Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Welcoming John Ruser to WCRI

The Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), was founded in 1983. as workers' compensation was in the realm of 70 years old in North America. Essentially, it is a think-tank focused on the accumulation of workers' compensation data. I was privileged to speak at their annual conference the first week of March, 2015. I met and discussed workers' compensation with a veritable plethora of workers' compensation thought-leaders from across the continent. 

The presentations were interesting and diverse. There is great coverage of the program on workcompwire.com. Researchers and experts presented on fee schedules, surgery costs, hospital costs, and the Affordable Care Act. There were statistics, data compilations, bar graphs, studies, conclusions, predictions, and more. 

Certainly, you might take issue with various conclusions, or various approaches regarding data. In the business of analyzing data, there will be choices made. That is what makes research an academic study from which conclusions can be drawn, rather than scientific proof positive of any singular conclusion. 

How one defines parameters, asks questions, and presents conclusion may support a population of conclusions. Different definitions, questions and approaches might yield differing conclusion from the same or similar data. This is a strength of research, it yields conversation and debate. These are healthy. 

Recently, WorkCompCentral published Stakeholders Object to Decision to Leave Physician Dispensing Alone for Two Years. It is an illustration of data use and discussion in workers' compensation. The story describes data produced by the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission and data from WCRI. The two sets of data led to discussion of physician dispensing. That the two data sets supported different conclusions did not not necessarily mean either is "right" or "wrong." Data is collected based on parameters. Analysis of data has scientific aspects, but results are subject to interpretation. 

WCRI obtains data from various states, and from the workers' compensation industry. They also undertake studies that involve surveys and investigations regarding individual and group experiences in the workers' compensation marketplace. They have eyes and ears on the nation's systems. Their actuaries are focused on trying to interpret the data that emanates from the various states' efforts to manage the various contingencies and variations of workers' compensation. 

Part of the program last week was a tribute to, or recognition of, the efforts and contributions of Richard Victor. Mr. Victor will soon be transitioning to a less-active role in WCRI. The organization has undertaken a thoughtful and focused search for a new leader, and is now engaging in a patient process for transition to new leadership.  

The WCRI tribute to Richard Victor was prompted by his decision to pass the leadership baton in coming months. In 2014 WCRI started a methodical search for new leadership. In February 2015 WCRI announced that Richard Victor was being promoted to CEO, and that John Ruser has been named to Mr. Victor's former position, Executive Director. The plan, as I understand it, is that about a year out, Mr. Victor will move from the fore, and Mr. Ruser will assume the position of CEO and become both the leader and public face of WCRI.

Four members of the WCRI Board took the stage last week in Boston to discuss the contributions that Mr. Victor has made to the national debate of workers' compensation. Though some anticipated something of a "roast," the comments highlighted dedication and focus. There were anecdotes, accolades and remembrances. Believe it or not, Richard Victor has been at the helm of WCRI since it was formed 32 years ago. 

Following the comments from the Board, Mr. Victor took the stage to acknowledge the praise and comments. He was quick to point out the successes of WCRI results from the efforts of a great many individuals. He mentioned several by name, describing the composition and contributions of the team. The WCRI team of researchers and writers is formidable. The graciousness of Mr. Victor's comments were typical of his persona over the relatively brief time that I have known him. 

In business school, it is an oft-studied conundrum when a founding chief executive must be replaced. Replacing any CEO is challenging enough. Replacing a founding CEO is only more so. One theory of minimizing the impact of such change is that "replacement" is impossible. Face it, there will always be one Henry Ford, one Herb Kelleher, one Oprah Winfrey, one Walt Disney. Taking over from a founder like these is a challenge of epic proportions. 

Mr. Ruser will be many things. He will be the second person to helm the organization, a leader, a sounding-board, a course-setter, and more. But he will not be Richard Victor. He will be second-guessed and questioned. This will have nothing to do with who he is or what he knows. Though Mr. Ruser does not come from a workers' compensation background per se, neither did Mr. Victor when he came to WCRI thirty-two years ago from the Rand Corporation. 

There will be questions because Mr. Ruser lacks something, but it is the same something that any new WCRI CEO would have lacked. Mr. Ruser is not Richard Victor. It will be important for the industry to remember this, to accept this, and to understand that no one else is Richard Victor, and this is not a failing. Things may be different, but different in itself is not a bad thing.

There is not yet the technology or will to clone Mr. Victor. I would suggest to everyone that even if we could, it would be unwise. Organizations are dynamic, and need to be dynamic. The change of leadership will strengthen the WCRI. I know that because Richard Victor told the whole assemblage in Boston last week. 

He explained and stressed that WCRI is a team. He identified  some of the many who have contributed to the success of the organization. His description substantiates an organization that has a focus, a mission, and principles. He assures us that these will remain consistent. The leadership of a diverse Board will continue. 

The Board's thoughtfulness about this transition is obvious. It conducted a patient and thorough search for a new Executive Director. It made that search very public. It adopted and publicized a model in which Mr. Victor remains as senior leadership through a year-long transition designed to contribute to continuity at the organization and team-building. 

There will be changes. The organization will adapt to new leadership and nuances may shift. The principles of the mission will remain. The market should welcome Mr. Ruser, and accept at the outset that he will be many things. The one thing he will not be is Mr. Victor. The market should accept and embrace that this is a truth, and that the future nonetheless may hold great things. 

There will still be disagreement about the how and when of studies. There will be room for discussion, debate, and interpretation. That is what data is for. Great minds within and without WCRI will bring their conclusions, after study of the WCRI and other data. Some will find various data persuasive, others will find shortcomings. But, they will all discuss it. The interpretation, debate, and conversation will be beneficial to the ongoing discussions of what workers' compensation is. 

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