Category Archives: Risk Management

Listening for the Win

“Don’t puke on your prospect.”

OK, a bit crass perhaps, but it is some of the best advice on salesmanship I’ve ever been given. Any of us who have purchased B2B goods and services have experienced this. The sales rep reaches out and you grant that first meeting. Upon entering your office, the sales rep launches into a completely one-sided dialogue about how great he is, how great his company is, and why you should be doing business with him. He asks no questions, and although you try to turn this into a real conversation, he won’t allow you to participate. He simply has too much to say!

Case in point: When I was Director of Risk Management at a large restaurant chain, I was called by a representative with a local insurance brokerage firm. Upon entering my office, he asked me one question: “Do you purchase accounts receivable insurance?” he asked. “No,” said I, “our guests typically pay with credit cards…” and that was the end of the discussion. Oh, the meeting lasted another 15 minutes as the rep droned on and on about how uncollectable accounts receivable have practically sunk many businesses and how every business should have this coverage. I finally cut him off and showed him the door. As he walked out, he dropped some expensive looking accounts receivable insurance marketing materials on my desk as he said, “I’ll be in touch.” The marketing materials went straight into my trash can, and thankfully, he never did follow up. Indeed, “sales puke” is a sure-fire way to ensure that you never win that piece of business.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

A former boss of mine was a Covey disciple. He had his entire team read Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he recited this quote incessantly. He even found budget money for each of us to attend a live presentation by Dr. Covey himself a few years before he passed away. I agree with my former boss that 7 Habits is a must read for any business professional, regardless of your line of work. But it is this quote in particular that has stuck in my mind over all these years. I have applied it in my risk management roles and I apply it in my current role in commercial insurance sales.

People need, indeed they like, to be heard. I believe failure to listen is often to blame when negotiations end in stalemate or objectives fail to be met. Applying Covey’s principle generally yields one of two results in my experience:

 (1) The business associates (or sales prospects) with whom you are speaking are more apt to hear you out and more readily consider your viewpoint (or product) if you’ve heard them out first and asked meaningful questions;

(2) You begin to see enough value in your associate’s viewpoint that you begin to change your own mind. In a sales scenario, you may learn about a pain point your prospect is experiencing and alter your approach accordingly. In both scenarios, you learn something and the ultimate end result is best for all!

Do you see what is happening here? Both outcomes are wins!

As I look back over my career, I readily see that I have been most successful when I have worked hard to practice good listening skills. It’s a sign of interest. It’s a demonstration of respect. And no matter the line of work, sound listening skills will open doors. Go ahead, give it a shot. I dare you.

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

Wisdom or Folly?

“If I only knew then what I know now, I would have approached my life back then so differently.” I bet almost all of us have stated that lament at one time or another, either on looking back at high school, college, or maybe that first job. Ah, wisdom; that wonderful gift from God that opens our eyes to a grander plan than we could ever comprehend on our own. Wisdom helps us realize that life is a much larger picture than even the wisest among us can perceive at any given time, and although we cannot see the entirety of that big picture we know it exists. As we gain in wisdom we begin to look beyond our own well being and seek the well being of others. We begin to realize that the world wasn’t created solely for our benefit, but we were created to serve the world around us. If we seek wisdom we can find it.

“Then I saw that there was more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” Ecclesiastes 2:13 

Why, then, do some seem to choose to wallow in folly? What is folly, anyway? Merriam-Webster defines folly, “the lack of good sense or judgment; a foolish act or idea; foolish behavior.” Truly, folly is all around us. Now, to be fair, I must confess that I have spent my share of time pursuing folly. I remember making decent grades in high school without having to put in a whole lot of effort. I remember making the Dean’s list my freshman year of college – not the list of students who excelled, but the list of students whose admission was in possible jeopardy because of a lower-than-acceptable GPA. It seems that my studies in “Texas Dance Hall” my freshman year did not support my major at Concordia Lutheran College. I remember the early days of my working career, in which my priorities included occupying my favorite bar stool at the local watering hole. “If I only knew then what I know now…”

Succinctly stated, folly gets us nowhere constructive. Pursuit of folly keeps us in darkness; it is a barrier to success both personally and professionally. Unfortunately, folly often presents itself as the path of least resistance, thus it is relatively easy to follow. But following folly’s path is like starting down that hiking trail that ventures into the woods. At first the path is wide and easy to follow. As we move deeper into the woods the path grows narrower, weeds begin to obstruct the way, and we soon find ourselves standing in the middle of the woods with no clear sense of direction as we wonder how to get out. Having followed folly’s path, we find ourselves worse off than we were upon beginning folly’s journey.

Our country seems to have embraced folly these days. Our national debt climbs at an alarming rate with no effort by our government nor demand by the people to reverse the trend. We seek after short-term pleasure without seeing the big picture of the long-term consequences of those choices. Have we killed the cure for cancer or the next great composer through abortion? As we continue to whittle away at our moral foundation, shouting slurs and insults at one another along the way, are we not sacrificing the long term health and well-being of our nation? As we, in our passivity, hand over increasing amounts of power to our unelected Supreme Court, are we not squandering the freedoms that thousands of men and women fought and died to win and preserve? Folly, indeed. It won’t be long before the path vanishes into the weeds and we find ourselves standing alone in the dark, cold woods wondering how in the heck we got there and where do we go now.

The United States is headed down a dark path, but it is not too late to change course. I choose wisdom. I choose Light. I choose to share the virtues of those things as I shun the foolishness of folly. I don’t want our nation to look back at today from fifty years hence and lament, “If I only knew then what I know now…”

What say you?

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On My Mind: A Car, A Meeting, and A Conversation

Here is what’s on my mind this evening. I hope it adds some value to your day, but even if it doesn’t I’m happy to get this off my chest.

A Car: Ode to a Prius

Taking delivery of my 2015 Toyota Prius V, Texas Toyota of Grapevine. 6.19.2015

Taking delivery of my 2015 Toyota Prius V, Texas Toyota of Grapevine. 6.19.2015

If you had told me three weeks ago that I would trade my nice, luxurious 2007 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer SUV for a Toyota Prius I would have told you that you don’t know me very well. I purchased my Expedition in December, 2013 and was instantly taken by it’s massive size, comfortable ride, and luxurious appointments. Even the meager average 15.4 miles per gallon fuel consumption did not mitigate my affection for that vehicle. It also didn’t hurt that the Expedition won me instant credibility among the Fort Worth elite as I parked it in the Justin lot at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo alongside the vehicles of other rodeo volunteers.

As I write this today, I am the proud owner of a 2015 Toyota Prius V and, yes, Texas Toyota of Grapevine gladly accepted my Expedition in trade. I drive a lot in my job, and in just over a week’s time I put almost 700 miles on my new Prius, averaging just over 40 miles per gallon. My Prius is stylish – and that’s not just my opinion. Every colleague and prospect I have driven thus far has offered that feedback. The car is smooth, quiet, and equipped with cool gadgetry that I am still learning to operate. Based on my simple math, I have saved 29 gallons of gas – about $75. The gas savings alone will cover over half of my monthly payment and I am pumping significantly fewer toxins into the air. I’d say that’s a win all around.

A Meeting: The Value of Face-to-Face

"These dogs are barkin'!" ~ Del Griffith in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

“These dogs are barkin’!” ~ Del Griffith in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. June, 2014

I have been blessed to enjoy a wonderful career in corporate risk management. Topics that many would find dull, such as safety protocols, claims management, and insurance terms & conditions are quite interesting to me. In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Neal Page said something along these lines in his rant against Del Griffith’s boring stories, “I could sit in an insurance seminar for days and listen to them drone on and on with a big smile on my face. People would ask me, ‘how do you do it?’ and I’d tell them, ‘because I’ve been with Del Griffith.’” On that point I disagree with Neal Page; I thoroughly enjoy those seminars!

I enjoyed some great meetings today; meetings in which we discussed strategies for safety and claims management and how sound practices in those areas can enhance the work experience of employees and the customer experience of guests. During a break this afternoon I was struck by the fact that we humans were created to be relational; to interact with one another, to shake hands, smile, agree and even disagree. Technology has led us to a fast-paced business tempo in which we often communicate via email, online chat, or conference call. Even our social relationships are moving more online as we interact with friends and family via the plethora of social media outlets available at the click of a mouse. Those things have their place, but after a day like today, I’m reminded of just how important it is that we engage our world without the barriers of pretense or technology. Nothing replaces sitting down and talking.

A Conversation: Why Don’t We Talk Anymore?

Speaking of sitting down and talking, I was once a Facebook Ninja. At least, that’s the best term I can come up with to describe a person who pages through his news feed and pounces on others’ comments on topics upon which I disagree. Often, those posts would launch a rather ugly exchange that served no purpose but to tick one another off. I’ve made a conscious effort to change my ways over the past year or so, and while I am still tempted to drop a vitriolic comment every now and then, I’m happy with my progress to this point.

8.9.2014 Enjoying a delicious home-cooked Brazilian feast with dear friends, courtesy of the Dunn's.

8.9.2014 Enjoying a delicious home-cooked Brazilian feast with dear friends, courtesy of the Dunn’s.

We are living in very historic times, and we are quickly losing the ability to talk to one another about things of extremely great importance. The media no longer reports news; it spins statements and circumstances in an effort to drive ratings. In my opinion, the so-called news channels and the national and local network news outlets offer very little of substance or value to the American people. We the People are no better, for we readily consume the kool-aid offered up by our favorite TV spin doctors, regurgitate bits and pieces of it on social media, and commence to attacking one another for being stupid and uninformed. As all of this plays out, I fear we are squandering the greatest nation that ever existed.

I have good friends from all political persuasions. We sometimes trade barbs on social media, but I haven’t talked personally with many of them for years. I’ve often toyed with the idea of hosting a “Friend Summit”. It would be a weekend to gather friends from various walks of life and political ideals and discuss the issues of the day – everything from taxation to immigration to gay marriage – not necessarily to try and change each other’s minds but to arrive at least at an understanding of where our perspectives are coming from. But most importantly, my aim would be to reinforce for each of us that we are all children of our Creator, we all want to live a good life, and we all need each other. I’m still kicking this idea around in my head; I wonder if anybody would come.

2015 Photo-Some-Days 6.21.2015

A former boss once told me, “Seek first to understand, second to be understood.” In reading my Bible this morning, I came across the Proverb below. I try to live this in all aspects of my life, sometimes more successfully than others. It’s a process.

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2015 Photo-Some-Days 5.6.2015

“Leave it to the pros.” It wasn’t too long ago that I scoffed at that notion. Why call a pro when I can save a few bucks and repair or install it myself? Case in point: our kitchen faucet bit the dust last weekend. It had been showing the signs – hard to rotate, slow to shut off, and when I nearly pulled the handle off the other day I knew it was time for a replacement. My wife bought a lovely Delta faucet at Lowe’s Sunday afternoon. As I perused the directions and prepared to undertake my project, that voice inside me said, “call a plumber.” I tried to ignore it, but it was quite persistent and even resorted to calling me names. “Dummy, call a plumber.” I finally gave in, and am I glad I did! After just over two hours’ work, including having to grind away a lip of our sink that was partially blocking the hole in the granite countertop, I happily wrote the $247 check to the man that did such a good job. “Leave it to the pros,” indeed!

“Leave it to the pros.” ~ We all say it from time to time, but since I could not find an original source, let’s call it Anonymous.

Kudos to Jim England Plumbing of Keller, TX for a great installation! 5.5.2015

Kudos to Jim England Plumbing of Keller, TX for a great installation! 5.5.2015

Risk Manager in Residence

 

IMG_0833The letter from the Spencer Educational Foundation informed me I had been selected by the Katie School of Insurance & Financial Services at Illinois State University to spend two days with their students as Risk Manager in Residence. I was thrilled! Then, as the reality of this commitment settled into my brain, I was humbled.

My ISU "home" for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

My ISU “home” for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

I have enjoyed a very fulfilling career, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences and wisdom with my industry’s future was quite an honor. Over two days I was to lecture in three courses, two sessions apiece. Tuesday evening I would deliver a presentation to which all students of the Katie School were invited. I wanted the content to be meaningful to the students, and the Katie School faculty was extremely helpful in sharing information on class size, majors represented, and course content thus far in the term.

I began preparing my material a few weeks before departure. My aspirations were grand: I wanted to teach, encourage and inspire these students. As I began preparing my first course outline, my brain froze. “Who am I to stand before these students,” I began to ask myself. “What if my content is too basic? Or too advanced? What if I’m boring? What if we don’t connect? What if…”

I hate self-doubt. Self-doubt is one of the greatest barriers to success that we place before ourselves. Looking back in hindsight, however, I realize this wasn’t really a case of self-doubt. It was more an acknowledgement of how important this program is to the schools and students who participate. I would tailor a message with content specific to each class I would address. And I would deliver a presentation Tuesday evening that would be informative, entertaining, and inspiring. I prayed to God that He would give me the words to say, and He did.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Central Illinois Regional Airport awaiting my flight home. I’ve received lots of positive feedback from the Katie School. I’m pleased that my offerings were well received and added value. Over my two days at the Katie School, I was given a glimpse into my industry’s future. The students I met were bright, engaging, articulate, and excited for their futures. They asked many insightful questions. They each have much to offer. The future for my industry is very bright, indeed!

As I think back over the last two days, I’m betting that, in many respects, I gained more from this experience than the students did. I leave Illinois State inspired and refreshed. I have a renewed vigor for my career, and I have a new set of young friends to keep me on my toes. I thank God for this experience, and I will continue to seek to honor Him with my work.

If you are a risk management professional, I strongly encourage you to consider volunteering your time and expertise to the Risk Manager in Residence program. Trust me: you will be blessed.

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The Credibility Bank & Trust

Sometimes when I balance my checkbook, I lament that money often seems to be flowing out more quickly than it flows in. I balance my checkbook almost every day; I know what bills are coming due and I try to defer as much “extra” money as I can into my savings account emergency fund. I like to think that I am rather diligent in managing my money, but always with room to improve.

There is another account that is equally as important. I call the institution that houses this important personal account The Credibility Bank & Trust, or CB&T for short.

Unlike your checking account, your CB&T account balance is not measured in dollars. It is measured in reputation. Deposits are made when you do the right thing, while your account balance is reduced every time you fail to do so. Deliver quality work when you say you’ll deliver it – there’s a deposit. On the other hand, delivering subpar or late work constitutes a withdrawal. Make a promise to a friend or coworker and deliver on it – there’s a deposit. Break that same promise – big withdrawal. Promptly return telephone calls and acknowledge emails – easy deposits. Hide behind your voice mail and ignore incoming emails – withdrawal. Properly prepare for meetings and contribute positively to the discussion – another deposit. Sit silently in meetings while periodically peeking at your cell phone – balance reduced.

Each of us has a CB&T account at home, too, and it works the same way as your on-the-job account. For example, treat your family with love and respect – consistent deposit inflow. Take them for granted and your account depletes rapidly. You get the picture.

How do you know your CB&T balance? The greatest measure of your CB&T account balance is in your reputation. Do people trust you? Do they come to you with problems? Can they trust you to keep your promises and maintain confidentiality? If the answers to these questions are yes, you can rest assured that you have built a nice surplus in your CB&T balance that will serve you well in your career and your personal life. If the answers to any of these questions is no, it’s time to audit behaviors and begin repairing the reputational damage.

As you consider these questions, know that your perceived account balance may vary between individuals at work or within your family. Think about that for a moment. What happens when you treat people at work differently from one another? One person thinks you’re great while the other – not so much. Over time, such conduct erodes your CB&T balance until you are overdrawn; at that point you become ineffective and, well, dispensable.

So what must we do to ensure our Credibility balance is in the black? Jesus offers some very succinct direction:

“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” Luke 6:31 (NKJV)

The people Jesus is talking about are all around you. They serve you in stores and restaurants. They occupy the nearby cubicle. They pass you on the highway. You live with some and you work with others. They are your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, your closest friends, and the strangers you pass on the sidewalk. If you consistently seek to treat others as you would like to be treated, you run little risk of depleting your CB&T account balance.

The notion of the Credibility Bank & Trust is something I try to bear in mind at all times, and I have shared it with several coworkers and business colleagues. Give it a try; It has served me well, and I’m convinced that it will serve you well, too.

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