Using Processes to Maintain Relationship Focus in the Insurance Ecosystem

This article originally published in Carly’s monthly column on AM Best’s Review.

How many times have you been in a meeting or received an email about yet another change in the process of how your work gets done? If you’re anything like me, you’ve gotten frustrated on occasion with the process focus. I have a tendency to find myself wondering: Why does it matter if I do Step 1a before Step 2c if they both get done, and it’s worked for me in the past to choose my own order of operations? In many insurance roles, we see ourselves as relationship-focused, and we believe our jobs are more of an “art” than a “science.”  With these beliefs, it can be tough to adjust to a process-focused mindset. When I’m sitting in one of those meetings, I try to reflect on how adopting the new practice will make me better at my daily role. If I can tie it back to one of the following four keys, I can more quickly recognize how the change will be useful.


Rising Turnover of Employees

We spend a lot of time talking about how to attract and retain the next generations of insurance professionals. Every time that discussion comes up, we’re reminded that 25% of insurance professionals are expected to retire by the end of 2018.  Given that we’re in the second half of 2018, we’ve already seen many retirements, and we can expect that trend to continue. Along with retirements, we do still have a retention problem for entry-level employees, and we have more movement between companies than we have had in the past.  With all the turnover for various reasons, we can see that a standard process and report in place in our individual files would make picking up where your predecessor left off a great deal easier.


Decision Fatigue is Real

If your work involves a number of different types of tasks, you may not do the same thing on a day-to-day basis.  In this case, you may be reinventing the wheel if you pick up a task that you haven’t done in months. You’re deciding how to approach the work, in addition to making the decisions that are actually pertinent to the work.  This can sound like a small thing, but it takes your brainpower away from the pertinent decisions. If you had a process in place, you could simply follow it and ensure you’re not missing important factors or essential steps due to reduced cognitive function from decision fatigue.


Efficiency is Increasingly Important

We are expected to do our work at increased speed.  Our customers expect answers and service at the speed of Amazon!  Following a universal process means that you are more likely to accommodate that speed.


Consistency is Key to Trust

Everyone wants to believe that they are going to remember every detail of what a particular task entails, and that creating a process is an extra step that they don’t need.  However, in 2009, Atul Gawande released The Checklist Manifesto which shared, among other stories, the vast improvements that a simple surgical checklist provided in outcomes.  Whether you work with agents, insurance consumers, or fellow insurance professionals, delivering the same output after performing similar tasks in a dependable timeframe will build trust over time, especially if you are building a new relationship.

If we think about a process-focus as something that gives us these four benefits (and there are more than just these four), we can ensure that we are changing the way we do business to benefit the entire industry.  If you’re looking at a process, and you truly can’t find any of these benefits, I would encourage you to ask questions and, if necessary, suggest an alternative that does provide these benefits. Insurance will always be a relationship-focused business, and having a view of your work as both an “art” and a “science” will ensure that you stay creative and engaged leading to more innovative solutions, but we must remember that even artists follow a process!


About Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham began her insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. She got licensed as a producer while working at that agency and progressed to serve as an office manager. Working in the agency is how she fell in love with the industry. She saw firsthand the good that insurance consumers experienced by having the proper protection. When Carly moved to Des Moines in 2010, she decided to commit to the industry, and she completed her CPCU in one year finishing it in 2012 and attending commencement in New Orleans. She completed her MBA at Iowa State University in 2014. During this time, she and Tony founded a Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide in Des Moines. After they had both left Nationwide, Tony recruited Carly to co-author and manage She has the difficult task of keeping his constant flow of crazy ideas focused and helping to flesh them out into useful articles. Carly enjoys sharing knowledge and ideas about the future of the industry and finds the website a good outlet for this passion. Carly is involved in the the CPCU Society Underwriting Interest Group. She also writes "Next Wave" a monthly column in the "Perspectives" section of Best's Review.

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