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Radical Candor: The Key Going Forward for Insurtech

By Sam White, Founder and CEO, Freedom Brokers, Action 365 and Pukka Insure

Sam White, Founder and CEO, Freedom Brokers, Action 365 and Pukka Insure

I read a really interesting article the other day about Kim Scott, The New York Times bestselling author and former Google and Apple employee and her new form of management performance enhancement. Scott advocates ‘Radical Candor’—the business of ‘how to get what you want by saying what you mean.’ Sounds obvious does it not? But, you would not believe how many people set out in business without this approach.

Reading the article made me realize that unwittingly, my business, The Freedom Group (parent company of an insurance provider and associated services), has been organically deploying this strategic approach, particularly over the last 12 months and here is why I think it works.

"Radical candor works best when you operate from an open minded position of trust"

We are a relatively small organization with a team of 245 people, many of whom have worked or known me for a very long time, and as my LinkedIn posts probably demonstrate there is an awful lot of love that f lows between us. We like to think of ourselves as a family, and as with most families, we definitely do have our disagreements. But what I have found recently, particularly around the launch of our startup MGA and our own brokerage that we have begun to really engage in honest feedback with each other. I am pretty vocal about the fact that I do not like traditional performance reviews and even some of the more recent concepts such as 360 feedback, which I think can just lead to a form of bullying and points scoring if the team dynamic is not where it needs to be—does not really hit the mark for me.

In my view, the critical point in any relationship— business or personal—is that you are able to communicate how you feel and for the person you are communicating with to be able to receive it in the way it is intended. This is even more important when involved in a startup, particularly when in the case of insurtechs, where we are trying to merge a very traditional market place with cutting-edge technology.

Take the process of automating a customer journey as an example. It is critical that individuals with experience of the insurance journey and nuances are able to help guide the developers as to what barriers could be there when they are trying to deploy the tech. But, the experienced people also need to accept that the solution may be there in a form they have never even contemplated. They need to be able to hear each other and properly consider all the options in order to collaborate effectively.

Time and time again, I have seen the conflicts and disfunction that can occur when two extremely intelligent competent individuals try to collaborate but are coming from very different places with vastly different experiences, and they are not working from a baseline of open communication and trust. Such an innocuous little five letter word, yet it is so hard to win, and it is so easily lost. I encourage my team to work from a position of trusting one another and themselves until proven otherwise.

For me personally, I operate best with the unvarnished truth, and as long as it is delivered with the right intent, I am happy to receive it. My general experience is this is much more likely if people have a genuine affection for you.

I am known in my team as being very enthusiastic, particularly about new concepts, but this can sometimes be exhausting for them. They have to feel safe to tell me if they have not got the bandwidth to deliver on some of my grander plans and also to red flag me when I am clearly heading on a track and path that will not be effective.

I think because we genuinely believe we all have the company’s best interests at heart but also that we care about each other as individuals and want each other to individually succeed, we are able to cut through a lot of this stuff a lot more easily. Radical candor works best when you operate from an open-minded position of trust.

I am by no means the first to acknowledge the challenges that the old school insurance industry faces. Known for being pale, male, and stale, the insurance industry gets a hard time, and it should. I am often highlighting our flaws myself, and I am not alone. I think so many of us, who are au fait with the wider financial services industry recognize the need for fundamental changes within our walls, especially if we want to continue to attract and retain the best talent out there. But, the one hugely significant and beautiful characteristic that I have always found is that insurance is a people and relationships based business so for all the advancement in tech, we still heavily rely on these human characteristics to drive us forward in business.

The insurance industry has a lot to do over the next few years to catch up with the rest of the business world, which means new individuals with different personalities and competencies and if they cannot quickly get to healthy feedback the industry will not survive. The onus is naturally on insurtech startups to lead the charge in this. We can and should do better to allow new concepts and different people into our world, or I genuinely believe that we will suffer in a vastly and rapidly changing landscape. And I think Radical Candor may just hold the key.

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