Column: Risk Management

Hoodies and Brandy

By: | September 14, 2016 • 5 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I recently returned from California where I had fabulous meetings with some fabulous companies. One meeting in particular stood out.

I was providing risk management advice to a rapidly growing technology company. When I arrived for the meeting, I was greeted by the CEO and chairman of the board. I confess I did a double-take: In front of me was a very young man, sporting a “man-bun,” wearing a grey hoodie and flips flops.

Maybe it was my East Coast corporate conservatism? Maybe I was not cool enough to fully appreciate the West Coast carefree attitude? Maybe I’ve been too conditioned to how a board chairman should appear?

Most of us have been groomed to think that once we served our time in a C-suite and near retirement that it is only then we get the time-honored privilege to join a board and coast through retirement imparting our vast knowledge and experience with a cigar and brandy in hand.

So when my new friend complained how old he felt to be the board chair at age 28, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Being years his senior it pained me to hear that.

But after hearing his company’s numbers, soon to be a $100 million in revenue company in only a few years, I felt less pain but much pride, proving that age and freshness can in fact be a great asset.

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It has been long argued that a lack of diversity on boards, long tenure and inadequate board composition create a risk that boards will lose independence from management.

The idea of diversity and inclusivity is very much part of our national discourse today. But what my encounter helped me frame was that we tend to think of diversity as a proper blend of gender, race and abilities.

We seem to speak less about having a mix of age groups representing us.

The fundamental purpose of a board is to guard investors’ and consumers’ interests. The board should reflect those who fuel and support your company — the customers and the society it serves.

Having too many like-minded people, the same age, who come from the same background, can lead to a blind groupthink that can fail to hold management accountable and ask tough, pertinent questions.

It was no surprise when I recently read a “Financial Times” analysis of data by the shareholder advisory group ISS Analytics that showed U.S. boards are “maler, staler and frailer” than their European counterparts.

The analysis said these directors, on average, are less independent-minded. It is no coincidence that shareholders of Chipotle Mexican Grill, recently plagued with a series of food safety problems, blamed a stale, insular board of directors for failing to move fast enough to address problems.

If I learned one thing from my recent meeting, it’s that 20 is the new 40. Push aside some of the brandy and cigars. Make room for the hoodies and flip flops.&

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]