Leaning into Agility

Change is a constant in the insurance industry. But recent years have underlined just how much the rate of change can accelerate. The broker channel in Ontario is made up of a wide variety of brokerages, from legacy organizations whose beginnings stretch back over a century, to start-ups who were founded this year. But what’ll ultimately decide which succeed and which fail is the aptitude of those businesses to adapt to this constant change—a trait known as organizational agility. 

“Change is happening quicker, and more changes are happening simultaneously, meaning that outcome of change is difficult to predict and agility is more important,” said Prof. James Bowen, Adjunct Professor, Telfer School of Management, uOttawa. 

As the pandemic proved, organizations are capable of acclimating to massive challenges as they arise. In the early days of the lockdown, these were largely viewed as stop-gap measures, made until the situation righted itself and all could return to business as usual. But, as we all know, that situation was much longer lasting than a mere temporary inconvenience and some of those adaptions had to become entrenched. By the time things were more or less normal again, the world and business had undergone dramatic permanent change. 

The next big disruption might not be as obvious. It might not come on as suddenly. It might’ve already happened, and its effects have yet to redound to the broker channel. Is your business—and are you personally—ready for that unknown challenge? Rather than waiting to be thrust into a situation that forces adaption, there are better ways to anticipate change, adopt what’ll be helpful and prepare for the unknown. And there are many reasons to do so. Often the muscles that make a company more agile also make it a stronger organization absent the arrival of an unknown challenge. 

Embrace a Broader Conception of Change

Innovation is a popular buzzword in the broker channel, but it’s often used as shorthand for adopting new technology. But adopting technology is only one type of innovation. Innovation can mean adjusting your hours of operation, implementing new marketing strategies and countless other potential approaches. Rather than the common tech-centric notion, it’s better to reframe innovation as the desire for continuous improvement. That’s something that can be applied to any aspect of a company, not just the tech stack. And an organization that’s comfortable with continuous improvement won’t be as severely disrupted by external forces. 

The Customer Knows Best

Prof. Bowen’s number one piece of advice to be more agile was to, “focus on customer needs.” Fortunately, brokers already place a strong emphasis on understanding and meeting customer needs. But to ensure they’re continuing to do so on an ongoing basis, they need to systematically gather customer feedback and constantly integrate it into their service. Aggregate customer feedback essentially serves as a weathervane to indicate the direction of the market.

Empowering Employees

Frontline staff have a direct line to consumer sentiment. Encouraging them to share their thoughts and suggestions is a direct way to address the pain points felt by clients, and gives them an opportunity to engage with the organization on a deeper level. A business that does things the way they’ve always done things doesn’t offer a lot of opportunity for employees to use their creativity and bring new ideas to life. Having the opportunity to be heard and to see your input make a difference can improve employee satisfaction.

“Agility has changed the nature of risk management and has meant strategies don’t need to be fixed, but can be built around the ability to evolve,” said Prof. Bowen.

Getting Ahead of It

A valuable tool to enable companies to be more agile is the premortem. This project management strategy tool is essentially a pre-emptive analysis of a hypothetical failure. It asks teams to imagine a failure scenario, identify the causes and brainstorm what could’ve been done to prevent or mitigate the failure. It can encourage a forward-thinking mindset. Just going through the process regularly can contribute to an organization’s long-term agility. 

Aligning Team Objectives

Agile teams are successful when everyone is aligned towards common objectives. A premortem brings team members together to collectively understand the organization’s goals, potential challenges and strategies for success.

Use the premortem as a team-building exercise. By collaboratively discussing potential risks and mitigation strategies, team members gain a shared understanding of the project’s complexity and a collective commitment to navigating challenges together.

Enhancing Risk Awareness

Agility requires a deep understanding of potential risks and the ability to manage them effectively. Premortems increase risk awareness within teams, fostering a culture that values identifying and addressing risks early in the process.

Ask a varied group of team members to individually brainstorm and list potential risks or failure points. This allows for a diverse range of perspectives and insights. Then, collectively analyze these identified risks and develop strategies to minimize their impact.

Encouraging Open Communication

Premortems provide a structured platform for team members to openly discuss concerns, share insights and collaborate on risk mitigation strategies. Organizational agility requires effective communication.

Create a safe and open environment for team members to express their thoughts and concerns during the premortem. This can be facilitated through anonymous contributions or by emphasizing that the goal is to improve the organization’s chances of success.

Iterative Learning and Improvement

Premortems capture valuable insights and lessons learned before the project even starts. This contributes to the continuous improvement cycle and iterative learning is key to developing agility.

After the premortem, document the identified risks and mitigation strategies. Regularly revisit and update this document. This process ensures that the team remains vigilant and responsive to changing circumstances.

Darwin’s famous phrase about evolution, survival of the fittest, is often misunderstood. Many take it at face value to mean the biggest and the strongest. But what he really meant was those who are best fit to their environment. In that sense, aiming to be more adaptable means you’re positioning yourself to be the fittest regardless of what changes are coming—especially important in a world not showing any signs of slowing down.

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