Risk Insider: Jim Cunningham

Failing Forward

By: | May 18, 2015 • 2 min read
A vice president of enterprise risk management for Pinnacle Entertainment, Jim Cunningham has more than 18 years of hospitality risk and insurance management experience, including work with Harrah’s Entertainment, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Interstate Hotels and Resorts.

I recently attended a conference of insurance professionals and the conversation centered around “Big Data.” It was a captivating presentation that only a risk and insurance professional could love. It certainly got my attention and it got me thinking about how I collect and use data to identify exposures in my work.

Risk management sets itself up to be the poster child for big data. As risk professionals we’ve been using big data for decades.

Through modeling, trending, forecasting, and claims management we have been on the forefront of what just now seems to be getting everyone else’s attention. And with the cost of technology so cheap, the ability to collect all types of data is mind boggling.

But this lends itself to the question, “Just because I can measure and model it….do I need to?”

Let me explain.

It was during this conference that a data specialist discussed the use of big data and how his company had applied it to a model to validate the impacts of water run-off and flooding. After collecting their data and running it through a model they were able to say definitively that water tends to pool at the lowest elevations.

Further, if a building is constructed in these low zones it is more likely than not that they will be adversely affected by floods versus building on higher ground.

Really? You needed to model that theory?

Now to be fair their work wasn’t finished. They are still working on positive impacts of a variety of options for engineering controls. Clearly, that will be useful when it comes time to design, budget, and build in these areas.

Through modeling, trending, forecasting, and claims management we have been on the forefront of what just now seems to be getting everyone else’s attention.

We are all working hard each day to identify and control risks to our company. And big data has a place, a very important place, in our work.

But as I listened to this presentation I wondered if maybe we are becoming too dependent on technology, models and big data and losing a skill that is just as important.

I call it battle scars but you know it as real experience. It has been said that we don’t learn from success; we learn from failure.

Now that doesn’t mean we have to experience a total loss in a flood zone to learn it’s not a good idea…especially if high ground is just down the block. But the lessons learned from battle scars can be invaluable.

That’s why I think, in addition to the collection and use of big data, it is just as important to set up environments where it is safe to experiment. Try new things. And know that you will fail. But failing is learning. It’s a good thing.

Just try to fail fast, fail cheap, and fail forward.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]