PropertyCasualty360 sat down with business development coach Kitty Ambers to discuss the process of change management ― especially in a world in which change is being forced on insurance professionals. Ambers has held several top executive positions with insurance trade organizations, and she is a member of the PropertyCasualty360 editorial advisory board. Currently, she serves as chief growth officer for AVYST, an InsurTech that streamlines policy submissions.
PC360: What is “change management”?
Kitty Ambers: The term “change management” sounds daunting and clinical. So I like to call it “managing change” instead.
In short, to make change happen, you have to do the work. There is no replacement for actually doing the work. It’s no different than starting something new. For example, if I’m going to start an agency, I have to dig in, do the training, attract markets, and read the policies.
PC360: Can you be more specific about what you mean by “doing the work”?
Ambers: I’ve distilled managing change into what I call “The 5 Ds.”
1. Decision: Think about some of the things we’ve been forced to do differently today with the pandemic. That’s change — doing something different. What is the process we instinctively went through to get there? We had to make a decision. It might be an external or internal thing that forces us to try something new; the old way’s not working. Sometimes it can be scary. What if you get bad news from the doctor? You will have to change something. It might take weeks and months, but you’re having to change because of a situation. Or maybe your flight is canceled. You have decisions to make.
2. Design: Next, you have to design a solution. What are the steps you have to take? We have to think about an action to get where we want to be. We can get really technical in designing what the solution looks like. We’re talking here about planning.
3. Deploy: Now it’s time to do something. How will we implement this decision? Who’s involved? What are the roles and responsibilities? How long will it take? What are the costs? Who will continue it? People get stuck here. They don’t implement. Execute the plan and deal with whatever comes next.
4. Deal: Part of managing change will involve dealing with distractions. It could be a naysayer employee when you’re implementing a new technology solution. Or it could be the child at home who doesn’t want to get up at 7 a.m. and do his schoolwork at the kitchen table. During the ‘design’ stage, these potential objections often come to the surface.
5. Drive: This is the momentum piece. Once you start to change, you very much want to keep it going. One change leads to another change, which leads to yet another change. And so on. We start to open our horizons.
Making time for change
PC360: Why does managing change seem so difficult?
Ambers: Because people are people. They’re too busy on the wheel to step off and look around.
If there is any benefit to the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s that a lot of people have paused and taken an inventory of “Hey, what’s important?” With my businesses, we are now so much more productive when we’re not running all over the country because we’re having meaningful one-on-one conversations on the phone and on video calls. People can actually turn on their computers, have a productive conversation, and make decisions. People are available, they’re listening, they’re connected, and they’re willing to jump on a call. They’re making lemonade out of lemons.
PC360: You’ve said you like the Michael Jordan book, “I Can’t Accept Not Trying.”
KA: His book is really based around fundamentals. He emphasizes, “The minute you get away from fundamentals, the bottom falls out of your game.”
When you think about change, you have to be secure on the direction you want to go. Another quote I like is from Jimmy Dean: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” I can swerve around that pothole, or I can plow right into it because I don’t want to change. People are stubborn.
Are you prepared?
PC360: What about independent agents — how are they managing change these days?
Ambers: Where it becomes most obvious is to ask, “How prepared were agencies to support a remote workforce?” That, in turn, points to something else: How prepared are you for a natural disaster scenario? How quickly can you spin up a support desk for your agency in the event your office is blown away?
This is a great opportunity to test those disaster-recovery plans. A lot of folks have struggled there because it’s been on the back burner. The agents who hadn’t tested their business-continuation plans are having to implement on the fly, which is hard. It’s not as simple as thinking I can just take my laptop and be fine. It might be fine for a snowstorm, but not in a pandemic.
What are some big lessons here? I think it’s critical to think through answers to serious questions we’ve been faced with:
- How do I show up?
- How do we stay connected?
- How do we communicate?
- How do we keep morale up?
- How do we care for our clients and reach out to them?
- Do we have a tool that’s easy to deploy messaging to clients and staff?
- Have we collected all the cell phone numbers and email addresses?
This has been a real test of an agency’s “emergency broadcast system.”
It’s about leadership
PC360: Why is change easier for some organizations?
Ambers: Having a fundamental core value of being agile is key. That’s what change is. It’s being able to pivot.
I also think we should look to other places on how they’re managing change. For example, what are restaurants doing to be resourceful? Many are doing carryout only. Grocery stores are retooling their traffic flow, with one-way aisles. They’re adopting new floor plans. What can we adopt for our firms?
If we look around, we realize the whole idea that change is constant is true. So don’t be so resistant. Go with the flow.
PC360: What is the most important piece of managing change?
It’s not that we can’t change. It just gets scary when you have the intentional conversation about how we change. We say, “We’re going to change.” It has to be part of the culture. We focus too much on process versus outcomes. If you do this it’s going to make your life easier. Good leaders do this. It’s intuitive.
We are adaptive people by nature; if you follow Darwin and nature at all. Look at the new species that came about. That’s change. Nobody stopped the world and said, “We have this new thing.” It just evolved. As a leader, if you think of evolution as opposed to revolution, you will have better results in the end. Don’t do the herky-jerky, stop this and start that. It’s just a flow. Why not always keep your eyes out for something new?
Why do we make change sound so punitive as opposed to positive? It all goes back to leadership.