Our New Year’s Resolutions

Since it’s the time of year at which most people are proclaiming the things they resolve to accomplish in the New Year, we figured we might as well take a crack at ours. So, here they are, in prioritized order:

  1. We resolve not to make any New Year’s resolutions.
  2. We resolve not to express any indication of our resolve not to make any New Year’s resolutions until the first full week of the New Year.
  3. We resolve to do everything we might have positioned as a New Year’s resolution (professionally speaking) as part of the natural course of our doing business.
  4. As part of the natural course of our doing business, we resolve to grow our Innovation Advisory Board to include representation from the companies that became customers in 2019.
  5. As part of the natural course of our doing business, we resolve to continue to improve the Finys Suite to meet the needs of all the companies that have become our customers since our founding in 2001.
  6. As part of the natural course of our doing business, we resolve to make the Finys Suite the most functional, configurable, flexible, and intuitive processing system for property/casualty insurance for its price.

Are those tall orders? Maybe. It depends on the level of commitment with which we work to fulfill them. And since the level of our commitment is second to none, it’s quite likely we’ll achieve all these things and more in 2020. We’ll be sure to keep you apprised of everything.

In the meantime, we wish everyone who reads this post a bright, healthy and and very prosperous new decade — with or without resolutions.

Happy New Year.

’Tis the Season

It’s time to pump the brakes.

Yes. We know the year’s not quite over yet. But think about how much is behind us:

  • If any of the system changes you might have taken on this year aren’t finished, they’re likely well underway.
  • If your budgeting for next year isn’t finished, you only have two choices at this point anyway: (1) Panic. (2) Put a bow on it after the first of the year.
  • You either completed all the organizational transformations or reinventions your were going to take on this year — or you realized they were figments of some marketer’s imagination.
  • Your holiday shopping must definitely be done; otherwise, you wouldn’t have the time to be hanging around reading this post.

No matter what, the year’s winding down. If you don’t take time to wind down with it, you’ll be back in the race in the first week of January without having taken a deep breath, to say nothing of a rest or a celebratory drink.

Take Two and Call Us in the Morning*

We also know you didn’t ask. But here’s what we prescribe for the Holiday Season fast upon us:

  1. Since Christmas is on a Wednesday, try to take Monday and Tuesday off, too.
  2. If you can pull it off — or if your boss is going to be away — take Thursday and Friday off, too.
  3. Since New Year’s Day is on Wednesday of the following week, see if you can get away with 1 and 2 that week, as well.
  4. Since Hanukkah starts on Sunday, December 22, and ends the evening of Monday, December 30, just disappear until January 6 and tell your boss you thought Hanukkah was two weeks because 2019 wasn’t a leap year.
  5. If you don’t observe any religious holidays, do whatever you want. The only day you really have to worry about is Valentine’s Day because … well … you know.

If you get in trouble for any of that, to paraphrase Mission: Impossible, we’ll disavow any knowledge of your actions.

Just Joking

Kidding aside, we wish everyone who reads this post — along with our customers, our prospects, and all their loved ones — a joyous, restful Holiday Season and a bright, prosperous New Year.

Seasons greetings from all of us at Finys.

* We’re not doctors or HR consultants. We don’t even play ‘em on TV. In fact, we didn’t even audition. But we think we’re on to something anyway.

Don’t Pardon the Disruption

Given much of what we see and hear — much of what appears in but is not limited to the trade media in insurance or any other industry — we’re frequently reminded of the lyrics from the old Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”:

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.

The part that ain’t exactly clear has to do with disruption. According to Merriam-Webster, disruption is, “the act or process of disrupting something : a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc.” That’s where things start to get muddy.

Homework Worth Doing

In much the same way that innovation is now interpreted to mean change, disruption is now interpreted, at least in many quarters, to mean improvement. Compounding the problem posed by the interpretation (and introducing irony into the equation) is the fact that many companies that promise disruption (meaning improvement), actually deliver disruption (meaning operational catastrophe). And every organization can tolerate (let alone afford) just so much disruption.

To minimize disruption (meaning organizational chaos), we employ what we call PREP (Project Risk-Elimination Planning). Here’s what we do:

  • We come to your location for a few days.
  • We get to know you, your organization, and the way it operates.
  • We review your systems and their functionality, as well as your LOBs and their state variations.
  • We show you our workflows for Policy, Billing, and Claims and review our Design Studio toolset.
  • We validate the necessary integrations and share our implementation methodology.
  • We discuss roles, responsibilities, and resources.
  • We give you a project-management overview and develop a data-migration strategy specific to your needs.

That enables all of us to become familiar with each other, our respective organizations, the way each organization does things, and why. And it shortens the work of work associated with contracting because we’re already … well … prepped.

No More Disruptions

The last thing we want to create — and the one thing our customers can least afford — is operational disruption. If we can’t keep you online, conducting day-to-day business without interruption, as we deliver our system to you (improvement), we’re doing it wrong, regardless of what it means.

We don’t mean to suggest that our way is the only way. But it’s the best way we know to minimize disruption (meaning business disaster).

Some disruptions just can’t be pardoned.

Think Big or Stay Home

One of our favorite slogans is one we saw on a t-shirt years ago. It was worn by a guy who must have been a bodybuilder — or else he was absurdly muscular for no good reason. The t-shirt read, “Get big or stay home.”

This is not a bodybuilding blog. It’s not even a single post about bodybuilding or weightlifting. And while we don’t think executives in smaller-tier insurance companies need to get bigger, they and their companies would benefit if they started thinking a little bigger.

Ante Up

When we were kids, our families had one car. We had one television set. It displayed in black and white. We had no cable service. We had no Internet. We had no cell phones. And we had land-line phone service with just one phone in the house.

Fast forward: Most families have a car for every driver in the house. They likely have smart TVs in every room, most if not all of which have LED LCD displays. Along with cable and Internet services, most homes have streaming devices like Chromecast, Raspberry Pi, Synology Diskstation, Google TV, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Plex, and others. And everyone walks around with smartphones that, by the standards of even 10 years ago, are portable supercomputers.

Why is that relevant or important? It’s relevant and important because the rest of the world has moved on with technology and accepted the additional, initial costs associated with its increased capabilities. Those costs become entry cards, table stakes, and business investments in the adoption of contemporary living.

Has that happened in insurance? Not so much.

The Future is Here

Insurers are people, too. To stay relevant and competitive, they have to move forward. They have to adjust and adapt. That doesn’t mean they have to lead any technological charges. But they do have to adopt the technological capabilities and the processing functionality that will enable them to develop and introduce products more quickly, deliver service to policyholders more responsively, and react to market opportunities more nimbly.

Will there be incremental cost to adopting that technology? Yes. Just like there is with car payments, cable and Internet bills, streaming services, and data plans. But the more important question is this: What will it cost if you don’t adopt new technologies?

The new reality arrived with the future. Smaller-tier insurance-company executives and their boards have to accept this new reality or accept irrelevance.

They don’t have to get big or stay home. But if they don’t think bigger, they run the risk of getting smaller.

Feeling a Little Behind?

You need to replace your core administration system, but you think you need too much customization. You know you’ll fall behind competitively if you don’t replace your system, but you think the customizations you want will cost too much. Are you sure?

We’re not necessarily anti-customization. But we do think customizations — their perception of their benefits and advantages — may be matters of perspective. This may seem like an extreme example, but please consider the following exchange:

Ed: I’d like to put a manual transmission in my car.

Fred: But it has an automatic transmission.

Ed: Yeah. But I want it customized.

Fred: It’s going to cost a lot of money.

Ed: Never mind. I want to shift the way I want to shift. And your price is too high now anyway.

Speaking of Shifting …

What if Ed had taken a slightly more objective perspective? What if he’d been willing to take a look at the way he went about the business of driving? What if he’d realized he could decrease the cost of going about that business, get to his desired destination more efficiently, and save himself some time and effort if he’d been willing to drive the car the way it was intended to be driven? We may never know. Neither will Ed.

From his perspective, it was better to re-engineer the tool than to consider the reasons for which it was built the way it was and to use it the way it worked best. It was more important to Ed to turn his car into something it was never intended to be, rather than to accept it as it was, to understand its advantages, and to reap its benefits.

Another Interpretation

If you have the tendency to view software the way Ed viewed his car, we have a suggestion: As you head to NAMIC this year, try thinking about another interpretation of the acronym this way: Not All Methods Involve Customization.

If you do that, your experience at NAMIC might be more fruitful. You might find things you didn’t expect to find, including new perspectives. And you just might find yourself driving toward competitive success in a whole new vehicle.

At the very least, maybe you’ll be able to see the possibilities once you’re able to see out from behind the eight ball.

A Word About Culture: Part Five

This is the fifth and final post in a series inspired by a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”, that posited these five characteristics of effective corporate cultures:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
  2. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
  3. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
  4. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability
  5. Flat but Strong Leadership.

In the prior post, which covered collaboration and accountability, we stressed the importance of giving people responsibility — plus authority — for their given tasks. As we wrap up this series, we address the subject of leadership and share our thoughts on the way our organization works best and why.

The Buck Stops Everywhere

To summarize the HBR article’s point #5, which is consistent with much of what we wrote in our last post:

In culturally flat organizations, people are given wide latitude to take actions, make decisions, and voice their opinions … [they] can typically respond more quickly to rapidly changing circumstances because decision making is decentralized and closer to the sources of relevant information … Lack of hierarchy, though, does not mean lack of leadership … For employees, flatness requires them to develop their own strong leadership capacities and be comfortable with taking action and being accountable for their decisions.

In all likelihood, there isn’t one person in our organization who’d say it lacks leadership. At the same time, most if not all of the people in the organization would say they’re comfortable with the extent to which they’re given rein to manage their responsibilities with authority, to call the appropriate shots, and to let their thoughts be known. While ownership is an overused term, all of our people are encouraged to own their jobs. And they’re recognized and rewarded for doing their jobs well.

Connecting the Dots

Logically, all five of the points in the HBR article are related. In this series of posts, we’ve suggested the ways in which those points are related sequentially (each point feeds off the previous point) and operationally (each point strengthens the functional interactions within the organization and of its people). Writing this series has given us the opportunity to grant ourselves some objective distance from the organization, to appreciate the things we’re doing well, and to connect the appropriate dots.

We hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as we enjoyed writing it.

A Word About Culture: Part Four

This is the fourth post in a series inspired by a Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”, that posited these five characteristics of effective corporate cultures:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
  2. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
  3. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
  4. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability
  5. Flat but Strong Leadership.

In our last episode, we pondered the role of respect in psychologically safe but brutally candid environments. In this episode, we contemplate the importance of coupling collaboration with accountability.

Free To Do It Well

The article from which this series derives has this to say, in part, about combining collaboration with individual accountability:

People who work in a collaborative culture … have a sense of collective responsibility. But too often, collaboration gets confused with consensus. And consensus is poison for rapid decision making and navigating the complex problems associated with transformational innovation. Ultimately, someone has to make a decision and be accountable for it.

While the people in our organization do, indeed, possess that collective sense of responsibility, we facilitate the success of their efforts — collaborative and individual — by ensuring our people are given responsibility and authority. Making people responsible for things — without giving them the authority to make appropriate decisions about them — sets those people up for failure.

Giving a competent person responsibility for achieving something — but giving decision-making authority to another person (who may be less competent, less responsive, less knowledgeable about the responsibility, or simply more detached from it), puts both of them in ineffective, inefficient positions. That’s why we make sure our people are free to do their jobs well.

If We Don’t Succeed, Our Customers Can’t Succeed

The other reason, of course, for assigning people authority for their responsibilities is that, as an organization, we want to be as responsive to our customers as possible. We do believe that two heads are better than one (collaboration). But we also believe good decisions made promptly are preferable to perfect decisions (which aren’t possible) made later. That’s why we strive to maintain an environment in which our customers succeed because we succeed.

Our customers and our employees seem to think that works pretty well.

A Word About Culture: Part Three

This is the third post in a series inspired by a Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”, that posited these five characteristics of effective corporate cultures:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
  2. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
  3. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
  4. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability
  5. Flat but Strong Leadership.

Last time out, we presented our take on experimentation, uncertainty, ambiguity, and the necessity of discipline. This time, we examine the nature of psychologically safe, brutally candid environments.

Smile When You Say That

By the strictest terms of the article’s point #3, we’re not sure our organization qualifies as psychologically safe or brutally candid. Here are those terms:

Psychologically safe environments … help organizations avoid catastrophic errors [and] support learning and innovation … candor is critical to innovation because it is the the means by which ideas evolve and improve … [people] must be willing (and able) to constructively critique others’ ideas without being abrasive … providing and accepting frank criticism is one of the hallmarks of respect.

We do encourage open, honest, and thorough exchanges of ideas and opinions, knowing our people are competent, willing to take risks, and highly disciplined. But we expect respect and its reciprocation to be precursors to any such exchanges. If all of us in the organization don’t have respect for each other first, it’s not likely to be earned (or back-filled) by providing and accepting frank criticism. Put another way, we engage in frank criticism at Finys because we respect each other.

Two-Way Streets

By the same token, we expect open, honest, and thorough feedback from our customers. Both parties are more rewardingly served when our customers tell us what we need to hear, rather than telling us what they think we want to hear. We try to create environments for them in which they’re comfortable providing that kind of feedback, in which they realize their greatest opportunity is helping us help them. And we take the time to know them, to respect and appreciate their needs, before the word, contract, ever gets mentioned.

Whether we’re talking about employees or customers, if the respect is mutual going in, we all win.

A Word About Culture: Part Two

This is the second post in a series inspired by a Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”, that posited these five characteristics of effective corporate cultures:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
  2. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
  3. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
  4. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability
  5. Flat but Strong Leadership.

After distinguishing between mistakes and failures in the first post, we continue the series with an examination of experimentation and discipline from the perspective of our own organization.

First Things First

The premise of the article’s point #2 is summarized here:

Organizations that embrace experimentation are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity … They experiment to learn rather than to produce an immediately marketable product or service … [but they] select experiments carefully on the basis of their potential learning value, and they design them rigorously to yield as much information as possible relative to the costs. They establish clear criteria at the outset for deciding whether to move forward with, modify, or kill an idea. And they face the facts generated by experiments.

It’s fair to suggest we face facts first: We don’t know everything. We can’t predict everything. We can’t control (the outcomes) of everything. So, we approach every act of experimentation with discipline, informed by the years we spent as developers before founding Finys. Those facts — and the fact that our customers rely on us to make their businesses run better — compel us to approach new features or capabilities not as experiments but as trials based on previous empirical experiences: If this did that, we expect a particular variant of this to yield something new that’s a correspondingly particular variant of that.

Faith In, Faith Out

We choose to reward the faith our customers place in us by approaching every act of experimentation with all the discipline and all the knowledge we’ve acquired to date. We begin with clearly articulated and unanimously shared objectives. We celebrate the experiments that accomplish what we thought they would. And we nuke the ones that don’t. We won’t reward the faith of our customers by playing fast and loose with their businesses or their futures.

Uncertainty and ambiguity are parts of life and living. But facing facts with discipline is an effective way to foil failure.

A Word About Culture: Part One

A recent edition of Harvard Business Review carried an article entitled, “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”. At first, we thought it was about Greek yogurt. Then we read it and learned it’s about the five characteristics of effective corporate cultures. Here they are:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
  2. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
  3. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
  4. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability
  5. Flat but Strong Leadership.

This is the first in a series of five posts in which we will examine each of those characteristics from the perspective of our own organization.

Fine Lines

Any discussion about the relationship between failure and intolerance has to start with distinctions and balance. The article says this:

A tolerance for failure is an important characteristic of innovative cultures … And yet for all their focus on tolerance for failure, innovative organizations are intolerant of incompetence.

To strike the appropriate balance, we tend to distinguish mistakes from failure. We tolerate honest mistakes resulting from clear thought, sincere intents, and unforeseen eventualities. We don’t tolerate failures resulting from thoughtlessness, carelessness, or recklessness. And we take to heart a conversation we once heard over lunch at an industry conference:

Person 1: I heard one of your people made a huge mistake.

Person 2: Yep. It cost me $50,000.

Person 1: Did you get rid of the guy?

Person 2: Why would I do that? He didn’t piss off the client. And I just paid $50,000 for his education.

As far as we’re concerned, failing to try is a bigger indicator of incompetence than making an honest mistake in a sincere, well-thought-out effort. And lessons hard-learned are often the most effective.

A Calculated Gamble

There’s no such thing as perfection. We neither demand it nor expect it. But we do expect conscientiousness. We do expect honesty, integrity, and thoughtfulness. And we do expect people’s best efforts, even as we recognize anyone’s best efforts may fall short on occasion. It’s the gamble you take in business, in hiring, in being willing to trust and observe before you judge.

That approach has worked for us since 2001. And it’s kept our culture active, even though we’re not in the yogurt business.

Changing our approach now might be a mistake … or worse.