Organizational Change Management and the New Continuous Improvement Model: New York City Ideas Luncheon Playbook

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In July 2013, SSA & Company, in partnership with Marsh Inc., hosted a group of executives from the Insurance industry in New York City for a discussion on organizational change management.

The roundtable featured Claude Wade, Chief Operating Officer of Marsh US and Canada. The discussion was hosted by Dave Niles, President of SSA & Company and G100 Companies, and moderated by John Rodgers, Senior Managing Director of SSA & Company.


Continuous improvement is becoming increasingly important – partly because driving efficiencies is critical in today’s flat market – but mainly because of a dramatic shift in business strategy. For years, companies followed a playbook of creating and protecting one sustainable competitive advantage, and the continuous improvement efforts to support that model focused on improving existing processes. By contrast, today’s leading companies employ a much different growth strategy – one that seeks to understand where customers are going, involves constant iteration of new products and creates learning cycles. In this type of operating environment, the organizations that always remain ahead of the game are those that succeed in the next generation of continuous improvement.

Claude Wade has deep experience in this model, having led multiple transformations in very different companies, at very different times. For example, Wade ran change initiatives at Fannie Mae, a company in crisis, where transformation was a matter of survival. Conversely, at Marsh – a company with growing revenues and successful margins – maintaining and increasing competitive advantage defines the impetus for change. Many of the participants in the discussion have also shifted their continuous improvement efforts from the traditional ‘down and in’ to the much more innovative, ‘up and out’ approach. This new emphasis focuses on constantly redefining operating models and products, and aligning assets with rapidly changing customers and markets to stay ahead.


Develop a clearly defined statement of strategic intent for change and tie transformation outcomes to your long-term financial outlook.

  • You can create a burning platform for change by aligning with strategic objectives (e.g., when the only way to reach your 3-year aspirational goals is through your transformation, people understand the importance of your effort).
  • Connect change efforts to financial outcomes and what’s happening at the board-level, otherwise you risk loud resistance and your program getting cut out.

Focus on the human element of change.

  • Understand the emotional journey that your colleagues have to go through to change what they do and how they do it.
  • Employees must be able to let go of fundamental beliefs and conventions around how work should be done (for some participants, average tenure of their employee is 15-20 years, making the cultural aspect of change more difficult).

Build ownership and adoption at the grassroots level.

  • Engage various stakeholders in mapping out the design of the transformational journey, not only in understanding the driver for change.
  • Modify methodologies to fit the cultural environment of your organization.
  • Strive for commitment to change, rather than compliance. When employees become committed to change, they bring their best, and naturally look for ways to evolve and innovate.

Design an effective communications strategy to gain buy-in.

  • Be transparent with your employees. Do not call a cost-cutting initiative a “change initiative.” Change becomes extremely hard when you are asking people to be involved in cutting their jobs or their peers’ jobs.
  • Simplify messaging. Focusing on clarity and key selling points in your communications to the business, rather than discussing tools or methodologies for change. It’s critical that messaging resonates with the people who do the work every day; whether they sit in the C-suite, call centers, or operations areas.
  • Build it first; then sell it. By design, one participant’s communication program lagged the progress by 90 days. This allowed the leader to build confidence in colleagues when communicating the plan forward, as they saw evidence of what had already been accomplished.

Build a bridge to future-state metrics.

  • Map the delta from the current management performance dashboards to the new metrics that align with your transformation. This is helpful in the education journey, and allows for smoother transition towards new metrics.


Today’s continuous improvement programs have changed, look at new hiring profiles and training programs to meet those needs.

  • Find flexible talent. For companies looking to constantly reinvent themselves, talent that can meet the changing demands of customers and markets is key.
  •  Today’s continuous improvement leaders represent a new type of engineer – they must have deep business acumen, strong C-level presence, innovation, high-energy, and ability to work well in a local environment.

Build a team that can drive culture change.

  • Ensure your leaders can speak the business and understand colleague pain points. One participant places all new transformation team professionals through an immersion program, where they are sent to 4-5 different office locations to actually do (and learn) the process.
  • Partner internal influencers with change management experts. Some firms have had success in coupling a high-performing internal leader who knows the business with an external transformation leader who knows the tools. This can help drive adoption throughout the organization (people listen when a respected peer makes the case for change).


Roll out beta versions of change and then refine from there in order to quickly get to solutions based on the voice of the customer (that will also work well internally).

  • Find ways to test your hypothesis quickly, and then iterate. One participant uses a “model office” – a functioning branch office – to test all of the latest improvements and the client interaction/response, before rolling out changes globally.
  • Move away from a “fear of failure” culture. The only way to speedily generate new products, processes, and models is by applauding experimentation, even when it fails. If you can begin to look at misses as learning experiences, you can shift to a very different environment.


Determine where technology is a differentiator for your business and where it is not.

  • The thousand-person IT department is an outdated model. Invest in the areas of technology that will help innovate core business capabilities and enhance the connection to the customer. The other functions (keeping the lights on) might be done cheaper and better externally.

Use technology to better understand your customers.

  • Social media can provide a better view of customers’ behaviors, beliefs and preferences. Insurance companies tend to limit their thinking of technology in terms of transactions – but when companies link transaction and social media data to product development systems, they have more insights into their customer.

Technology allows for personalization of the customer experience – a great area for continuous improvement.

  • Voice of the Customer has become Voice of the Customers. The ability to capture and process information with technology means that firms can shift from hypothesis-driven tests around 2-3 customer segments, to a segment of thousands of unique customers with individualized needs.
  • As financial services firms modernize legacy systems to meet customer expectations – they must be able to effectively integrate technology within each function and create business process improvements to enhance the customer experience.

Technology upgrades will be required to attract and retain new talent, and drive culture change.

  • Technology plays a role in engaging and drawing in talent. Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many insurers – outdated processes, systems, and technology makes working in the insurance industry less appealing.
  • Reverse mentoring – where young employees spend time with seasoned staff and management to teach them about social media and other relevant technology – can provide a great way to build a more contemporary culture.

This selection of observations from our 2013 NYC Financial Services Luncheon is intended to capture what we hope to achieve at every SSA & Company event: a link of the best ideas from experienced business practitioners to a handful of insights and actionable ideas for our participants.

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