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Can the insurance industry be a great place to work?

There’s nothing more important to any company than its people – but how do you keep staff in the insurance industry happy? In this interview, Cameron McCullagh, executive chairman of EML, explains how the company earned its accolade of Top Insurance Employer, its upside-down pyramid model and training people with honest feedback.

 

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EML IB Top Insurance Employer 2021 

Danny: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Insurance Business Television. I am Danny Wood, news editor of Insurance Business Australia. And we're celebrating the winners in our Top Insurance Employers Award for 2021. One of the winners is EML, Australia's largest provider of personal injury claims management. And I'm joined by EML's Executive Chairman Cameron McCullagh. Welcome, Cameron, and congratulations. 
 

Cameron: [00:00:36] Thanks very much, Danny. It's a pleasure to be with you. 
 

Danny: [00:00:39] So what's the key to your win here and what makes EML such a good place to work? 
 

Cameron: [00:00:45] Well, we're delighted to have been recognized and we're constantly trying to improve what we do as a company. So I think it's not any one enormous thing. It's the fact that we're constantly going through a process of identifying what works for us and what doesn't work and seeking to enhance what we do well and minimize what we haven't done well. I think that's the big factor. And probably another another big thing is that we have owners in the business. Four of us are owners of the management company. And so we have people on the ground who actually can can do what we say we're going to do. So it's not merely a process of having a job. It's it's we're in it for decades and and really keep focusing on what makes us great in the medium term as long as as well as immediately. 
 

Danny: [00:01:38] One of the things you do at EML is you actually define an internal and an external purpose. Why is there that distinction? 
 

Cameron: [00:01:47] I think it gives people a balance. The external purpose is really about why we're why we're here as a company, what we do for society, why a person's job is important. And the internal purpose is really about the how about that the disciplines that are necessary to be able to do that higher purpose. So it creates a good if we merely did an external purpose, it wouldn't create the right disciplines. It would tell people what makes them feel good, but not the importance of everything they do each day. 
 

Danny: [00:02:22] You also structure your workplace around this concept of an upside down pyramid. And what exactly does that involve? 
 

Cameron: [00:02:30] Well, as a as it implies, it's an upside down pyramid. We're at the very top of it where a personal injury claims management company at the top of the case, managers who deal with people outside the business and at the very bottom of people like me and we. So the CEO, for example, is at the bottom of that pyramid and they seek to serve the people above them. And that to me is interesting, because all my writing shows me that all of happiness comes from serving other people. So we see that if if we serve each each of the people above us, ultimately it gets mirrored with the case managers at the very top. But it's not merely about that. Imagine if you have a culture where it's an upside down pyramid. What it means is that when you're thinking like about things like what you develop in a culture or where you spend resources, it's about spending resources, for example. It is a really good example. I've never been in a company where people are completely happy with it. So it's a world of limited resources and it's a matter of where you spend the money. And when you're focusing on those case managers, the people who actually serve our customers, you spend the money making it efficient and friendly for them rather than for people further down that upside down pyramid. 
 

Danny: [00:03:47] The other thing that I think you've suggested that that's good about this pyramid is that you've got the decision makers right next to the operations people. I mean, how does how does that work in reality? 
 

Cameron: [00:04:00] Well, it's it's everything's open plan, which is not unusual these days. But we've been up and planned for about 20 years. It's a really core part of our culture. And I think open plan is a physical thing, but it has to be married with the fact that if if you're walking around, that you actually acknowledge and engage with people at all levels and and have a chat, it creates a really open culture where people are happy to say what's working well and what's not working. I think Australians are by nature, not that we're quite an egalitarian people, or at least we we aspire to be egalitarian, so we like flat structures. And I think the nature of EML is a flat structure where people engage at all levels and it's your position is about the job that you do. And if you do it well, you should be respected. But, you know, you don't necessarily have any any different position because of a seniority. 
 

Danny: [00:04:56] One of the things you also do is you actually train people to give honest feedback. That must be a fairly diplomatic exercise. I mean, what's key in that process? 
 

Cameron: [00:05:07] Well, it's great if it's a diplomatic process, that's that's good. And it really gets to something which is core to who we are, our cultural sense, which on the face of it can sound confronting, but it's a sense of tough love in that we what we say to people is everyone says they've got integrity, but where the rubber hits the ground with integrity is that you're willing to have really tough discussions. And I don't think you can ever have them. And I would really like to stress that the first thing and the most important thing that has to come is that sense of love, you know, that you're really doing it for the right reasons. People are so hard coded to be able to pick up a lack of integrity. So if you're not doing it for the right purpose, people will bristle against it, not accept it. But if you are doing it with a real sense of of the right purpose, if I go back to our external purpose and internal purpose, our external purpose is to help people get their lives back as a personal injury claims management company. And our internal purpose is to help people develop personally and professionally. With both of those, it's really important to have tough discussions. So yes, we should do it really diplomatically. That means that we need to train our people to to have tough discussions very easily so that it's not like a pressure cooker. Things don't build up. And then they they burst out. They're happy to have what on the face of it, are tough discussions very quickly and without emotion and with really good integrity that they're wanting to help the people. So whether it's a person who has a worker's comp claim or it's a case manager who's who's not done something the best way, they need to have those tough discussions in a really quick and pleasant manner. 
 

Danny: [00:06:55] What other things are you doing inside your workplace to make it an attractive place to work? 
 

Cameron: [00:07:01] Well, if if we hadn't been in lockdown for so long, I'd say we celebrate success. Really? Well, that's increasingly difficult with COVID. We we have been famous for having fantastic parties, and I really look forward to getting back to that. I think a really big part of so much of your life is you work so much of your waking hours. And I think it's really important that it's it's it's also social that you like the people you work with. And, and when you do do well when you get great success. And we have got great success over the years as a company that we really celebrate the success. 
 

Danny: [00:07:37] I guess you've been doing a reasonably good job though, on Zoom and Skype and all the other video stuff, or has that been a bit of a chore? 
 

Cameron: [00:07:45] I've got to say, it's hard work. It's much nicer to catch up with people physically in the real world, and we've put a big effort into it because I think human beings are we're a pack animal with social beings, and I don't think we were designed to be locked up. And so we put a really big effort into to making sure that we have a lot of contact with people and opportunities for them to to connect with people and talk despite the fact that they've been in their own house. So it's intensity question. It's it's we've put a big effort in, but it is it is tough to keep going with opportunities for engagement. 
 

Danny: [00:08:23] You've obviously won this award being a great place to work, but you also do seem to do a very good job there. You've had a lot of success stabilising caseloads, but what do you see as as key to success in that area? 
 

Cameron: [00:08:37] It's an interesting business. It's it's incredibly rewarding to have that higher purpose of helping people get their lives back. It really gives people that sense of of doing something valuable. But it can be a really challenging job in terms of those tough discussions you've got to have with people and being in helping. You're really in a position where people can have had a very difficult situation in their life and you're there to help them. But what what defines helping is sometimes a bit confronting for them. So what's been most useful for us is spending a lot of money up front in training. So in teaching people the right behavioral techniques and the right technical expertise. And, and so it's a lot of it's about upfront investment in it and training and lower case loads. And it's all of those things make a really fundamental difference. It's workers compensation and the other classes of personal injury insurance, what's called a long tail insurance, and that what makes the difference is the big liability at the end of the tail. And if that's a smaller tail, more people have gotten back to work or they've got their lives back then you've done a good job. So it's really about the upfront investment to get the good results. 
 

Danny: [00:10:01] Well, thanks very much for joining us, Cameron, and congratulations again on the award. 
 

Cameron: [00:10:06] Thanks, Danny. I'm really, really chuffed to get the award and really appreciate the time you've put into it. 
 

Danny: [00:10:13] And that's Cameron McCullagh. He's executive chairman of EML. And EML is one of our top insurance employers for 2021. EML sounds like a really nice place to work, and they're doing important work in personal injury claims. Thanks for watching, everyone. Bye for now.