Many Claims leaders get uncomfortable and move toward the exits when they are asked to contemplate and discuss their "vision", as in the vision statement of a strategic plan. For most of us, that discomfort originated from participation in ritualized annual strategic planning events, where our company's leadership team got together to participate in intense wordsmithing exercises designed to produce a strategic plan document. Vision, Mission, Values, Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats, Opportunities, Critical Success Factors, Objectives, Key Performance Indicators--all of these topics were tossed onto the table, to be debated and scrutinized with the assistance of a cadre of skilled facilitators. I remember these planning events as contentious and dramatic, featuring break-out sessions, flip charts, storyboards, critiques, soliloquies, and of course mandatory camaraderie, all of which culminated in team solidarity and consensus on a newly minted strategic plan. Whew!
While I am an unapologetic strategy fan (I believe it takes both planning and execution to achieve the best result) I am not a fan of the strategic planning process used by many insurance companies. I think the process itself has become more important than the plan it produces. In other words, getting through the strategic planning ritual and producing a plan that complies with the company's prescribed format/template has become the primary goal--the quality and utility of the plan is secondary. Which is too bad, but it does help explain why strategic plans at many companies are so irrelevant. Once completed, they are tucked away like sacred scrolls, not to be seen again until the next year's strategic planning event. So while most insurers have strategic plans, many of those plans have nothing to do with their day to day operations or decision making.
Google the question "Why do strategic plans fail?" and you'll get over 7 million results, although they sort down into a familiar handful of reasons:
· plan was not communicated effectively
· company vision, mission, values and value proposition were poorly defined
· unrealistic goals
· disconnect between strategic plan, operating plan, individual performance plans
· invalid assumptions about internal and external environments
· lack of resources and commitment to implement plan
· lack of accountability and ownership
· lack of meaningful performance metrics to track execution
But don't despair. Even if your company's strategic plan is nothing but fluff, you can still use proven planning techniques to help keep your Claims operation focused on what's important.
Years ago I was doing planning work with a motivational expert from the UK. She told me about a process called "success visioning" in which leaders visualize what success would look like in their operation and then make a list of 8 to 10 things that, if true, would signal success. The concept was familiar to me, as I enjoy Stephen Covey's books and I’ve read my copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People so many times it is falling apart. What she was describing was essentially Covey’s second habit: Begin with the end in mind. If you are setting out to do something, it helps to start with a clear visualization of your objective: an image, a picture, or a description that can serve as a touchstone and frame of reference as you move forward. And if you keep that visualization in mind, you’ll have a better chance of achieving it.
So I prepared a Claims “success vision” document and adapted it over the years to address challenges at the different companies where I worked. My final version, prepared about five years ago, looks like this:
1. Effective, efficient claims management operation producing the best claims outcomes
2. In control: creating and maintaining a “no surprises” claims operating environment
3. Known for providing industry leading claims service and expertise
4. Attentive and responsive to stakeholder needs and concerns
5. Reliable and consistent in setting accurate and adequate case level loss cost reserves
6. Sought after source of claims thought leadership and timely, actionable, loss-related information
7. Seamless operations, utilizing a single claims system and a shared services operating environment
8. Skilled at integrating acquisitions and new programs
9. Viewed as an employer of choice and a developer of people.
To make the list actionable, I included bullet points to provide details and specifics, and developed metrics to track performance. I used to look at the list every month, and think about what had been done and what else needed to be done to make these statements come true. Why? Because I knew if we could turn these aspirations into reality, and if we could support improved performance with objective metrics (evidence), and if our stakeholders (individuals or groups who have a vested interest in or dependency upon how well the Claims operation performs) were saying and believing these things, then our Claims operation would be a success.
Give it a try. It's easier, more useful and considerably less painful than strategic planning, and it will give you most of the raw material you need to talk about your vision at your next strategic planning event.