Friday, November 20, 2015

First We Try, Then We Trust

The Claims Administration Committee at SAWCA's All Committee Conference Thursday (11.19.15) presented Steve Heinen with contributions by Bob Wilson and Wade McGuffey, Esq. It was an interesting mix of material. 

Mr. Heinen is an insurance broker and trainer. He missed his calling. He should be doing two shows a night in Vegas, it was that funny. Steve has a way of plucking a humorous anecdote from his life experience to add to the mix as he progresses through a presentation. Yesterday, he was on the subject of a safety culture in America and pointed out some challenges we will face.

He finds it ironic that most of our effort in this industry is focused on a very small number of claims. We have all heard this before, but Steve used a pyramid structure to illustrate. The top, very tip, of the pyramid is the litigated claims that consume so much resource and attention. Below this is the lost time claims, then the medical only claims, then the first-aid claims, then the near-misses, and the foundation is the safety culture. 

Just when you thought you had his pyramid analogy in focus, he switches rafts mid-stream and asks the audience to picture it instead as an iceberg where everyone is focused on the litigated claims "tip" visible to the world, and there is a very large portion of the iceberg that is under the water line and receiving little attention. He cautioned us that this is backward thinking, and that greater focus on the larger part of the pyramid might have a marked effect on the much smaller litigated claims portion. 

Mr. Heinen used an interactive PowerPoint that allowed the audience to participate in the program and add their perceptions and conclusions. This was in real-time and made for some interesting discussion. One example was was the physician choice variations among the states. He presented the question of whether the audience preferred employer or employee choice, tabulated votes, and presented a graphic to illustrate how the distribution is today. This generated thoughts and discussion from the audience. 

The consensus seemed to be that whichever party picks the physician, there is a good probability that the other party will have trust issues with that provider. Examples came from the audience, explaining individual state's selection process, from employer chosen doctors, or employer chosen doctor panels to employee choice. In each paradigm, there were descriptions of corresponding trust issues. 

Steve seized on that, and his presentation was intertwined with examples for building better trust in the employment relationship, before the near miss or accident, in the safety culture. 

Bob Wilson, from WorkersCompensation.com, followed Steve for a quick speech. Bob is a gifted speaker with an ability to find the tight humorous anecdote to slip into a theme. He spoke of a television show involving company CEOs that go "under cover" in their own companies to find ways to improve their business. He related that the show tends to reveal issues, which the CEO repairs and that each show includes both a raft of employee complaints and a happy-ending conclusion. 

He described one show in which the subject of a workers' compensation claim was mentioned. This company was led by the son of its founder. This son and CEO was undercover when a worker mentioned the work accident that occurred years earlier when the CEO's father was living and running the company. Bob said he momentarily expected a "horror story" such as those about other employment issues in various episodes.

Instead, he said, this employee described the time immediately after the accident. The CEO did two things that changed the course of that recovery. He called the injured worker at the hospital and the worker's spouse at home. His brief, simple message to each was in the same spirit: the company hates that you are hurt, the company values you as part of a team/family, the company is going to take care of you, and will see you back at work. 

Mr. Wilson then tied that back to Steve Heinen's message, trust. Trust can be difficult. In a 1999 movie, Entrapment, starring  Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the story of a master thief mentoring a young protege is told against the backdrop of stunning scenery and romantic tension. Early in the mentor/protege relationship, trust is discussed, and Sean Connery, in that trademark voice with eye-twinkling countenance says "first we try, then we trust." 

So, actions (try) perhaps are the key to trust? Perhaps actions speak louder than words?

Wade McGuffey is a defense attorney from Georgia. He took the stage and discussed mathematical issues for a time. He touched on major contributing cause, apportionment of pre-existing conditions and prior work injuries, and contribution among multiple employers for resulting disabilities and expenses. Then, true to Steve Heinen's theme of trust, he related some anecdotes as well. 

In one, he described an employer who has instituted a "warm up" program in which all employees before a shift do some stretching and preparation together. He said that this company used to provide his firm significant business as the result of accidents, but not so much since this program was instigated. The program builds trust as it demonstrates an interest in employee well-being. 

It is possible that the stretching better prepares those bodies for the tasks ahead on that shift. Is it also possible that there is value in the employees knowing that the employer cares about them and is willing to invest time and money in their well-being? Perhaps the attitude demonstration is as beneficial as the stretching?

These are a few memorializations of three hours of presentation and discussion. The theme of trust raised so many examples from the audience and the speakers. These were in various workers' compensation relationships between employer and employee, doctors, and more. The result was a conversational and intriguing discussion of where claims management, or perhaps just plain management, stands today in workers' compensation and through what successful courses that path to success might pass.