Why won’t my employees listen to me?

November 10, 2011 at 7:03 am 1 comment

Lis·ten is defined as making an effort to hear something or to pay attention or heed.  A seemingly ubiquitous complaint across the claims industry is that of management concerned by staff not listening, following procedures, paying attention or heeding instructions. 

If this is something you have ever experienced, rest assured you aren’t alone.  It has happened to anyone who has ever managed, taught, led or mentored in any industry, coached any sport or raised a family.  But why is it happening in claims organizations where state statutes, civil law and procedure manuals should provide sufficient guidance?

As discussed in Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules To Take Your Claims Organization From Ordinary To Extraordinary listening is a skill.  Just as it takes a certain personality to succeed in the investigation, negotiation, evaluation and settlement of a claim, it takes certain traits to effectively listen. 

It is also important to recognize that one’s perception of another listening may or may not actually be correct.  Consider the old telephone game where you tell a secret to someone and they tell that same secret to another and this goes on for some time.  The end message is invariably different than the original.  By the same token, telling a person to do a more thorough evaluation of a claim is much different than actually instructing them on steps that should be taken. 

There are also degrees of listening, ranging from the maverick that may hear something loud and clear but develop a better way to the insubordinate that simply have no desire to follow instructions.  This can be a fine line in the role of a fiduciary where adherence to civil codes and company procedures is critical to quality and outcomes.

That said, a little streak of independence can be a good thing, provided it adds value to the entire end to end process.   After all, organizations become great when new and innovative ideas continuously percolate.  Never thinking outside of the box would result in the status quo which can stagnate any industry.  

Consider the best of breed, be it Southwest, Honda, Apple, Amazon, Ebay, Cisco, and what their innovations have done to the airline, automotive, computing or retail industries.  Their success didn’t come from adhering to the status quo. It came from innovative people with creative ideas and a management that was confident enough to embrace change.  

So herein lies the problem.   Of the world’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, there are no domestic P&C carriers listed in 2011.   According to Fast Company, which compiled the list, “today’s business landscape is littered with heritage companies whose CEOs battle their industry’s broken model with inertia, layoffs, lawsuits — anything that squeezes pennies and delays the inevitable. How many of these companies will be dominant in 2025? Few.”

So perhaps a better question than why won’t my adjusters listen to me would be what are my adjusters saying, thinking or doing.  This will enable management differentiate the poor and the marginal from the good and the great.   Remember, in most organizations 80% of problems are coming from  the bottom 20% of performers.  Most often, these are the people not listening, constantly complaining and dragging down the company.  On the flipside, 80% of innovative ideas will come from the top 20% of employees.  These are the future leaders who will define the next generation of an organization, depending upon the open mindedness of today’s leaders. 

It is also important to remember that adjusters aren’t the only ones who may not be listening.   The 80/20 rule is universal and somewhere along the way there may be ineffective management that impedes success.   After all, when a football team consistently has a losing record it generally isn’t because of lack of player talent.  

Effective listeners differentiate between words and people, as the latter bring meaning to the former.   The communication of the message is just as critical as the receipt of the message.   Therefore it is important to recognize the intended outcomes when asking people to listen and identify those who are ineffective.

Consider the following example in which adjusters are told to contact claim parties within 24 hours, inspect damaged property within 48 hours and close claims within 7 days.   In theory this should improve claim outcomes.   After all, these are quantifiable and achievable metrics.   Or are they? 

Simply getting people to listen to these instructions leaves a lot of room for unintended consequences.   By rushing the claims process is there the opportunity to overlook fraud or recovery opportunities?  The answer is actually dependent upon the quality of staff.  

Effective performers will not only adapt their processes to improve outcomes, but they will create innovative ways to take the message to improve their work.  Poor performers will selectively listen to the message and try to justify deficient outcomes with excuses such as “unfair”, “unreasonable”, or “unrealistic”. 

While listening is critical, equally important is messaging.   Creating a process by which company initiatives are uniformly conveyed will drive outcomes.   Utilizing a calibration process whereby all employees, at every level, receive the same message can dramatically increase the chance of organizational success. 

When new initiatives, processes or procedures are rolled out, taking the time to educate on not only what is being done, but why, facilitates an environment where change can be embraced instead of resisted.   Far too often, the strategic and the tactical paradigms are at odds, when it takes nothing more than effective communication and listening to bring them into alignment.  

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~Epictetus

Christopher Tidball is an executive claims consultant and the author of Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules To Take Your Claims Organization From Ordinary to Extraordinary.  To learn more, please visit www.christidball.com or e-mail chris@christidball.com.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Gilaine St-Cyr Schneider  |  November 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I agree with Matt and to follow his thought, the importance of clarity is crucial. Is the message simple and does the claims person understand what action is required? When you use varied methods as Matt suggests you can ask for feedback and make sure the message was understood.

    No matter how concise a written message may be – it can still be misunderstood or confusing. Expecting everyone to ask for clarification is unrealistic. Claims staff are busy people, it’s the leader’s job to be clear in all methods of communication to find a way to engage feedback and understanding.

    Reply

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Chris Tidball is a claims and revenue management consultant and author of the "20 Essential Rules" series of self and organizational improvement books. You can ask him a question at chris@christidball.com

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