Your New Employees Are Risky
A lot of our talent discussion is focused on recruiting newcomers to our industry.
But then what? As we kick off the year with ambitious growth goals, let’s discuss why training new talent is hard and riskier than you think.
Imagine the following very basic scenario. A new(er) employee is listening to colleagues debate a new client’s compliance requirements. Depending on who’s asking (or the data source), our new employee may see or hear “belly buttons, beneficiaries, contracts, heads, employees, eligibles, enrollees, FTEs, life, lives, members, participants, policyholders, and subscribers”—a partial list, to be sure.
Last month a friend told me he’d picked up a “900-man group,” and I couldn’t get to our glossary fast enough to add that to the list of possibilities. We know there are instances when some of those terms are most appropriate—and they aren’t all interchangeable—but sometimes people are imprecise with their word choices and rookies are left swirling.
Many terms are problematic because different people (and different companies) use slightly different terminology. This is increasingly common as we mix talent from different generations and geographic regions. Imagine how overwhelming it is when we start layering in complex technical and regulatory jargon without any context.
We noticed this challenge at GenuineShift last year and added a program for our clients to accelerate an industry newbie’s understanding of our business. The program included context for the role of an employee benefits broker that nobody gets in licensing or product training. We filled in gaps for candidates transitioning from HR or carriers to brokerage. While our other programs are role-specific, our goal with the “Intro to the Employee Benefits Business” was to accelerate an individual’s ability to be team-ready.
It was a beginner course. How hard could it be to create? Turns out it was hard. Really hard.
What Is “Enough”?
Out in the wild, our participants (your employees) don’t have the luxury of easing into the business. And they aren’t spending 40 hours per week sitting next to colleagues in a “cubicle learning lab” as many of us did.
Our initial focus was the employee benefits client life cycle, and we believed highlighting key terms would be sufficient. But our students weren’t bringing us questions about EOBs and PPOs. They asked about how brokers work. They asked about assumptions in stop-loss proposals, funding options, and where and when an ICHRA makes sense.
Their days and inboxes were filled with language and lingo extending far beyond the dusty list of acronyms on their company’s shared drive. Version 1.0 of the course underestimated newcomers’ need for context beyond basic definitions.
They also needed guidance on what’s “enough” for them to know at this point in their career. Many naively believed there was a finish line where they’d know “all of the things” that existed after the final module. To succeed, they need an understanding of how to start out with a base level of knowledge that will increase with their tenure. While we now have 800+ glossary terms, we’ve also incorporated lessons about how to learn (and keep learning), since that’s a key skill to thrive in this industry.
We didn’t just work with pure rookies, either. Many of the initial participants had been with their firms for over a year. While they were high performers at specific tasks, they lacked context for what they were doing or why. One young woman had worked in a marketing department for 10 months and during our training said, “Oh, that’s what RFP means and why we do them.”
With our industry’s talent shortage, I understand how this can happen. A team is down a few people and is grateful to get a competent hard worker into a role to keep the work moving. Managers are stretched thin and internal training resources are scarce, so we hope employees catch on while observing colleagues.
This approach leaves room for errors but is also risky because it’s hard to hold on to new employees if they don’t understand the role they play and why what they do matters to you and your clients. They also might find some of the more tedious work boring if they don’t see how it fits into the bigger picture. Some are embarrassed or scared to ask questions or worry about interrupting busy colleagues.
Don’t underestimate what you’re asking of your new employees. Socialize a culture of learning and create space for employees to learn together. Building this program was humbling. The process made me prioritize providing context and alerts around terms at various points in the life cycle.
We’ve expanded lessons to explain how brokerage firms work and what high performers do to stand out. They must understand how to be a reliable colleague, including treating client information with discretion. But, when impressing upon your new colleagues the importance of being compliant, don’t overwhelm them or paralyze them with fear.
To help good people be equipped to make an impact:
• Define what newcomers need to know and by when
• Deploy consistent training that’s effective in a hybrid world
• Dedicate time for learners at all levels to expand versus always reacting
• Develop a culture of empathy that supports continuous learning.
Do this, and your team will deliver results.