How to empower, upskill and diversify the workforce for a competitive edge


Insurance companies need both agility and curiosity in what has been a difficult year for the industry due to COVID-19, according to Shannon Harjer, vice president, personal lines, Founders Insurance Company at Intelligent Insurer’s Claims Innovation USA virtual event.

Harjer took part in a fireside chat with moderator Martin Ellingsworth, senior analyst, Celent, for a session at the Claims Innovation USA virtual event that looked at how to empower, upskill and diversify the workforce for a competitive edge.

According to Harjer, all culture is set by leadership behaviour, whether in a large company that has regional differences or in a small close-knit company like hers. She said leadership has first to set the tone and create a narrative for that culture, so for that reason transparency is very important.

“Our resources are more limited than those of larger organisations, so you or your staff often have to do a lot of work that typically would be done by other departments,” she pointed out. “The transparency with your staff is what makes the difference.”

She underlined that messaging, verbally or in writing, can be more important in a small company, especially in a workplace where normally people can see each other. The current COVID-19 environment, with people working from home, has changed these dynamics, and even with online meetings intercompany communications have to be done differently to make sure that the right message is being sent out.

“It’s important that word choice, context and timing are treated correctly,” Harjer stressed. “In the past, pre-COVID-19, these are things we didn’t have to have as close an eye on. Now, we have to.”

Moving goals

Harjer added that it was important to make clear that goals and targets can change due to unexpected events. This year has provided the perfect example of that—over the past six months the goals of Founders have had to change because of COVID-19—and there has to be a tolerance level of what’s acceptable in terms of the business and what isn’t.

She looks at elements such as the return on investment when it comes to the targets set by the company, and she therefore has to be very transparent with staff when explaining why certain things have to be done, such as changes to employee numbers.

Looking back at her career Harjer said she always wanted to be “very ambidextrous”, meaning that she set out to understand as many of the different facets of an organisation as possible. In the past she worked in human resources at other companies and on homeowners’ personal car insurance.

“There are many ways to make yourself even more valuable and useful especially when you get towards the top,” she pointed out.

“One is to understand pricing and product actuary underwriting. However, it takes time and focus on what you want your career to look like. When I look for talent, I’m looking for people who are not only knowledgeable but also tenacious.”

Training talent

According to Harjer, it’s very important to realise that higher leadership in small companies may not have the time to find somebody to add to the talent pool who can be developed into a great individual or contributor, or a leadership position. She feels that it’s important to have a dedicated trainer within every organisation, because it takes training and a designated strategy to bring out the best in people, especially as in the past it could take up to two years to become a full claims specialist.

“You need a good trainer,” she repeated, “and you need a roadmap for success for each associate, whether it’s a learning path or something specific. In a small company you need to have a fine-tuned process. Large companies have dedicated training departments. In small companies there’s a chance that someone might forget something.”

Asked by Ellingsworth what she wants in terms of personnel, Harjer replied that she looks for people who are curious about why something happens, and about what people say when they make claims.

“Claims departments in insurance companies are effectively investigators who should be asking a lot of questions, as that’s how they can uncover issues and exposures and help get the job done—and they should choose people accordingly,” she said.

To watch the full session, titled ‘Empower, Upskill and Diversify Your Workforce for a Competitive Edge’, on-demand click here to visit the Claims Innovation USA virtual event website.


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Intelligent Insurer