How to avoid mis-hires in Insurance.

The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we’re sloppy at it, it’s because we’re sloppy inside. If we’re late at it, it’s because we’re late inside. If we’re bored by it, it’s because we’re bored inside with ourselves, not with the work. How we do our work becomes a mirror of who we are inside.” Michael E Gerber – The E Myth Revisited.

Every day we strive to be better versions of ourselves, better than we were yesterday, better than the day before. How you act is a reflection of how you’re feeling inside and this shows up in your business.

The optics of how an Insurance company looks to the prospective employee regularly manifests when hiring for a key role. The candidate interviewing doesn’t yet know what the perfect employer looks like, just what the mundane that exists looks like. When you sound like everyone else in this market, you get treated like everyone else and some employers are constantly surprised when their offers get rejected or the candidate gets countered before they’ve even had the chance to work with them. Failure to stand out from the crowd and grab a hold of a candidate emotionally means many insurances companies have lost before the interview is even complete.

And then there’s occasions where the hire simply shouldn’t have happened at all. You know the feeling, you’re a few days into inducting a new hire but he/she doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders and you can’t shake that niggling feeling that something about your new employee doesn’t add up. The doubts begin to creep in and every newbie mistake is viewed through a prism that screams this isn’t right. A lousy hire costs you time, patience and money and can cripple morale in any office. Surprising then that companies don’t do more to avoid them in the first place.

In an age when a mis-hire can cost anywhere between 5 to 27 times the amount of the actual salary, you’d think that insurance companies would pay more attention to this. Unfortunately we all make mistakes and I can point to several examples of candidates over the years who interviewed like a pro but flopped spectacularly on the job. Sometimes the screening process is flaky or the hiring radar that normally sieves out the wrong candidate profiles is off. Plenty of companies are guilty of this, not just insurance firms but for an industry that’s notoriously risk averse, why does it play fast and loose occasionally when it comes to bringing in talent? Why is that in a race to fill a position, sometimes corners are cut?

One major flaw I’ve identified in recent years is a lack of a formal structured interview and onboarding process. Historically lots of people entered the insurance industry via an interview process that was no more complex than a friendly conversation over a cup of coffee or a pint with the finer details agreed on the back of a beer mat. That worked in an era when candidates had limited employment options and several young men and women were sent out into the big bad world with the sage instructions to “get a good job in the bank/insurance firm”. Insurers (next to banks) were seen as solid institutions, respected for providing a safe, pensionable haven to the masses that either couldn’t afford third level education or didn’t get into the civil service job.

Consequently the standard of hire swung wildly across a spectrum that was a reflection of society at large and in the absence of a credible alternative, many insurance companies simply followed the hiring routines set out by their predecessors. As third level education became more amenable to the masses, expectations rose and that “safe pensionable job” was no longer the only game in town, with bright young graduates eking out alternative careers in disparate industries. This has resulted in a significant chasm in the industry between old school hires on the cusp of retirement and the newer breed of graduate calibre hires who still have thirty odd years to work. The lack of a middle layer has never been more glaring and can in part be blamed on demographics but also on poor hiring practices historically and in many cases the absence of proper succession planning. Without a proper hiring plan in place, most firms hire in hopes that the people they’re bringing in are better than the people exiting out the other side but “hope” is not an effective hiring strategy.

In my opinion there are seven key steps to avoiding mis-hires:

Slowing down the hiring process.

Hiring in haste can mean that you repent at leisure later. You may have an urgent gap in your team that you need to fill or a new product launch that simply must have the right personnel behind it but hiring in haste rarely leads to a long lasting relationship. Quite simply when you hire in a hurry, you’re more likely to interview fewer quality candidates and end up selecting the first “half decent” candidate that’s got a pulse from the limited selection of options your rushed process affords. The desperation to hire quickly means that the same quality controls aren’t obeyed and whilst slowing down the process will not diminish the urgency of the hire it will mean that you’re more likely to avoid a mis-hire.

Defining the role correctly.

Before commencing the interview process, you should review your hiring profile and separate the “Must-Have” and “Nice-to-Have” components. Identify what specifically the “Must-Have” elements of the job are and how you will train or supplement the new hire’s background if they do not have the components on the Nice-to-Have list. It may also require that you rework your job description to highlight the challenges unique to this role in your company and most importantly how this hire will impact the company’s top/bottom line. Ask yourself the following question: After 12 months in this job, how would I determine if this hire has been a tremendous success? Use the answer to define the key criteria for your role description.

Conducting Reference Checking.

With any good hiring process there are a number of checks and balances that have to be addressed before an offer is made. A key component is the reference check and too often this is a step in the process that is glazed over with minimal effort put into conducting a proper check, resulting in a formulaic tick box exercise. It’s unlikely that any candidate will provide reference details for an employer where the quality of the reference is likely to be suspect so it’s more important that the hiring company has the appropriate checks in place to ensure that any prospective candidate has at least two solid references checked prior to offer.

Using competency based questions.

The best way of teasing out a candidates skills and experience in an interview is through use of competency/behavioural based questions. Instead of asking a candidate if they have “used the Relay system”, ask them to “tell you about their experience of working with that system”. By engaging with the candidate and asking them to tell you the “story” of their experience, it’s more likely that you’ll uncover any gaps in their knowledge or understanding of what may be a key “must-have” in your hiring criteria. Any true assessment of a candidate’s worth must include comparing how they measure against your hiring criteria and the best way of doing so is through competency based interviews.

Learning from previous hires.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well put simply it’s talking to the candidates you’ve hired in the last 12 months or longer and asking them what they remember that was exciting to them during the hiring process. What was different or unique about their role and about your company that drew them in? What potential pitfalls would they seek to avoid in assessing suitability and fit of any new potential hires. Why not ask them to rate their job satisfaction after six months with your firm? Your ability to retain good staff is directly linked to the hiring process and job satisfaction. One of the truest barometers for how well your hiring process is going is how many of your hires stick with the firm after 12 months. If you’re constantly backfilling your hires, then something is badly misfiring in the hiring process and any candidate that walks out the door within 12 months of joining your firm, ought to be considered a mis-hire. Having a structured exit interview whenever anyone is leaving your firm may also uncover some truths about your hiring model that otherwise may remain secret.

Onboarding carefully.

A lot of insurance companies depend on a structured, measured onboarding system to “bed in” their new hires. Usually these are conducted over a period of weeks in the office with several key stakeholders drafted in to train, upskill and mentor the new starters. Clearly this has proved more difficult in recent times with many firms resorting to virtual onboarding. A key feature in improving your chances of avoiding a mis-hire is setting clear expectations from the beginning and making your new hire accountable. Start off with small daily tasks that must be completed by a specified deadline. Then increase the targets incrementally and include several check back sessions allowing them time to absorb the training provided. Making one of your established team members accountable for a percentage of the new hires training will also ensure that they have a vested interest in the success of the onboarding process.

Finding a great Talent Partner.

Many insurance firms assume that the path to hiring success is to spread their job description out to several recruitment firms at once and have them compete in a race to see which one can get the best CV their inbox on time. Clearly there may be a perceived advantage in doing this because hey “we’ve all got databases” and by sending the role description to three or four agencies, this increases your chances of finding the right candidate. Right?? Well what if by appointing one agency, you made them truly accountable for that hire? Every insurance company is familiar with the concept of “shared risk”. By placing the responsibility for the success of that hire on one talent partner, you’re sharing the risk and making them accountable. To do this, you should pick a partner that understands implicitly what makes your company unique, understands the culture of the firm and what exactly, specifically and precisely a great employee for your business looks like. Do this and the chances of your new hire sticking around well beyond their probation period increases exponentially.

For a complimentary evaluation on your hiring process, we can improve your ability to attract great talent, call us on 01-9065116 or email [email protected]

Campbell Rochford – Turning Good To Great.

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