Culture eats strategy for breakfast: Why insurers should take note of Peter Drucker's adage

Culture eats strategy for breakfast: Why insurers should take note of Peter Drucker's adage | Insurance Business

Culture eats strategy for breakfast: Why insurers should take note of Peter Drucker

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. What did renowned management consultant and writer Peter Drucker mean when he said that? It’s not that strategy is unimportant, but rather that culture is the enabler of strategy and the key to organizational success. This is just as true in insurance as it is in other industries.

“In looking at high performing insurers across markets, across lines of business, customer segments and geographies, culture is critically important - as important, or more important, than strategy and perhaps even execution,” said Bill Pieroni (pictured), president and CEO of ACORD (Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development) - the global standards-setting body for the insurance and related financial services industries.

In a recent ‘Ask Bill Anything’ webinar, Pieroni discussed the idea of “high skill, high will talent,” which he believes directly relates to the type of empowering culture that can really eat strategy for breakfast.

“There are a number of ways to segment talent – tenure, attitudinal, change readiness, psychographics, demographics – but at ACORD [which has 36,000+ insurance members worldwide], through countless studies, we’ve found the most impactful and actionable ways to segment colleagues is really looking across the dimensions of skill and will,” said Pieroni. 

“When we talk about skill, we mean the capacity and the competency of an organization, of a team, and of an individual to execute and achieve goals and objectives. Will - the underlying motivation - of the firm, the team, and the individual, is really looking at how motivated they are. Incidentally, ACORD studies found that the best measure of employee motivation is whether or not colleagues give their discretionary time. Are they there not because they need to be there, but because they want to be there and because they understand the importance of being there?”

Read next: Why does ACORD CEO Bill Pieroni dislike price competition?

The CEO went on to describe four quadrants: one, with high skill and high will, which he said is “the ideal place to be”; the second, with low skill and high will; a third, with high skill and low will; and the fourth quadrant, which nobody wants, with low skill and low will.

“High skill, high will [is] where you’ve colleagues or teams or groups of individuals, that are highly motivated and they know what they’re doing,” Pieroni explained. “High performers want three things: they want to be measured, they want to have impact, and they want to be relevant. In order to sustain colleagues in that high skill, high will quadrant, it’s important [for insurance organizations] to have explicit measurements that are communicated, [so that employees] understand that they’re having an impact, and that it matters that they’re there.”

The low skill, high will quadrant “isn’t necessarily a bad position to be in,” according to Pieroni. These employees, while they might not have the capacity or competency to achieve specific goals, are highly motivated and therefore likely to engage in training and talent development. Insurers that invest in employee training and support will not only shore up their culture, but they will also enhance the capacity and competency of their workforce, which is key to organizational success. 

Read more: Evolve or fall short, says ACORD CEO

“High skill, low will – these are people and teams that know what they’re doing but aren’t necessarily motivated and certainly aren’t giving discretionary time,” Pieroni added. “This can be tricky because there’s no one way to re-engage [a de-motivated employee]. No-one starts a job disliking it and dreading going to work. We all start with great enthusiasm, but there is a plateau that people can reach. Trying to understand what de-motivated someone - and there is a profound difference between what motivates and what de-motivates – and getting them to re-engage is very difficult.”

Finally, the low skill, low will quadrant is pretty much dead weight. These are individuals that don’t have the capacity or competency to do their jobs well, and they aren’t motivated to learn and acquire the necessary skills. Pieroni pointed out: “Unfortunately, oftentimes it requires an exiting of those colleagues because oftentimes, there’s just insurmountable amount of investment time and resources required to actually turn that around.”

Taking this back to how culture eats strategy for breakfast. Insurance organizations with a powerful and empowering culture are more likely to attract and retain talent in the high skill, high will quadrant, which in turn, is more likely to lead to strategic and operational excellence.