That’s All She Wrote: Best Year in History

By Rekha Skantharaja Schipper, CEO

I won’t kid you. I didn’t think 2018 would be a breakout year. For one, we had one of our most challenging January seasons since I had come to the Company. Rates were the lowest in years, capacity was plentiful and more folks were entering our specialty segments. As I looked at our team’s post mortem of Q1, I remember having a sinking feeling. But true to our nature, that sinking feeling was soon followed by our team’s steely determination and the urgent desire to succeed in spite of the environment. Excuses need not enter, only scrappy hustlers welcome here.

Our team quickly got to work pivoting, re-forming strategies around the new data points and exploiting other parts of the organization that could outperform the traditional “bread-winning” programs. We looked for more ways to diversify our business, speed into markets that made sense for our business and generally do more with less. There were many late nights, stops and starts, a few freak-outs and, on occasion, some giant glasses of wine. But in that adversity, there also emerged a shared sense of purpose and hard-fought accomplishment.

I am proud to say that our Company moves into 2019 with the strongest financial performance in our 20 year history, with a tribe of audacious leaders reaching for the stars and a team that is daring ourselves to do it again, and do it better.

Performance Management, A Better Way

In the spring of 2015, I was browsing the magazine stand at an airport and picked up a copy of the Harvard Business Review (HBR). I’ll admit, this was bought alongside a copy of People magazine. The cover of story of HBR was “Reinventing Performance Rankings, A Radical New Way to Evaluate Talent”. I intuitively knew that our performance management process was archaic, ineffective and cumbersome. But after reading the study, there was clear empirical evidence and motivation to rethink our peer feedback and annual review process.

Fast forward to 2018, we have been working in a brand new paradigm for 3 years. And it’s been a game changer when it comes to delivering and soliciting feedback, uncovering issues and opportunities and spotting leadership talent – in the here and now. We call it the “Feedback Frame”. It happens every 90 days for every employee in the organization. Gone is the complex scoring system that spits out a single composite number. And the new process is intended to mitigate the inherent bias of the manager giving the feedback. With 3 parties contributing (employee, manager and teammates), there is a more well-rounded view of the employee’s performance. The template is simple and the conversations are richer because we focus on accomplishments, behaviors, and stumbles that are happening in recent days or weeks.

If you believe that people are your greatest asset, then performance intelligence is your compass to success. Get religion around this, and all other things will follow.

No More Death by Meetings

I know we are not the only organization who has struggled with meetings. Too many meetings, not enough productive meetings, and meetings after the meeting…it was getting out of control. In early 2018, we completely changed how we ran our meetings by utilizing the methodology from the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). We adopted the Level 10 (or L10) structure which means our gathering would happen on the same day, at the same time and with the same agenda. The “Level 10” relates to each participant rating the meeting at its conclusion, hopefully garnering a perfect score. The L10 agenda lends itself to a well-structured, precisely timed meeting that includes a quick ice breaker, people & product headlines, a review of quarterly initiatives and the Company’s scorecard. But the breakthrough portion of the meeting comes in the IDS (Identify, Define, & Solve). This is where we harness the group’s power to problem solve and get to root issues.

The tools in EOS aren’t magical, but they can be transformative if you stay disciplined and follow the system. We have bought back countless hours of productivity and found a way to effectively and efficiently run meetings that our people actually want to attend.

Diversify, but Know Who You Are

The last few years have left us with a crowded and price depressed market. But with the increased commoditization of insurance products and so called “disruptors” invading insurance, the benefit has been a mandate to get better, faster, and stronger in our business.

Faced with slowing growth in our traditional programs, we seized the opportunity to diversify into adjacent spaces that would make sense to our distribution partners and take advantage of our current infrastructure. It is clear that our core value is specialization in niche industries and the ability to deliver product and service expertise to those specific customers. To veer too widely from that center, would be a mistake.

We identified two new program opportunities that closely related to their more established predecessors. Our allied health program is a natural progression from our deeply rooted social services program and our transportation program is a close cousin to our growing propane & fuel oil dealer program. I’m excited that these emerging programs (and more to come!) will deliver meaningful solutions to the brokers who know us and need us.

That’s a Wrap

This year, I’ve taken myself off the “proverbial” year-end merry go round. It doesn’t feel like “yet” another year, another holiday party, another budget met (which by the way, is easy to feel as we all run on the hamster wheel).

This time around, I am even more grateful for our hard-won financial success. I am humbled by our ability to persevere and pivot. And I am excited to toast this year’s life moments and milestones in our team. After all, it is the life lived and shared among us that makes it all worthwhile. And by that measure, this business has given the Tangram tribe a collective purpose to contribute, to rise and to reach.

I’d like to say happy holidays to all. Thank you for your partnership and your inspiration throughout 2018. You’ll find me with a glass of champagne celebrating the “now” and of course, already starting to build towards “what’s next” in 2019. Cheers!

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