Insurance Experts' Forum, April 28, 2011
For many, high school years were some of the most formative and memorable—filled with both good and bad memories. Recently, one high school flashback pushed its way to consciousness during an operations review with a group of analysts, managers and executives.
My freshman and sophomore English instructor was an “old school” teacher. For weeks, he would drill the class on the parts of speech, noun-verb agreement, sentence diagrams and the horrors of dangling participles. He was a stickler for the use of active verbs as opposed to the passive tense; so much so that each week a class member was placed in front of the room and required to compose active and passive sentences, using the random subjects and verbs provided. If the classmate stumbled, students were encouraged to shout out the error. While certainly not a “participation” approach, by the end of the semester, everyone had English language fundamentals down pat. More important, everyone learned the underlying lesson - passive voice has its place but is routine, often unremarkable, and not meant to inspire or compel a response; active is vividly descriptive, commands attention, is motivational and (within some contexts) risky.
Listening to the presentations and updates provided during the meeting by the analysts and managers, and watching the reactions of the executives reinforced this long ago lesson, it was clear that the latter weren’t getting what they needed, and the former were being presented an opportunity.
Executives recognize the value of operational dashboards, financial summaries and customer survey results. But, in an economy showing only painstakingly slow improvement, they are looking, more than ever, for solutions that assist measurable achievement of operational goals and to position their companies for eventual profitable growth. That search is an opportunity for managers of teams tasked with operations, market, financial, claims and actuarial analysis to fundamentally change their accountabilities and transform their level of influence on a company’s strategy and business performance. That transformation enhances the perspective of analytics from one that’s primarily retrospective to one largely prescriptive based upon a solid understanding of the customer, marketplace and historical business results. It’s moving from passive to active; continuing to provide operational performance results, but elevating one’s game by offering sound, fact-based, meaningful recommendations to address the company’s challenges.
Developing increasing levels of influence with company executives demands trust built upon credibility. One way to create that relationship is to begin with tactical recommendations, comparatively small in scope, that are directly associated with company goals, and have outcomes that can be quantified.
The following objectives hierarchy is one tool to help target recommendations:
• Strategy (Customer, Competition, Economy, Regulatory, Value Proposition)
• Ops Plan (Marketing/Sales, Finance, Operations, Product Development, IT, HR, Legal)
• Capabilities – Accountabilities – Outcomes – Structure
In Order To Create
• Tactical Deliverables
Based upon the work already performed by analysts, select an ops plan function, a deliverable category and then one or more tactical deliverables that analysis points to as opportunities for improvement. Develop alternatives that will measurably improve performance, ideally resulting in achievement of expected goals, and then force-rank the alternatives in order of effectiveness.
And now, the risk: the presentation of recommendations within the context of sound business results analytics and other fact-based foundational elements. Starting small and targeting clear improvement opportunity areas helps limit the risk, but it also improves the chances for recommendation approval and ultimately (following a successful implementation outcome) enhanced credibility. It’s this precious organizational capital that is the critical ingredient for increasing influence within the company, allowing the targeting of higher levels on the objective hierarchy and multiplying—sometimes geometrically—the positive impact of recommendations.
In recent memory, there hasn’t been a better opportunity to improve performance and position a company for market leadership. Success will come to those willing to take thoughtful risk. The upside for the analytic function, analysts and those who lead them is immense. All it requires is the willingness to stand in front of the class and compose sound, compelling recommendations in the active tense.
Dave Edwards is a senior consultant at The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
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