Opinion | This Baseball Manager Knows the Secret to Leadership Success

By: | December 3, 2018 • 2 min read

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

For a Dodgers fan, it’s painful heaping praise on anything Red Sox after this year’s disastrous World Series defeat to Boston.

But Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s story is so inspiring, so wonderfully deserving of praise and in need of repeating. His winning traits should serve as an example for all leaders, including those managing workers’ compensation programs.

Cora’s story is about creative management, personally engaging those he is charged with motivating, constructing a winning culture, and then reaping world-championship results.

For me, Cora’s passion for uniting diverse people is encouraging at a time when I feel unsettled watching our nation increasingly pulled apart by a leadership capitalizing on racial animosity and political divisiveness.

Cora is now one of only five rookie managers to win a World Series and the first Puerto Rican manager to do so.

He took the job agreeing to one of the lowest manager’s salaries in professional baseball and only one additional demand. He asked that a planeload of relief supplies be delivered to his hometown in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria’s devastation.

The Red Sox agreed. Cora came on board and rebuilt team culture with a player-centric approach. His humanity and the bond he developed with players gained their trust, making it easy to bring their concerns to him.

That approach shares common themes with the advocacy-focused workers’ compensation claims-management style gaining ground among employers.


Employers reshaping their companies’ workers’ compensation cultures with advocacy strategies report reduced litigation rates by engaging injured workers and cultivating trust by putting their needs first.

The correlation between building a winning baseball team and a successful workers’ compensation risk management culture doesn’t end there.

Cora’s World Series-winning management creativity reorganized traditional player roles. He disregarded baseball’s typical boundaries that separate starting pitchers from relievers, for example. He assigned individual pitchers to fulfill both roles and they succeeded.

Employers reshaping their companies’ workers’ compensation cultures with advocacy strategies report reduced litigation rates by engaging injured workers and cultivating trust by putting their needs first.

Workers’ comp management requires similar creativity. It takes innovation, for instance, to find new return-to-work roles when injured workers can’t perform normal duties. And we know there is no better way to improve overall workers’ comp results than by building a return-to-work program fitting the unique needs of a company and its workers.

There are other characteristics winning workers’ comp managers share with Cora’s style. For instance, he enhanced Boston’s use of analytics to find areas for program improvement.

As I write this column, sports reporters are asking whether Cora — who criticized President Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria — and his team will visit the White House, a tradition for World Series winning teams.

The baseball world and readers can decide how they feel about that outcome.

Me, I’m enjoying that Cora’s story shows the amazing results possible when a leader knows the value of unifying ethnically, racially and culturally diverse players behind a common goal.
If only this was a Dodger story. &

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.


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.


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]