The Agile and the Dead
Jun 25, 2020

Change itself is changing. A Russian philosopher by the name of Vladimir Lenin once noted that there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen*. Virtually every type of business, from universities to high end retail, is changing intimate aspects of its long-standing operational models. A new report from McKinsey Digital provides a typical example:


One European variety-store chain, for example, established a fully functioning e-commerce business in just three months. The online business was interconnected across all functions (warehousing, merchandising, marketing, customer support, et cetera) and improved basket size over physical stores by three times as well as delivering nearly 3 percent like-for-like revenue growth in its main market.

The report does not tell us, however, whether the risk management staff, poor dears, survived the transformation.

COVID has plunged every type of business into a dramatic push-pull change marathon with its clients and suppliers and, more often than not, its workforce. The McKinsey report speaks of "reimagining customer journeys" and new safety requirements. Not that long ago, we lived in a world of polite, almost leisurely annual stewardship meetings between risk managers and program TPAs or brokers and carriers. My, wasn't that a different world?

Our point here is that you, as a risk manager or program director, need to be reimagining how you work with your program components and your colleagues in marketing, ops, and HR. A few years ago, interactive analytic claim reporting was a nice to have. Now it's a need to have. Having ERM reporting seemed like a good idea you might get around to. Having full policy reporting online might be OK but no big rush. Not so now. Are you talking to your major risk partners about tightening reporting, getting more day to day information online? Are you making your department more agile as part of your company's need to move faster, to identify and deal with the new risks inherent in new business models?

McKinsey talks about CDOs and CIOs standing up agile teams to execute urgent priorities. Well, shucks, they forgot to mention risk managers in all that good advice. Don't let your organization make the same oversight. Be noisy if you have to, but be at the table.

Yes, it can get messy, but that same Russian reminded us that you can't make a revolution in white gloves - and that's what we're doing, making a revolution in managing risk.

*My thanks to Paul Carroll of ITL for reminding me of the wit and wisdom of Lenin. Scary how often he was right. Uh, Lenin, that is.


You Forgot What?

Back in the days before everything was online, if you were in Washington, DC, for an event - a charity ball at the Finnish Embassy, for example - and your spouse forgot something a touch unusual, so you went straight to the concierge at the Willard Hotel*. Everyone knew that the suave concierge behind that giant mahogany desk could locate anything, call the vendor, and have it all arranged in moments. Well, the concierge idea is back, with a twist, in, of all places, workers' comp.

The concept is pretty simple, really. Let's treat the claimant more like a client and less like an inconvenience who may be a fraudster to boot. An excellent article in Risk&Insurance asks the question: is concierge service a realistic 'next step' for the worker advocacy movement?

What do we mean by the concierge concept in comp? In the words of Courteney Du Chene's analysis in R&I, "It's the simple things of showing respect, building rapport, being timely in our responses back to the injured worker, whether we're the doctor, the claims handler or even the clinical case management support." Now this is not the same thing as concierge medicine on the family practice side, a seriously more expensive model, but it does have important points in common:


Advocacy - the claims adjuster actively helps the claimant through the complex and often confusing claims process.


Timely - the comp claims process has a well-earned reputation for being dilatory, seldom speeding past the miracle of first class mail, but the "concierge" makes it happen in something closer to human time.


Claimant convenience - arranging the process, as far as feasible, in ways that work for the claimant around issues like child care or transportation.


Quality - insisting on best practices by all parties.

I can hear the old timers scoffing about fraud from here, but consider this from Matt Zender, SVP at Am Trust: "Some of the changes will come down to trust on both sides. I think that the injured workers will have to trust that the system that is in place is truly looking out for their best interests, and I think that the system will have to trust that injured workers' aren't trying to take advantage of them."

Trust - now there's a radical concept, but how much of the delay and rework factor in comp comes from assuming that everyone is a fraudster when the best expert estimates put the overall rate of fraud in comp at 1 to 2%? Your humble scribe had a horrendous, nearly career-ending work injury many years ago. I was treated as a supplicant seeking crumbs from the corporate table during my half year recovery. Do you want your people to have the same kind of sour experience?

*Yep - true story and a total life saver.

a photograph of the Willard hotel's lobby

The Willard. The concierge is just around the corner from the front desk.


Quick Take 1:
A Sidelight from Sweden

My great grandfather, Karl Anton, migrated from Sweden back in 1888. He always claimed that all the smart Swedes left, but a research article in the current Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) suggests that some thoughtful Swedes remain. JOEM requires a membership, but a great summary of the research can be found in without the supporting methodological discussion - a pretty good deal actually.

The research team from the Karolinska Institutet looked into a question closely related to our first item above: how and why corporate boards of directors engage in developing and overseeing occupational health and safety (OHS). The corporations interviewed were Swedish, but the lessons learned have a much broader application. From the summary: "The study provides a unique perspective from the boardroom on the reasons why corporate leadership engage in OHS. 'Boards continuously prioritize among multiple foci,' Dr. Lornudd and coauthors write. 'If a board's total engagement is likened to a pie, the size of the OHS slice will depend on the drivers, as well as on the influencing factors.'

The drivers noted above can be as prosaic as legal compliance or as altruistic as "it's the right thing to do." Your author has been quite happily surprised by that last item many times in working with US corporations. Who should be better at helping boards and C-suite execs understand the right thing - for employees and customers alike - than you, their expert risk manager? Indeed, if not you, then who?


Quick Take 2:
For Every Ill There's a Pill and a Bill

The following may sound like an HR problem, but is it really? Here's the stat from late May, courtesy Market Watch: "The number of prescriptions for antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications filled per week increased 21% between Feb. 16 and March 15, 2020, according to a recent report by Express Scripts, " If we poke inside the headlines, we see that anti-anxiety drugs saw the biggest spike, jumping 34.1%, which was more than double the number of insomnia aids (14.8%), and almost twice as high as antidepressants (18.6%).

So? Well, common side effects of these drugs include dizziness and sleepiness. That's no surprise since anti-anxiety drugs are classic downers. How many of these drugs have recently been prescribed for your fellow employees who drive, operate heavy machinery, or use machine tools when they're back on the job? How many do construction - you know, climbing around half-built structures? Swinging nail guns? Stuff like that? Or work directly (Zoom or otherwise) with critical clients?

It's a pretty good bet, based on what we see in the high level stats, that the use of anti-anxiety medications is a bigger risk than ever for your people. What are you doing about this as you re-open for "normal" operations? Are your safety teams on top of the issue? Maybe all of these pills are being taken only by people still at home under lockdown and they stop well before returning for regular duty, but do you want to bet on that? Just thinking about it might make you reach for a pill, eh?


Say It Isn't So...

Now this is serious. NCCI released their advisory on reporting 8871 Telecommuting Class Code for in-home workers last month. In California, this becomes effective 01/01/2021, but check for other states as well. Working from home is becoming a serious part of comp now.

 dilbert cartoon about working from home



Words to Remember

The medieval Persian poet, Sa'di, lived in times even more turbulent than ours (think: Mongol invasions, entire cities put to the sword), but here is what he wrote in his greatest work, The Paradise Garden:

Created from one essence, people are members of a single body.
Should one member suffer pain, the rest shall, too.
You who feel no sorrow for the distress of others,
Cannot be called human beings.

In these days, we should strive to recall Sa'di's wisdom. Funny how little difference 800 years makes in knowing ourselves.



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