2/9/2012

Building Your Claims Talent Pipeline

The word “growth” is back in insurers’ vocabularies in 2012. Stay on top of the trends by strengthening your talent pipeline and succession strategy for ultimate sustainability.

By David E. Coons

When the economic downturn hit the insurance industry’s labor market in 2008, it is no secret that claims departments were also asked to do more with less. But now the word “growth” is back in insurers’ vocabularies in 2012. Industry-wide, companies are opening up their hiring budgets and looking to expand. The coming years will be marked by technological advances, expansion, and intense competition. Stay on top of the trends this year by knowing what is ahead in claims management and strengthening your talent pipeline and succession strategy for ultimate sustainability.

According to the most recent iteration of the semi-annual “Insurance Labor Outlook Study,” conducted by The Jacobson Group and Ward Group, the industry is ready to hire again. Forty-five percent of property and casualty survey respondents indicated that they intended to increase staff within the next year. We believe companies should brace themselves for a challenging recruiting environment due to the fact that participants ranked claims positions as moderately difficult to fill.

With Boomers preparing for retirement, employers are finding that they lack incumbent talent to fill in the resulting skills gap, leaving many companies unprepared in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Further complicating the situation is that many organizations made necessary cuts during a down economy and hiring and training fell to the wayside. What essential measures can be taken to bridge the skills gap and ensure solid claims leadership for the future?

Recruiting the Right Claims Talent

Expect to see recruiting get more creative as companies scour the market for top-notch candidates and strive for an edge over competitors. The key is to source long-term hires—talent that will grow with the company and excel with increasing responsibilities.

Consider new channels through which to connect with talent. Social media platforms continue to gain momentum as the preferred platform for job seekers. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all great places to share job openings and reach a large network of contacts. These platforms will also increase your brand awareness and generate interest.

When the right skill set is hard to find, many resort to alternative solutions, such as temporary staffing or nontraditional backgrounds. There is a large pool of viable, entry-level candidates out there who may not have ever considered a career in claims. Tap into that hidden candidate pool by getting creative with your job postings and networking venues. Purposely attract those who would not find a claims job on their own.

Hire proactively to account for expected future attrition and anticipated growth. Consider what skill sets can be taught through training and what attributes are an absolute must. Set some time aside to make a list of those non-negotiable traits for potential claims candidates. Any entry-level hire can take part in a claims training program, but some inherent skills are necessary in order for them to succeed.

Look for a natural multi-tasker; someone who can handle multiple streams of information through various channels. Spoken and written communication is always important. Be sure candidates can understand intent and meaning and apply it in the course of working a file.

Test the candidate’s comfort with numbers. Can the candidate look at a set of numbers and readily determine what is right and what is wrong? Vital personality traits include a high energy level as well as a sense of empathy in dealing with people—but not at the expense of defending his or her position. The ideal candidate is naturally skeptical and makes decisions based on data and analysis. These are some of the innate skills that can rarely be taught.

Retaining and Motivating Employees

It is safe to assume that the job market is soon to be a candidates’ market, if it’s not already. The ball will be in the job seeker’s court as numerous positions become available, pitting competing insurers against each other. With 45 percent of all property and casualty companies planning to increase staff during the next 12 months, your top performers could very well be lured in by a competitor. How will you retain your employees in this type of market?

The key is to make sure your staff is fully engaged and sufficiently challenged in their roles, and generally motivated to contribute to the organization as a whole. An engaged staff understands their impact and value in the organization. As an added bonus, companies with engaged employees have more satisfied customers, generate higher revenue, and are more efficient.

A successful retention program considers overall morale. An employee survey is a great place to start for suggestions on career development; rewards and incentives; and workplace activities to make your company an employer of choice. Recognition does not have to be monetary in nature. It can be as easy as formal, company-wide verbal praise. Promote a healthy work/life balance through incentives such as a work-at-home program, summer hours, or a favorable paid-time-off plan.

Developing Future Leaders

Career development must become a priority for all managers. Developing future leaders now means avoiding succession crises in the future. To better understand the end goal of your leadership development program, assess your organization’s wants and needs. Identify the surplus and gaps in your current talent pipeline. Where should you build leadership capacity? Distinguish the skills and values that your organization’s leaders must possess.

Recognize your potential leaders: the internal candidates who display the level of talent required. Outline a formal, actionable plan that can be driven by the employee. A grow-from-within-approach requires commitment from all parties. It may take years for leadership skills to be acquired; accelerated leadership programs will help close the skills gap.

As budgets allow, build training programs up and ensure that employees have the resources they need to excel. Managers have a responsibility to get the right people in the right jobs, make sure they have the tools to do their best work, set clear expectations, and remove any roadblocks or barriers. Create a formal, organization-wide program in which employees can participate.

It is important to understand your employees’ career objectives. Employees should have a hand in creating their individual development plans with measurable goals and objectives. By giving employees ownership of the process, they will have a greater sense of purpose. As they continue to advance, they will grow a deeper understanding of the role they play in the organization’s success.

Do not underestimate the power of mentorships. The best way to hand off knowledge is to engage newer employees in day-to-day operations. Invite mentees to observe meetings and work alongside tenured employees with tasks they show interest in. Younger employees are eager to soak up knowledge and take on a more strategic role. The best way to hand down company culture is by building these relationships.

Document and update your leadership development plan. Involve your human resources department, supervising managers, and employees in an ongoing dialogue. Succession objectives should be evaluated regularly by the executive team and board of directors, when appropriate, to ensure that strategic roles are accounted for. Start early to ensure your organization’s future is prosperous.

The changing claims landscape can be successfully navigated as long as management is willing to put in the effort now. A proactive approach to developing claims leadership will help your organization avoid the impending skills gap. Maintain a strong bench by recruiting and retaining the best and brightest. By ramping up your recruiting, retention, and leadership development strategy, your organization is bound to find that competitive edge!


Dave Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. He can be reached at (800) 466-1578 or dcoons@jacobsononline.com.



David E. Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. He has been a CLM Fellow since 2013 and can be reached at (800) 466-1578, dcoons@jacobsononline.com. www.jacobsononline.com.

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