Perhaps my favorite thing about working in insurtech is the people I get to work with. As a broker, I don't need to explain it to you; every day we get to work with incredibly bright, hard-working individuals who value relationships deeply.
A company’s success is a reflection of its employees. And while the insurance industry is rife with some of the sharpest minds in business, to be innovative requires a unique set of skills that, until recently, have largely found their place in other sectors such as tech and finance.
Brokers and agencies have often approached innovation in steps; taking on new technologies and operational efficiencies in small increments as to not disrupt the standard way of doing things. Today, however, companies are realizing innovation must become an ongoing, continuous function of the organization.
Innovation starts with people. Once the qualities of an innovative employee are understood, it is time to equip your current workforce with the tools they need to succeed and then search for purple squirrels to make great leaps forward.
Traits of an Innovative Employee
Skills can be taught. Traits and behaviors, on the other hand, are typically engrained within an individual’s psyche. With the rapid pace at which technology is advancing the insurance industry, many of the skills employees have today will be outdated within five years.
Organizations do indeed require skilled employees to perform daily tasks. Arguably more important, however, is having a select number of innovative employees who can propel the company forward. Employees who are forward-thinking and carry the following traits of an innovator:
Agile – It is essential for an innovative employee to have the ability to quickly cut losses from fruitless projects or pivot toward more promising opportunities.
Humble – To be innovative means to be in a state of continuous reflection. While innovative employees may be skilled in multiple disciplines, knowing where personal limitations exist and how to seek out support is crucial to moving projects forward.
Curious – A constant desire to investigate and learn how to affect positive change is the engine behind innovation. Curious individuals are not afraid of digital technologies; rather, they embrace technology’s ability to increase productivity and individual experiences.
Persistent – Most people have flashes of inspiration. However, it is those individuals who have the mental endurance to work through the trials and triumphs the innovative process takes that will find success.
Courageous – Nearly every step of the innovation process will be fraught with challenges. Innovative employees have the drive to push through difficult times, which may include challenging management and the status quo.
Many traits of an innovative employee are intangible, making it difficult to readily identify who may be the next person ready to drive an organization forward. Fortunately, recruitment and human resource companies are developing assessments specifically designed to pick innovative individuals out of the crowd.
Not all employees need to be innovative. But to become an innovative organization requires identifying talent internally or seeking innovative individuals from the outside. Regardless of where innovative talent is found, success will only occur if the greater workforce is equipped to work within an organization that has adopted innovation as a function.
According to Cheryl Matochik of Third Horizon Strategies, the transition from a static organization to one seeking growth through innovation requires a top-down approach. With management’s commitment, three keys are necessary for innovation to thrive.
Firm Foundation – Innovation requires direction. Laying a foundation will equip employees with the directives, processes, and resources they need to be successful.
Culture of Innovation – For innovation to thrive, employees will require a psychologically safe environment, the ability to operate autonomously, and be encouraged to try new things without the fear of failure.
Accountability and Standards – Results and failures of innovative projects must be measured to ensure resources are being deployed in the most strategic manner.
Clarity and structure are the keys to sustaining long-term innovation initiatives. Organizations that do not make the commitment to equip their current workforce to succeed will also lose out on attracting rising talent who is prepared to transform industry norms and push the limits of what is possible.
Recruiting your Purple Squirrel
It was 2012 when the term “purple squirrel” was popularized by Google recruiter Michael Junge’s popular career book titled Purple Squirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews, and Master the Modern Job Market. A Purple Squirrel is the ideal employee candidate, with the exact skills, experience, and qualifications to meet the job requirements. The idea is that finding these individuals is as rare as seeing a purple squirrel.
Purple squirrels are often passive candidates who are not actively seeking out new opportunities. This makes finding them very difficult. However, the trouble of searching for purple squirrels is well worth the effort.
For a brokerage, a purple squirrel is a forward-thinking technologist who has deep knowledge of insurance and the empathy necessary to foster buy-in from your teams.
Your first step in finding purple squirrels is to look within the organization. Evaluate every employee. Not just based on technical qualifications or degrees, but rather their capacity to see opportunities for improvement, take courageous steps to challenge current processes, and win over those who may resist change.
When it is time to look outside your organization, recruiting strategies must be tailored to attract these special candidates. Instead of listing every conceivable degree or certification an ideal candidate may have, job descriptions must appeal to what drives a purple squirrel. Searches must also extend beyond the typical job boards as most candidates are likely comfortable in their current position. This may require extensive networking or hiring the expertise of a recruiter.
However you find your purple squirrel, once they have joined your team, the wheels of innovation can begin turning and true transformation can begin.
Innovation is picking up momentum in insurance, but it's no secret that there is still some friction. Brokers are worried that if they don't innovate, they will face disruption, and as a result, many are scrambling to figure out how this all works.
Let me be the first to say that you should get excited. Yes, there will be shifts in how you operate, train, and recruit. Yes, there will be challenges to innovation. While there will be new processes and technologies to learn, innovation, at its core, is driven by people. As a broker, you know all about people, and that will become a powerful driver for innovation once the right pieces are in place.
So go forth and keep putting relationships at the center of everything you do. It's going to pay dividends.