrity and accurate rating.

Security. By eliminating manual data collection and handling, and using portals to enter and store employee information, the onboarding system can provide increased data security. It must comply with privacy regulations regarding personally identifiable information (PII), thereby ensuring a secure way to gather and store employee information.

Flexibility. Integrating onboarding closely with both proposal and policy systems is essential to efficient workflow. Tightly integrating it with your underwriting and proposal system will provide flexibility to easily navigate the sold-case process as changes in the group arise after the policy is sold but before the effective date.

See also: How Insurance and Blockchain Fit  

Onboarding software ultimately may help transform the entire policy lifecycle.

Key for Hiring Successful Producers

Here’s a chilling stat: For every two producers you hire, only one will pan out.

According to a well-referenced study by Reagan Consulting, just over half of new agents and brokers are successful. The other 44% wash out before they can be of value to the organization. The picture gets even more ominous when you consider that as many as 60% of firms aren’t hiring enough producers to meet their growth goals. That makes retaining producers and validating them quickly particularly important.

Plenty of organizations have robust hiring departments and devote a lot of resources to attracting and landing top candidates. But far too many firms squander this top talent once a new employee is through the front door, and good producers end up leaving the organization.

This isn’t only a drain on resources; with the average cost to replace an employee amounting to as much as two times his or her annual salary, it hurts your bottom line, too.

While poor hires likely lead to some of the turnover, the more common cause is subpar onboarding and early employee training programs.

See also: Why You Need Happy Producers (Part 2)  

The benefits of a formal onboarding program

Every organization has an onboarding program, whether they realize it or not. Keep a new hire waiting in the lobby until his direct supervisor shows up a half-hour later? Shuffling the new hire from introduction to introduction and forgetting to tell him where the bathroom is? That’s your onboarding program. Undoing those early negative impressions is a real uphill battle.

Study after study has shown that formalizing your onboarding program is key to maximizing its success. Employees are 69% more likely to stay with an organization for up to three years if it has a formalized onboarding process, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Considering Reagan Consulting’s finding that it takes an average of 32 months to validate successful producers, keeping agents and brokers around beyond the three-year mark can have a huge impact on an agency’s bottom line.

An effective, formal onboarding process doesn’t just keep employees around longer, it can also significantly expedite the time to validate and improve employee engagement. SHRM researchers identified additional advantages that ultimately benefit both employees and employers:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Organizational commitment
  • Higher performance levels
  • Career effectiveness
  • Lowered stress

What’s more, a formal onboarding process can help managers more quickly identify producers who aren’t a good fit for the organization. Spotting red flags during the onboarding process can help you make adjustments (up to and including termination) before you’ve spent too much time and resources on the employee. This enables organizations to identify the financial impact—positive or negative—earlier in the validation process and adjust accordingly.

Effectively onboarding all new producers

Your formalized producer-onboarding process needs to be consistent across all new producer hires to ensure more useful benchmarks and metrics. But developing a program that works for the many different kinds of producers is challenging. Each hire brings his or her own set of experiences and gaps in skills. Broadly, new producers typically fall into one of four categories based on their experience with sales and the insurance industry:

  • No experience — little to no familiarity with sales or the insurance industry
  • Sales experience — familiarity with the sales process but little to no exposure to the insurance industry and agent/broker processes
  • Insurance experience — knowledge of the industry but little to no sales experience
  • Established producer — proven agent or broker who may have worked for a competitor

Onboarding processes need to add value for all of these groups. A robust, fully formed onboarding program should begin well before an employee’s first day and extend well past the six-month mark. But the entire program doesn’t have to be built at once. Start with something as simple as sending an email. When Google reminded hiring managers to plan an employee’s first day, the new hire got up to speed 25% faster and reached peak productivity a full month earlier, all thanks to that leg up on day one.

See also: Happy Producers, Happy Customers  

Focus on onboarding efforts that give producers a better idea of what your company’s all about, beginning with company culture and specific company processes and procedures. When done right, explaining HR policies and company handbook rules can reveal a lot about your organizational culture.

As you work to formalize your onboarding process, make sure to regularly check in with managers and new hires to verify the effectiveness of your efforts and find areas for improvement.

4 Key Elements for Onboarding Producers

The benefits of a formalized onboarding program are well-established. Across all industries, companies use onboarding to achieve three primary goals, according to research from Aberdeen:

  • Engage new hires in company culture
  • Improve new-hire productivity
  • Reduce first-year turnover

In the insurance industry, where just shy of 50% of new-producer hires reach validation, these three onboarding objectives are closely related and even more crucial to the success of agencies and brokerages.

Yet, only 32% of companies currently have a formalized onboarding program, Aberdeen reports. As we’ve mentioned previously, onboarding programs must be formalized to create any lasting, demonstrable effect. New producer hires must have a similar experience throughout their first several months on the job to determine which actions further the goals.

The proven approach is to establish a framework for the onboarding process that is required of all producers, complete with a set schedule, key milestones and benchmarks. With that focus on structure and schedule in mind, here’s an overview of The Institutes Producer Accelerator, featuring Polestar, a successful four-part producer onboarding program

1. Getting started — the first month

The first four weeks of any new job are a whirlwind. Producers are tasked with shoring up their sales expertise and insurance industry specifics while also ingraining themselves in their new company’s culture. Finding the right balance of these elements will depend heavily on the producer and his or her job history. A sales pro with little hands-on experience in the insurance business will have very different needs from a recent risk management and insurance graduate who’s never made a sales call. Similarly, a successful producer from a competitor may have all the knowledge and experience needed to succeed but may need to learn new basic processes to fit with your organization’s culture.

The best approach for most producers is to create a blend of training and refresher content on sales and insurance basics with a heavy dose of your company culture. Make sure that your program covers insurance topics, like client loss exposures and commercial liability, as well as sales and time management principles, like understanding the sales cycle and best practices for delegation.

See also: How New Producers Can Get Fast Start  

Producers should also be introduced to senior managers who can detail the company’s culture in the context of its business strategy, competitors and industry landscape. Most importantly, during the first month of a new producer’s tenure, he or she should be matched with a mentor. According to research from Reagan Consulting, 55% of new producers have a mentor—most often a senior producer or sales leader. Reagan researchers concluded that mentors offer the most help to producers hired from outside the insurance industry and individuals with little sales experience.

2. Building relationships — months two and three

For new producers, their second and third months should optimize their performance in their new roles within your organization. That means continued meetings with mentors with a heavy focus on goals and objectives, along with specific challenges facing your firm. It’s also a time to continue building insurance and productivity know-how.

The second onboarding phase centers on helping the producer establish strong relationships—not only with mentors, co-workers and company leadership, but clients, as well. Weeks five through 12 should focus heavily on refining producers’ sales tactics and targeting specific trouble areas commonly facing new producers, including asking for referrals and shifting from price to value when working with prospective clients. These skills are best learned in a coaching-call environment where the producer and coach role-play specific interactions and the coach provides highly tailored feedback.

3. Expanding skills — months three and four

After a few months on the job, new producers should begin to switch from learning material to maintaining their knowledge and staying current on the insurance industry and sales best practices. New producers should identify the industry publications they’ll use to keep up with the industry. They can also take advantage of webinars and other forms of group learning, where insight from other producers is often just as valuable as the material being presented.

It’s also a time for producers to start developing specialties to set themselves apart and present unique value to the organization. Producers should work with their mentor to select a specialty industry to focus on and familiarize themselves with industry trends, like data analytics and other technological advances.

See also: 4 Good Ways to Welcome Employees  

4. Developing strategies — months five and six

As a producer enters the sixth month on the job, formalized onboarding should begin to taper off in favor of more specific career guidance through mentors or direct supervisors. At this point, producers are probably not fully verified, but their path toward greater success and productivity should be relatively clear. Part of their transition to a fully contributing team member may be to start networking at industry meetings and seminars and providing unofficial mentoring resources to more recent producer hires.

Training Should be Hard — Here’s Why

Here’s a quick experiment: Think of what you ate for dinner last night. Not too difficult, right? Now think of what you ate for dinner exactly 15 days ago. Chances are you have a harder time coming up with it, if you can remember at all. Unfortunately, the same concept applies for a lot of on-the-job training, especially if it isn’t challenging enough. Employees know the material when they learn it but struggle to recall it when it comes time to use it on the job.

The issue, researchers say, is that there are two primary components to how we learn and remember. There’s “storage strength” – how well we learned something. Then there is “retrieval strength” – how easy it is for us to access that information later.

Robert Bjork, professor of cognitive psychology at UCLA, says the interplay of these two elements creates challenges in training for learning and development pros. So much of the focus of today’s workplace training is on delivery methods and ease of access. Increasingly, online modules and self-directed training are replacing sessions where the trainer and students have to be in the same room together. These advances make it easier for agencies and other employers to offer workers the training they need to improve. But they don’t guarantee training is effective or that workers retain information for when they need it on the job.

In fact, make training too easy, and it can be detrimental to long-term retention. Just because someone can retrieve information during training or in a follow-up evaluation doesn’t mean they’ve learned the material enough to retrieve it when they need it on the job. Researchers point to two effective solutions based on practically opposite ends of the spectrum. Selecting the right approach depends on the kind of training you’re conducting.

See also: Training Millennials: Just Add Toppings  

Testing improves memory

Training should include more tests — and those tests should be more difficult. Most employees won’t like this solution, but testing does more than determine how well the test-taker knows the information, Bjork argues. Every time information is successfully retrieved, the memory of the information changes, making it easier to recall in the future. Tests that challenge students’ understanding of the knowledge in different ways make those connections even stronger. Questions should be nuanced and presented in many different forms (think a mixture of fill-in-the-blank, short answer and longer responses). The more difficult the test, the more storage strength the material will have in students’ minds.

There is one time when basic evaluations like multiple choice tests are still preferred – during pre-testing. A multiple choice test offered before training can help prime students for the material they’ll soon learn. In these situations, Bjork’s research has determined that even though learners will score poorly on the pre-tests, they’re more likely to pay attention to concepts offered as multiple choice answers during the actual training.

For example, if the training topic is commercial property risk management, a multiple choice pre-test should cover common terms in business income insurance, equipment breakdown, builders risk and causes of loss forms, etc. The evaluation following the training session should use different formats to keep trainees on their toes. And the test should be hard — every minute employees spend struggling to come up with an answer boosts storage strength.

The case for the case method

If you’re fortunate enough to have a group of trainees in a classroom with a subject matter expert leading the training, tougher testing may not be the most effective way to get the material to sink in. This research also makes a strong argument for teaching styles like the case method, according to the Harvard Business Review.

It points to Harvard Business School (HBS) as a shining example of the case method in practice. These classes downplay testing, and professors are “choreographers of discussion” who don’t provide answers, but rather a pathway to discussion. Lectures become in-depth discussions where students debate the best course of action and are constantly forced to reassess their ideas. The school offers these tips for preparing and leading the discussions:

  • Have a complete set of objectives. Don’t confuse discussion for vagueness. Preparation should include specific information student must learn and some questions or discussion points that will get students there.
  • Let trainees take ownership. Students should guide the discussion and offer new perspectives based on what they feel will be most useful to them. Trainers should ask questions to keep the discussion relevant to the training topic at hand and focused on outcomes that will benefit the organization.
  • Listen. In traditional training models, instructors speak at least 80% of the time, and workers speak 20% of the time. The case method flips that, putting the onus on students to keep the discussion going.

Say you’re leading a session on handling auto claims. Rather than a traditional classroom session on analyzing liability, assessing damage or dispute resolution, create a fictional scenario based on an actual auto claim and let employees hash out how they would approach the situation with targeted guidance from the trainer.

See also: Security Training Gets Much-Needed Reboot  

This kind of in-depth preparation and delivery isn’t ideal for every on-the-job training session. It requires more preparation for instructors to lead a discussion of a real-life dilemma. But these discussions are great during onboarding and especially during scenarios involving complex concepts or customer service techniques. If you present the material the right way and make it challenging enough, trainees will understand the information better and be able to access it when they need it on the job.

4 Good Ways to Welcome Employees

The first day at a new job means a new company, new responsibilities, new co-workers, a new commute–a whole new routine.

Employers have a lot at stake, too. Many people put a lot of time and energy into picking this new hire. They’re counting on that person to get up to speed quickly and start contributing. They need the new employee to be a good fit.

But according to researchers, new hires aren’t focused just on fitting in, they’re thinking about reinventing themselves. A new job and a new social setting represent a rare opportunity for people to show their authentic selves or even to reshape their personalities.

It’s like the first day at a new school–a clean slate and a chance to be somebody new.

Given this motivation, researchers argue that most organizations focus way too much attention on getting new hires to fit in. There’s certainly a lot for a new employee to learn, and the sooner they get up to speed, the sooner they can have a positive impact.

As many of us have seen from our own careers, it’s tough to do a lot of actual work on your first day. It’s much more about learning about the organization and the role you’re going to play.

See also: How to Shrink Employees’ Waistlines  

Take a look at the top three reasons people quit their jobs within six months, according to a survey by BambooHR:

  • They decided that the work was something they didn’t want to do any more.
  • They felt that they were given different work from what they expected based on their interview.
  • The boss was a jerk.

While these may look like problems with the work and responsibilities at first glance, they may actually have more to do with cultural issues like incompatible management styles and unclear expectations.

With a few tweaks, you can shift your organization’s approach to an employee’s first day and help employees define themselves within your organization rather than feeling like they have to change to fit in. That shift, coupled with some other first-day best practices, can get employees up to speed and productive much more quickly. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Keep paperwork to a minimum

New hires walk through the doors on their first day ready to hit the ground running and prove their value. They want to define their identities, and that usually includes being seen as a hard worker. But at too many organizations, that zeal is squandered on administrative activities like filling out HR forms. The result is a notable dip in spirit and some paperwork that’s filled out really, really well.

As much as possible, keep administrative tasks to a minimum on an employee’s first day. Ideally, new hires will fill out all or most of the forms before their first day. Here’s a great way to communicate a little culture–send an email that says, “We can’t wait for you to dig right in on your first day, so please complete this paperwork and bring it with you.”

2. Prepare for downtime

No matter how prepared you are to welcome a new employee, he or she is going to have some downtime on day one. Inevitably, a meet-and-greet will get rescheduled or something unexpected will crop up, leaving the new hire having an hour to kill. Even after day one, new hires aren’t likely to accelerate to full throttle right away. It will take some time–days, weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the job–before a new hire hits full stride. Continuing engagement and coaching is critical during this onboarding phase.

Have a plan in place that goes beyond just sending the employee back to her desk to, say, fill out paperwork. Instead, give new employees a chance to express some of their personality with an introductory email. Encourage them to be a little less formal, to share a bit of their personal lives and why they’re excited to join the team.

A better option is to set them up with a learning list: online courses, books, articles, webinars and podcasts to help them learn how your organization sees the industry and to show that lifelong learning is a top priority.

Ideally, this list would be created internally as one more way to demonstrate your culture. But there are plenty of external sources, including The Community and other collections of resources.

3. Show your culture

One of the best ways to help new hires find their niche within your organization is to give them a glimpse into your culture from day one. Make a point to include the new hire in social activities in your office–a group lunch, an afternoon trivia challenge, chats about popular TV shows, etc. New employees will feel like part of the team and get a chance to show a little personality.

Demonstrating your culture doesn’t require fun distractions. Bringing the new hire in on a brainstorm session or setting up an informal meeting with a company leader can also showcase the attitudes and behaviors your organization values most.

Or it could be as simple as sneaking a little bit of your company perspective into your welcome letter. Here’s how Apple, for example, welcomes new employees.

See also: The Era of Free Agent Employees  

4. Start your formal onboarding process

Don’t forget to incorporate your employee’s first day into your formal onboarding process. As you work to make the first day engaging and culture-focused, also set the new hire up with a clear path to success over the first several months on the job.

Help the new employee develop a support network, including a mentor, and be sure that new employees know where to turn for the resources they need to do their job successfully. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool that gives employees a certain sense of independence and belonging, which are important attributes to success. Connecting new hires to others who have recently been in the same situation can also help ease new hires into their role and help keep them on track to success.

If you choose to assign new hires a mentor (and you absolutely should), that mentor can take the lead on a lot of these day-one activities, from organizing a company lunch to making the most of downtime.

Be sure to schedule periodic meetings to catch up with new hires. These scheduled meetings give both the hiring manager and the new hire some dedicated time to review progress, answer questions and stay engaged with one another.

Like many things in life, you will get out of new hire onboarding process only what you put into it. While it takes precious time and effort, the cost of not successfully onboarding your new hire is even greater, and a failed hire will put you right back to the beginning of the hiring process and further from realizing the organization’s goals.

Want to bring new employees up to speed in the rapidly changing insurance industry? An AINS designation is a good place to start.