1/30/2008

A Twelve-Step Career Management Program for Claims Professionals

By Donna J. Popow

Whether you’re in the car investigating a claim or behind a desk negotiating a settlement, a claims professional doesn’t have a typical day. While juggling a bulging inbox of e-mails, sorting through a mound of paperwork and returning telephone calls, some crisis will occur that throws the entire day off track.

You certainly don’t have time to think about career development, unless you need to fit a course or two into your schedule to satisfy a CE requirement or prepare for an interview with a prospective employer. Sound familiar?

It’s time to take a giant step back and take a long, hard look at where you’ve been, where you are and, most important, where you’re heading. As Yogi Berra says, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

You can map out your career by implementing the following twelve-step development program:

1. Choose to take charge of your professional future.
Be the architect of your own career. Accept the fact that no one else can do this for you. Decide for yourself where you are going and how you are going to get there. Focus on what will benefit your future—not just meet a CE requirement. Become an active career builder, and don’t procrastinate!

2. Be honest and realistic about expectations.
Before you devote time and money to attain professional goals, make certain you’re on the right track. The value you place on your career development should equal or exceed the value you place on retirement planning or investment planning. Think about it: you can’t accomplish your retirement and investment goals without a sound career plan.

3. Don’t leave career choices to chance.
Treat your career as if it were a business and construct a personal business plan for yourself. With a clear view of where you’re going, map out a career progression path and plan out which jobs will take you from where you are today to where you want to be. As you begin your journey, consider your strengths and weaknesses, develop a networking strategy, and think about a strong personal value proposition.

Remember, employers usually expect you to expand your skill sets; so, you will be acquiring additional technical skills along the way. Then, when you are ready to move to another job, avoid roles that require the same skills. And link your new learning objectives to the objectives in your business plan. Review the plan annually and make adjustments. Your objectives will change from year to year.

4. Do an inventory of your competencies and skills.
Do this regularly. Your competencies will change as you gain experience and education. A good individual development plan helps you leverage strengths, identify skill gaps and improvement areas, and further your career goals. As the old adage says, “You can’t hit a target you can’t see.” Call it an individual development plan, a professional skills management plan, or a career development plan, but think of it as an organized approach to training and development designed to improve your professional future. Then you’ll be able to get that job, go for that promotion, build your business further, or do whatever you like.

5. Put new competencies to work for you.
Take steps to develop new competencies that will help you reach your business goals. Focus on the areas where you are weakest and then take steps to improve. Think of continuing education as an investment in your career. And remember, if you don’t invest wisely, you will not achieve your goals. Focus on what will benefit your career, not just meet CE requirements.

6. Circle a date on your calendar to review your progress.
Put an outline or synopsis of every CE you are taking in a file along with your business plan. At the end of the year, review the CEs you have taken to see how they support your professional development objectives.

7. Seek the wisdom of others.
Create a personal board of directors to offer support and encouragement as you continue on your way. The board should consist of people who know you well and whose opinion you respect. Ask their advice about major professional undertakings, such as changing jobs, deciding to start your own business, or choosing a new career path.

The board’s responsibility is not to foster a mentor relationship. It’s far better. Mentors provide you access to only certain areas of learning and growth because they typically will share what they do well and never what they don’t. A personal board of directors gives you a broader view. Share your successes and disappointments with them, and keep them involved in your career. Do not include your board in gripe sessions.

8. Willingly share your knowledge.
Sharing can be informal, for example from one co-worker to another, or it can be formal, such as giving a presentation or writing an article for a newsletter or magazine. No matter what form it takes, you will always learn something in the process.

9. Sustain a variety of meaningful relationships.
You never know when personal relationships will bleed into work relationships, or vice versa. Friends in high places are only a start. While impressing the boss is helpful, it can be even more beneficial to have significant and meaningful relationships with peers throughout the insurance community.

One way to easily maintain these relationships is to always follow through with a promise. And think about keeping in contact with former co-workers and acquaintances. This means more than just calling them when you need a favor or a job recommendation.

Keep in touch several times a year—possibly send them an article they might be interested in, make a friendly inquiry into how things are going, or even go out of your way to stop by and see them when possible.

10. Know your customers. Make their business your business.
When handling a claim, learn about the insured and the claimant. But don’t let it stop there. It’s not enough to be good at your job; you also have to understand all facets of your company’s business. If you work for an insurer, you should know your company’s underwriting strategy and loss ratio goal and you should work toward policyholder retention.

For independent adjusters, success depends not only on fulfilling the responsibilities of handling an assigned claim, but also appreciating the intricacies of managing a well-run company. So, if you work for an independent, you should know the ins and outs of your employer’s business as well as the complexities of the insurance industry as a whole.

11. Embrace change.
The amount and pace of change occurring in the claims profession is staggering—from technology transforming the way we do business to the courts redefining policy language. Always make an effort to be a couple of steps ahead of emerging trends. Try to anticipate the next big change, such as digital recorded statements, and determine its potential impact on you and your company before widespread industry acceptance.

12. Set high ethical standards for yourself.
Be an example to others in setting and emulating ethical business standards. Ethics are defined as the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. Each person’s particular set of ethics determines whether he or she views certain behaviors as being ethically acceptable or not acceptable.

There are important stakeholders in our own personal ethics process, including clients, employers, and colleagues, and there is a direct connection between ethics and professionalism. CPCUs and RPAs take an oath to demonstrate advocacy of, and commitment to, ethical conduct and placing the needs of others above their own.

All professionals, whether they’ve earned a designation or not, should strive for high ethical standards. Too often we do what is expedient and expected rather than standing up for what we believe is right. The deserving professional is one who meets and maintains ethical and competency standards that are significantly higher than the minimums required by any given profession.

Listen to Yogi’s advice and make sure you know where you’re going. Your career path might not put you on a short, straight line, but if you follow the twelve-step professional development program, you’ll definitely get to where you want to go!

Donna Popow is senior director of knowledge resources and ethics counsel for the American Institute for CPCU and the Insurance Institute of America (the Institutes). She has responsibility for all aspects of claims education including the Associate in Claims designation program and the Introduction to Claims certificate program. Ms. Popow can be reached at popow@cpcuiia.org.



Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829.

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