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Leadership at All Levels

Inspiring Passion in the Insurance Industry

Lisa Harrington | August 1, 2014

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Couple shaking hands with businessman

A few months ago, I was driving along a busy street in North Dallas, near my office, and feeling really gratified to see hundreds of pink-clad, tutu-wearing, face-painted men and women walking for the third day of a very long fundraising event for a cancer cure organization. It was truly an inspiring sight. It seems hundreds of thousands of folks have walked for this organization over the years. Worldwide, if you include all types of charities, walks, marches, and so on, millions of people have put on their shoes and walked, jogged, and raced for different worthwhile causes. As I drove along, the line just got longer and longer, for over 10 miles. Then I saw something else, a specific pattern, which inspired this article.

In this line of folks, 99.9 percent of whom were in the requisite pink and fluff and decorated very purposefully to attract attention (a genius marketing strategy, albeit controversial of late), there were large gaggles of girls and packs of men laughing and singing and carrying on like they were having the time of their lives. But every couple of blocks, there was a sight even more amazing. That day, I saw 20 or more people walking for the cause alone. There they were, dressed to dazzle, enduring the 60 or so miles all by themselves. Some were younger, but most were well into or past their middle years.

It was awesome. "How passionate they must be," I thought, "to walk this kind of distance alone for this cause." Then I started wondering what it must take to generate passion such as that for anyone, or anything.

There is much written on the value of passion for what you do in life or in work. We've all heard the edicts of authors about putting your staff on the right jobs according to their talents and interests, and how not to promote Peter past his level of competence, and why talent beats education and training. If we've paid any attention at all, we've read about this and hopefully embraced the concepts and implemented appropriate changes in our workplaces. It works, and everyone wins, when you can do it.

What occurred to me that day, though, is that we in the insurance industry rarely speak in that language. "I'm so passionate about my work!" is not a phrase we hear very often. In fact, around the time of my pink inspiration for this article, there was a LinkedIn post admonishing insurance professionals for saying how boring the industry is. I agree. What we do is much too important to dismiss in that way.

How do we do it? What can we do to inspire passion around us in the insurance industry? How do we create environments where our employees, whether they are fresh or seasoned, can feel the spark of passion in our day-to-day electronic paperwork? How do we maintain motivation for selling, serving, processing, and administering a product that everyone must have but we hope no one ever has to use? It's unlikely that there are families who have purchased insurance over several decades that have never had to make a claim, but don't we hope that could be the case? We hope that a life can be lived for decades, never needing to file an insurance claim, whether it's for a house fire, a hospital visit, or a car accident. At the end, though, it's improbable, and the life insurance customer will always make use of his or her policy ... eventually. It's just a fact of life.

How can something that is so intrinsic to our way of life, and has such a reach into the homes of every American, be considered boring? Insurance permeates every segment of our economy, yet it is vastly misunderstood and underappreciated.

Economics and Safety

As I write this, it seems that there are two "buckets" into which we can put the societal value of insurance and therefore, perhaps, help us all find the passion and value in our contributions: (1) economics, both for the greater good of the capitalist economy and for the individual or family unit, and (2) safety, which is an area of wide ranging value and perhaps of lesser known significance to the general public.

When we look at insurance through the lens of passion and the greater good, it is beholden on us to remind ourselves that profit is not the enemy. Insurance is not a charity, although underwriting ratios belie this in most years. A friend likes to use the mantra: "Do good, make money!" and I couldn't agree more. However, youthful hearts, which we would like most to attract into the business so that some of us can move on to rest and retirement, like to know that they are involved in something that is helpful to the world.

The Untold Story

So, our discussions about our business should veer toward the significance of insurance in the ability for our capitalist society to move forward with loans made to build houses and super structures and roads and even (private) schools. We should speak loudly of the ways we have repaired businesses, families, and lives with the funding that is available because of well-placed coverage in advance of a storm, fire, illness, or theft. Stories such as this abound, and everyone loves a good story. Every agent, underwriter, adjuster, and risk manager can tell a dozen stories of the lives affected by this or that hurricane or superstorm and how the families and homes were restored. The silence is not a result of a lack of proof or impact. Why don't we speak up? We easily share the funny claims stories with each other. Let's make a way to have the discussion more seriously and with wider audiences, most especially with those employees in our charge who aren't in the line of observation and who may not have a full understanding of the significance of their work.

The public might feel that insurance advocates safety measures "just so they don't have to pay any claims," but that isn't the whole story. It's not realistic, either, as the paying of claims is as unavoidable as accidents, tornadoes, and weather. However, mitigation of those claims doesn't just save the insurance companies' money. It saves life and limb! How, though, to tell the story of the loss that wasn't paid, the accident that didn't happen, the claim that was never filed because someone wore the safety belt or helmet or walked around a wet floor because steps were taken to warn him or her of the risk?

I believe risk managers do a fine job of educating employees on the matter of safety. But are we clear on our contribution in society? Are we talking to the general public about the millions of dollars spent by the industry to help (beyond the craftily constructed TV commercial meant to sell policies)? Why are we this humble? Thoughtful discussions should be had within the general media. Can we do more than just preach to the choir on this topic?


So, find your stories and tell them well. Have several that will resonate with different audiences, and tell them naturally as stories. We should tell them frequently and to anyone who ever asks, "What do you do?" at our neighborhood Christmas party or summer picnic. We should tell them as a group, in the press, at the Rotary, or in social media. Find your stories, and tell them often. They are stories worth telling ... and should inspire passion.

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