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Principles for a Pandemic

Posted in Professional Development

Author: Andy Hamilton

Let’s state the obvious: This is an odd time.  

There’s never been an event that impacted all of humanity, all at once, like COVID-19 has. People were certainly anxious when the pandemic started, creating a nervous energy that prompted people into action. There was a feeling of “we can do this”, and a spirit of “we’re all in this together.”  As the pandemic has lingered on though, I’ve noticed those feelings waning.  People seem a bit battle worn, and uncertain of how to operate now.  While this coronavirus certainly is novel, we can look to history and experience for principles on managing tumultuous periods. 
Businesses that have accumulated birthdays, have accumulated knowledge. This knowledge makes them excellent guides for us on working through tough times.  The world’s oldest and still operating business is in Japan; the Koshu Nishiyama Inn that opened in 705 CE, and has been run by the same family since opening. One would guess they’ve seen a crisis or two, and have passed on their principles through the generations over those 1,300 years.  Similarly, J.M. Wilson is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and has also been owned and operated by the same family.  In looking for lessons on navigating turbulent times, I turned to our 3rd generation owner, David Wilson, for some guidance. Here’s what he had to say:

Question 1: J.M. Wilson has seen countless events that created uncertainty ( ie. Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam, LA Riots, Black Monday, 2008 Market Crash). What were the most impactful events for J.M. Wilson over the last 100 yrs? 
David Wilson:
Recessions are a consistent challenge that our company has had to manage over the years. Every recession is slightly different and being able to respond timely is imperative. Trying to discern the depth and length of a recession is always a challenge. This can also be the case with soft markets. There are always opportunities in difficult markets.

Question 2: Every crisis creates opportunities, but some companies are unable to capitalize on them. What opportunities do you see for MGA’s and Insurance agencies created by COVID-19?

David Wilson: The COVID-19 situation occurred just when the insurance market was hardening. COVID-19 will make the market harden quicker and deeper. There are too many unknowns on how claims will be adjudicated. Examples, among many, are D&O and Business Interruption. How will these coverages be addressed in our court system?
When reading through David’s first two answers above, he describes the challenges of estimating the length of any tumultuous period, as well as managing the unknowns of potential legal decisions.  Once again, history can help guide us:
Fear & Unknown Management: Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius ruled during a plague that lasted FIFTEEN years that had a mortality rate estimated at 3%. During this time, He wrote to himself, “Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.”   One way that an agency can alleviate fear and uncertainty among its staff is to plan, and plan OPENLY with them.  
Go through likely scenarios without picturing everything bad that could happen:
  • COVID-19 lasts, What is our plan to make sales, and ensure service levels are continually met?
  • COVID-19 improves, but in-person business is altered: What adjustments do we need to make to improve communication with clients. Are there other revenue streams that we should explore?
  • COVID-19 vaccine hits the market faster than anticipated, works, and herd immunity happens fast.  Is our agency ready to capitalize on the velocity of the economy and hardening market? How can we improve our current process model to support more business and customer growth? 
Discussing multiple scenarios and having a plan for each of them that was contributed to by your staff will not only help alleviate fear, but because it’s their plan, they’ll buy-in.  This will make them far more likely to execute in the face of adversity.  
Question 3: Who have been models for you & J.M. Wilson for leading in tumultuous times?
David Wilson: The founder of our company, James M. Wilson, is still the model for our company. Hard work, integrity and the belief that the insurance business has an integral part in making our country and our economic system great.
David points out that one of the character traits of founder J M Wilson, was his belief that he was doing something important and purposeful
Grit Through Purpose: In Angela Duckworth’s fantastic book, Grit, she says: “To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.”  
In another example, Gertrude Ederle broke the record for swimming across the cold and wavy English Channel; TWO HOURS FASTER than any man, at age 19.  She had to abort her 1st attempt at crossing but didn’t give up. After her 2nd attempt that shattered the record, she told the press simply “I knew it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”  Looking closely at her words, you can feel her purpose “it had to be done”; that kind of conviction delivers the grit necessary to overcome.
As insurance agents, we serve a vital role in securing and progressing the economy. Without the hard work that we put in each day, our economic systems (from the larger global, to the smaller local community) would be far more unstable.  We protect physical assets, financial assets, as well as dreams.  We are in a highly unique role, where we get to see the details of lives and industries up close, and that is a privilege that ignites purpose. As we continue to maneuver through this new pandemic, let’s remember to look to experience and history for guidance and principles. 

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