Brokerage Ops the September 2022 issue

Lessons in Change Management

Q&A with James Thom, Chief Product Officer, Vertafore
Sponsored by Vertafore Posted on September 1, 2022

To further analyze the challenges of leading an organization through a transformative time, Leader’s Edge spoke with James Thom, chief product officer at Vertafore.

What are these new pressures and what are the key challenges they bring?

I think the main pressure on insurance brokerages, right now, is how to do more with fewer resources.

Despite what was happening in the broader economy, many brokerages experienced growth during the pandemic. Coming out of the pandemic, brokerages face the ongoing challenge to recruit and hire people to support and fuel their growth. Recruiting and retention have become a massive challenge for many.

And now we’re seeing inflationary pressures, recession fears, as well as the need for transformation in those organizations that went through M&A transactions. So there’s this desire for more operational efficiency inside of the insurance brokerage. And organizations are having to make changes to their business to continue to grow, both at the right pace and during challenging economic times.

What do brokerages need to think about in the face of these pressures from a business and talent perspective?

I think the insurance industry will continue to do well over the next couple of years, but there are reasons to prepare for the challenges ahead. The big thing that most insurance agencies are struggling with right now is how to manage transformation change to achieve operational efficiency—a lot of agencies are great at insurance but not as great at change management.

The agencies that are best positioned in the face of these pressures are those that are thinking holistically—from a leadership perspective, from a talent perspective, from process perspective, from a technology perspective—around how they manage change inside of their organizations.

How do organizations respond from a leadership and management perspective?

Transformative must start at the top. The way I think about change management is with four key building blocks.

First is conviction and alignment around a common goal, which is crucial when building the story around why your agency needs to change and how it will benefit employees and clients. Second, organizations need to adequately measure outcomes for the business and reward people for changing their behaviors. Third, organizations must invest in developing and maintaining their talent. That means developing team members along the way, in order for them to understand how they need to operate in the future and what that means for their teams to adopt this change going forward.

Finally, role modeling is extremely important. Leadership and management must be the first to embrace and exhibit the changes they want to see in the rest of the organization.

What about the impact on a brokerage’s culture and employees?

Culture really starts from the top of the organization and filters down. Organizations should demonstrate a passion and conviction around their vision, and show what it means to be part of that company.

Agencies that do a really good job with culture tend to have people that stay longer. And many of those agencies are also thinking about how to grow their talent over time. It’s easy to get caught in the battle of stealing people from other organizations. But a talent development program builds great leaders with a real vision for where the business needs to go.

Those are agencies that I see winning, because they’re an attractive place for people to spend their careers—not just for people to come for two years.

How has Vertafore undergone transformation?

We’ve gone through a lot of change over the past years. As a company with a 50+ year legacy, we’ve had to modernize our own practices and look for operational efficiency ourselves to better serve our agencies and carriers.

Briefly, the lessons learned from our transformation is that the leadership needs to have a clear vision and direction for the organization, as well as for the industry. Obviously, there are tweaks along the way to mitigate current challenges, but the vision should be consistent in terms of the business goals as well as the cultural and employee-related missions that the organization wants to achieve.

What are some lessons learned from other agencies or companies when it comes to transformation? Is there a model or blueprint you point to?

Every firm has a different starting point, so there isn’t necessarily a perfect blueprint for success. But there are some behaviors that indicate success.

The first one is starting with what you already have today. I’m consistently shocked about the amount of underused talent and technology in the insurance industry. There is so much opportunity within these businesses, but they aren’t taking advantage of them.

The second aspect goes back to the leadership and talent in the organization. It’s looking across the organization and finding those formal and informal leaders who are going to be the influencers of change inside of your business. Those are the folks that will play a critical role during the transformation.

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