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CHANGE II: IS THE CHANGE JUSTIFIABLE?

My previous blog considered the key factors for any organisation in building a framework capable of delivering change, regardless of size. Successfully implementing change comes down to asking the right questions so this next blog will consider the question: Is the change justifiable?

Any organisation is only as good as its people. In the same way, change within any organisation will only be successful if the weight of its people are supportive of the change, or at the very least understand why it is necessary. Winning them over – especially when change alters work processes – requires forethought if it is to succeed.

Here the weight of the people must not be measured by their seniority. The board and investors may be convinced of the need for a mooted change, but the weight of the staff must equally be supportive. After all, it is they who will enact the change on a day-to-day basis. That means leaders must be able to justify change to everyone, especially in an industry as conservative and grounded in tradition as the London insurance market.

Unfortunately gaining the approval of all is an unrealistic goal. Instead the rationale and business case for the change must be articulated sufficiently well to persuade the majority. If that is not possible, the change may not be feasible. Here the power of conviction can be a big support: people are much more likely to believe in the value of change when those preaching the proposition are believers themselves.

Positive messages can usefully be employed to demonstrate why change is desirable and ensure that staff understand why the change is necessary. Messages could be about the need to achieve growth in order to remain competitive, for example. They may be about the need to automate certain functions in order to remain profitable, and thus to survive. In the increasingly competitive global insurance market, the racing pace of technological development is reshaping the sector, and those who fail to change in parallel will be left behind, drowning in unmanageable costs. That’s a powerful message for staff.

Implementing change to address that is prone to create uncertainty among staff, which needs to be managed. This was the subject of much discussion at one of the event recently I attended, particularly in relation to London Market change initiatives. Here technological developments, such as automation, are arguably driving change faster than anywhere else in insurance. The reality, however, is that many tasks earmarked for automation are menial, which means re-skilling not reduction for staff. It will free staff to focus on more value-added tasks and lead to the creation of roles that don’t yet exist, such as, possibly, claims analysts. Such upsides and positive benefits need to be repeatedly spelt out by senior teams. As one audience member, addressing a panel of speakers at this event asked: “There is much discussion about the problems and technological advances, but what is the solution?” Clearly articulating the rationale and strategic vision that is driving any change is crucial to its success.

From the outset it is critical to understand how the change objective will alter the way the organisation functions, and what that will mean to each individual at their workstation. This should be presented and understood at all levels. If change means new job roles for some, such specific changes must be presented as challenging opportunities to participate in new successes, not as sideways moves to which the people affected must be resigned. Employees tend to embrace positive, justified change and rebel against work-role shifts in which they have no ownership interest.

Justification also relates to timing. It must be realistically achievable within the timescale established. Employees who believe a change to be justified, and who value their critical role within the change process, are likely to work much harder to achieve change, and deliver change objectives on time and on the money.

At all costs, then, it is essential to avoid the all-too-common mistake of informing and involving staff late in the planning process. Early engagement is vital to getting as many staff onside as possible, which is itself crucial to the success of any change programme.

Finally, leaders need to lead by example. They must clearly articulate the need for change, explain the process and its impacts, and enlist staff buy-in and enthusiasm by explaining how their efforts in implementing it will help create a more robust and competitive business.

My next blog, will address the critical change question: Do we have the right solution for the required change?

By Parminder Kaur, Director Consulting,  Advent Insurance Management