How insurers can change their culture to support digital transformation

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Over the last four years and with a continual investment in data and technology, Security First Insurance has been able to experience transformation at nearly every level of the business, including a complete restructuring of our claims operating model. We've built an ecosystem of strategic partners that has catapulted the company from being a small, traditional home insurance provider to a bold, imaginative, data and technology company that's focused on transforming the insurance experience and exceeding user expectations. It's been an exciting and priceless journey!

I had the privilege of co-presenting with Sean Kennedy, principal digital architect at PointSource (a Globant Company), to a wonderfully diverse group of insurance and technology executives at the recent Digital Insurance conference in Austin. It was one of the most valuable conferences I've attended. I believe in our message and it was an honor to share our story with so many of the curious and brilliant minds that are working hard and part of revolutionizing insurance. The Security First-PointSource story is compelling and it's the clearest reflection of the incredible value that comes from revisiting and refining your culture and putting it at the heart of your digital transformation. Here are the key points we shared with Dig|In attendees:

Revisit and reshape your culture so you can evolve together.

If you've been operating within the insurance industry for more than five years, you need to take another look at the way you describe your culture and the core values you have in place. Not only has the industry been turned upside down everywhere you look, the pace of change in technology and innovation has changed who we are. We've evolved to take advantage of the incredible opportunities that are being created every day. If you aren't revisiting your culture and making refinements, I'm going to bet it all that you aren't operating as efficiently and profitably as you could be.

Sean and I were having a discussion one day and he said "change needs to be the status quo." To keep up in today's world and for employees to remain energized about all the moving targets--to truly thrive in this malleable, disruptive environment--we all need to make change the status quo. Get on it!

Revisiting and refining culture isn't easy. Unfortunately, culture is often relegated to Human Resources and CEOs rarely take it seriously. That's not the case at Security First Insurance. In fact, when PointSource introduced the idea of reshaping our culture and talked about Simon Sinek's Golden Circle, our COO, Werner Kruck was fully on board.

Make sure you get it right. When you redefine your culture, you've got to be spot-on with who you are today and who you'll be in three to five years. Every single employee needs to believe in every word you say about who you are and where you want to be. No pressure.

Tip: There is no "set it and forget it" when it comes to culture. It used to be your culture would remain unchanged for decades. Those days are long gone. It's iterative. It may not change much, but it will certainly change more often than every ten years.

The Golden Circle is comprised of three very important and deceptively simple statements: Why, How, and What. Most companies sell their products and services by explaining the What and the How, but the market leaders, the ones who've changed the status quo have created loyalty by describing Why they do what they do.

Sean and I chuckled (and so did the audience) when I told them that it usually takes about 20 minutes to define your Why statement, but for Security First Insurance, it's taken about three months. Yes, that's funny, but it's a good thing. The entire company didn't settle on the first draft and they challenged every idea. Many area leaders placed a great deal of importance on reshaping our culture. It took longer, but we nailed it and we think it's going to be the catalyst to maximizing our success today and for many years to come.

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is create and manage culture. ~Edgar Schein

Are you having trouble getting leaders to understand the value of a strong culture? We found and included these facts in our presentation. Use them. Apply them to the financials of your business. Greg Larkin, best-selling author of the book This Might Get Me Fired, reinforced a key principle that I read on the plane and used in my presentation: "Never pitch an idea--always present an outcome." Follow that principle to get buy-in.

Tip: The scary thing is that 166% can appear successful. Watch out for positive results; they can be deceptive.

Respect and prioritize your relationships.

Use your clearly defined culture to identify when there is and isn't a cultural fit with existing and new partners. Our Vice President of Enterprise Systems & Integrations, Ben Bomhoff, taught me one of the greatest lessons I've learned in my career. After about a week of coming on board at Security First in 2013, he reinforced over and over "There is no such thing as a vendor; we have highly valuable strategic partners that enable us to survive and grow." He was and always is ahead of our time.

Once you see a cultural fit with a potential strategic partner and secure the relationship, protect it! Demand has shifted, my friend. The roles have reversed. Companies need good partners more than partners need new clients. The truly valuable partners at the forefront of technology can be selective. Make sure they continually choose you.

To achieve that, it starts with the way you view a partnership. If you're still thinking of your partners as vendors and you've got a veil between your organizations, then the innovative, agile companies competing in the marketplace today are going to eat your business alive. To evolve together, you've got to be culturally aligned. You can only achieve that by understanding your culture and potential partners. Take the time to understand their culture, vision, and leadership style.

Be humbly transparent. What do I mean by that? Be honest and the first to admit your weaknesses and mistakes to your partners. Be proactive and apologize. Be proactive and give support without being asked. Truly care for your partner or client so together you've got a wonderful understanding of how to best collaborate and evolve over time.

When you've got that spark in the relationships throughout your strategic partner ecosystem, then that's when you all, as a unified team, become a force to be reckoned with. You become a superpower on a single mission with the armor to quickly target the vast amount of opportunities that are cropping up all over the place.

I felt that spark in the first meeting with CodeObjects. The meeting was more than "kind of a big deal." We were about to embark on a core system migration and complete data conversion with this new partner. Anil Annadata and his entire team were humble, brilliant, and honest from the start, which is why Ben Bomhoff made the recommendation that we choose them as our core systems partner. I'm so glad we did. Ben also took the time to understand their culture and ensure there was an alignment between our organizations. Two years, three hurricanes later (Security First is based in Florida), this company has proactively supported and evolved with us. We are very excited about the additional automation and lower costs we'll realize once we implement chatbot technology this summer.

Tip: Respect and take deep interest in your competitors.

It's very easy to dismiss new market entrants that aren't making any sense because they're doing something seemingly "off-the-wall" in comparison to what you're used to seeing. You may think, "Well, they don't know insurance." Think again and don't let your assumptions get in the way of learning from marketplace innovation and activity.

Start small and be fearless.

We're seeing an evolution and increased competition in every area of insurance. The API economy, micro-services, blockchain, cognitive engagement--oh, my! The world of insurance has been thrown up, off its heals and we are on the ground (using drones, too) trying to predict how things shake out. We are learning a ton simply by being cognizant of the unfolding. What a great place to be?! I do not expect that in my lifetime, I'll have the opportunity to be part of such a massive shake-up, again. I'm a little tired (ok, a lot tired) and smarter than I was just 30 minutes ago. That's pretty awesome.

And yet, none of the uncertainty or disruption is intimidating. I am not afraid of failure. We work really, really hard and sometimes have pretty incredible wins. Our win with personalized video and through collaboration with Dave Schwartz and his team at Pitney Bowes is a lifetime achievement for me. Sean ended our presentation encouraging executives to start small and to be fearless. That's agile, easy, and brilliant. Yes, start small, learn, and celebrate your wins. Be fearless out there. Be humble. You don't know everything about insurance! No one does anymore.

To do all of this most effectively, keep your culture at the center of everything you do. Make sure it's right. The good work and innovation that's achieved by having a strong culture and a really good partner ecosystem are what the end user will see and appreciate in every interaction.

Lastly. The great paradox. If you're looking for adventure, then working in insurance is the place for you. If you are an explorer and you embrace change, then you may want to consider Security First Insurance.

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