We love reading the stories of the successful once their journey has reached a point that they can drop bombs of wisdom on us about how they reached a level that we can admire. But what does innovation look like at the ground level, while it is still happening? What does it look like when you have an idea, you connect with a few people who get it, you begin to collaborate and build towards conquering your dreams? Tony Canas and co-author Carly Burnham (read our interview with Carly HERE) have found a piece of the puzzle that they are skilled and passionate about, they have collaborated to create InsNerds and co-authored a book, Insuring Tommorrow, to share their insights and story. To interact with Tony is to engage with an aspect of innovation that is gaining momentum through hard work, creativity and collaboration within an industry (like all industries) that is in need of innovation. Tony is digging into a subject that many are reticent to touch, the recruitment, development and retention of Millennials. In doing so, Mr. Canas has become a known blogger, author and speaker on the topic with his session "Recruiting and Retaining Millennials" being delivered at the CPCU Society Leadership Conference and Annual Meetings for 2014. Our thanks to Tony Canas for taking the time to share with us.
(Jon Isaacson / IZ Ventures): When kids are asked in high school what they dream of becoming, the insurance industry is not one of those top 10 career choices, what brought you into this field?
Tony Canas: Like almost everybody else I fell into insurance by accident. It was 2009 and I was living in Des Moines, Iowa, one of the top insurance cities in the US, and got downsized from my job as a fleet manager with a transportation company when the economy crashed. I started applying to a bunch of jobs and it just so happened I landed at the Farm Bureau Claims Call Center and immediately fell in love with the industry.
What aspects of insurance are you currently engaged in, what does your day-to-day look like?
In my day job I’m a middle market underwriter for a major national carrier and I manage the state of Mississippi. We have a lot of verticals (energy, public entity, construction, healthcare, etc) so I end up underwriting a lot of manufacturing, retail chains, wholesales, restaurant chains and hotel chains.
You are building quite a presence through blogging at InsNerds.com, having written Insuring Tomorrow and with your speaking engagements, what are your goals with these entrepreneurial endeavors?
I spend a lot of my free time growing and promoting InsNerds, our two podcasts and marketing our book Insuring Tomorrow. I also have keep evenings a week devoted to “micro-mentoring” other insurance professionals. I help them figure out where they want to go and how to get there and see if I can open some doors out of my 10,000+ LinkedIn connections. I’ve been doing it for a few months and some of my mentees have already scored better jobs which is incredibly rewarding! Anyone can grab some time on my calendar at ChatWithTony.com, although at times the wait can be a couple of weeks.
On the writing side I work on bringing in new authors to InsNerds and writing some of my own articles (mostly about career growth) and we’d like to write a second book. On the speaking side I speak at insurance conferences about Engaging Millennials in Insurance as often as I can. The speaking invites have really picked up since the book came out and I love it!
I've talked to several people that have ideas or some level of desire to write a book, for you what was the catalyst that brought you to writing Insuring Tomorrow?
I waited five years for somebody to dedicate a book to the important topic of how to engage Millennials in our industry, and nobody did. Finally one day my girlfriend came home and told me “It’s time to write the book”. I called Carly (my co-author) and said “it’s time to write the book”. Then we just did it. I’m not saying it was easy, but after years of being passionate about the topic and collecting reference material actually getting it done wasn’t too bad. We wrote it in about 90 days and sales have been better than expected and the reviews very positive.
In that process of formulating your thoughts into a book what was easier than you expected and what was harder than you expected in that process?
It was both… What I mean is that while it was hard to sit down and write a table of contents to plan the different chapters, once that was done it was easy to write the draft for most chapters. The tough part was having to cut some of the chapters we originally planned for because we couldn’t find enough data and outside resources to really back them up. We wanted the book to leave the reader with a pretty airtight case, not just our opinion, but rather ideas backed by tons of outside research. Overall it took a LOT of time, and we stayed up late very often during the process, but it was mostly enjoyable and incredibly worth it.
What have been some of the positive responses to your book? The topic of Millennials is rather charged, has there been much opposition to your publication?
While there is absolutely a lot of “millennial fatigue”, the response has been almost completely positive. I think most people in the industry recognize that while we have talked a lot about the topic, we really haven’t solved it and we MUST solve it. Some of my favorite reviews said, “It is truly outstanding.” “Every insurance CEO should read this.” and “Essential reading for insurance executives.” One early reviewer called it, “The best book on understanding culture since Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.” The book is available at InsuringTomorrowBook.com
The subject matter that you are speaking to centers around the topic of Millennials in the workforce, as such what is one key piece of advice that first you would give to leaders working with millennials and then to millennials who are either entering the workforce or seeking to better themselves?
It’s hard to digest five years of research into a 250 page book, let alone a one hour talk and even harder into a couple of sentences, but I’d say the best way to understand Millennials is think of them as a different culture. Not better or worse, just different. And try to understand them in that context. Also, look at the numbers and realize that this will be a MASSIVE change for our industry. The business world in general has been dominated by Baby Boomers for decades, there were 25% fewer Gen Xers so they will always remain a minority, as the Boomers retire business will have to reinvent itself to survive in an era where Millennials will be the bulk of the workforce for at least a couple of decades.
What is next for Tony?
Now that’s a hard question! My plans have changed a lot over the last few years and I’m sure they will continue changing. I do know that I’m staying in the insurance industry for the rest of my career and will continue running InsNerds. Chances are many other projects that I haven’t even imagined yet will emerge from the InsNerds umbrella. I will continue being a positive voice of change for our industry and will continue my efforts to help us recruit and retain a new workforce.
Tony Canas regularly writes for InsNerds.com, he is on LinkedIn and tweets as @TonyCanas4. Insuring Tomorrow has many applications outside of the insurance industry and is available for $20, you can find our review of the publication HERE.
As a society, we talk a lot about leadership. This concept has become it's own industry with books, lectures, podcasts, seminars and trinkets. Yet, in all of the various words expended on business, entrepreneurship, and leadership, there are few that discuss the role of empathy as a key to the development of emotional intelligence. If you are in a position of leadership and have a desire to improve your employee engagement as well as team development, there is great value in continuing to grow your own emotional intelligence as you deal with people from various backgrounds. To be a leader in developing others you must start by leading yourself to set an example for how growth is a both a priority as well as an ever evolving process for individuals and their teams. Read more in our article published in About Leader titled How to Lead With Empathy and give us your feedback on how you are developing yourself and your teams. Step out of your comfort zone, make some smart mistakes, build a thriving team and be the leader that your team deserves. If you are resistant to change as well as growing as a leader, you will continue to attract and manage the team that you deserve.
I didn’t start making any real money until I got into remediation work, does that mean that my wife is a mold digger?
Would anyone other than a property restoration professional think this was funny? How did you get into water damage mitigation and microbial growth (the four letter word – mold) remediation or bio hazard (crime scene) clean up? I answered job posting in the local newspaper, when that was still a thing, for carpet cleaning at a time when the job market was thin and I wanted any job that would 1) get me away from my current employment and 2) allow me some flexibility to go to night school. In my initial interview I expressed that I was studying for a degree in criminal justice and the owner of the local franchise restoration company told me, “You would be great for our mold division.” Not having any idea what that was, I
replied, “Why yes. Yes I would.”
I have had many people over the years ask, what is a mold remediation division? It may be difficult for many to imagine but there was a time when insurance companies were paying on mold claims and there was plenty of work. Our organization had a good section of the local market, something that many franchises are no longer allowed to do, and our team was knocking out projects. In my professional pursuits doors were not opening in the path that I anticipated heading down while doors were opening in this new profession that only months before I did not know even existed. Sometimes we can be slow to recognize the clear turns that our journey is taking, but thankfully I was able to see a real opportunity to grow thanks to good leadership and support from my family.
I always tell new recruits – if you are honest, hard working and willing to learn, we can teach you to be productive in our industry (see article Hiring, 3 Character Keys). How do I know this? Because this is exactly what I brought to the table and was fortunate enough to have good leaders who were willing to teach me the skills necessary to succeed as well as provide opportunities for me to grow in the property restoration profession. Good leaders are a blessing to their organizations and their employees, if you are in leadership you have the privilege and the responsibility to keep those torches burning – whether you were provided with good examples by good leaders or if you had to carve your own path.
Hiring is one of the most important aspects of a leader’s job as an individual as well as an essential mechanism for any organization to achieve consistent pursuit of excellence. While there are many systems which proclaim their ability to weed out the bad eggs, there are plenty of companies large and small that find themselves in a cycle of hiring stinkers. Thankfully companies such as Zappos, which are touted for their exemplary cultures, have had to learn many of their lessons the hard way (like the rest of us), as “CEO Tony Hseih once estimated that bad hires had cost the company well over $100 million (Fatemi, 2016).” This same Forbes article notes, “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee's first-year earnings.” You may recover from the waste in financial resource but think of how much time and stress compounds the pain of those failed hires. This reality calls for more intentionality in developing a system that attracts, acquires and retains good candidates for your culture, values and systems.
Understanding your own values helps guide your process for acquiring talent.
While many of those in leadership shoot from the hip and trust their gut, the risk outweighs the reward when your hiring mechanism hasn’t evolved since the days when you entered your given profession. Bad habits consistently produce bad results, yet the nuances and systems proposed by many of the top authors and business minds are often more cumbersome and costly than a bad decision, which is why many of those in leadership avoid these complex mechanisms. Organizational Physics author, Lex Sisney, wrote a follow up to his scientific approach to business and shares a less complex solution in the aptly titled How to Think About Hiring: Play Smarter to Win the Talent Game, “Consistently great teams don’t scout and hire for talent. They scout and hire for talent that is a supreme fit for their system. They always think about building a team with a strong collective identity at a fair price instead of just collecting individual talent at any price.” To make significant changes you will need to adjust both how you think about as well as how you approach hiring, but a good system does not have to be as complex as an NFL draft board.
Narrowing your focus helps guide your system for acquiring talent.
In our humble opinion, it has consistently been a positive experience in service based industries to hire candidates with minimal direct experience rather than seeking experienced employees from competitors. The reason we like to find new hires that don’t have direct prior experience in our industry is that they also don’t have the bad habits or the pessimism of being burned by a competitor in our market space, which unfortunately happens all too often. Benjamin Franklin spoke accurately when he said, “It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” which we covered previously in our article on attracting talent. This does not mean that we don’t look for relevant or transferable experience such as customer service, sales and/or comparable skills, but we don’t find much success in recruiting from the castaways of our competitors. This is a mindset where our leadership team has committed to training hires to learn both our culture and values as well as the skills required to succeed in our profession.
To a fault, we will always express multiple times to a candidate throughout the hiring process that we are able to teach them the professional skills that are necessary to succeed with our organization but the three things that we need them to bring to the table are 1) be honest, 2) be hard working and 3) be willing to learn. Of all the things we can teach a potential candidate, we cannot change their character or their core values, so we need them to bring the three principles of being honest, hard-working and willing to learn to the table. If a candidate will bring these three things with 100% effort than we can develop them into a productive service representative of our organization, if they have intelligence and a core commitment to excellence than we can make them very successful (as they have the potential to succeed in anything they put their effort into). When you as a leader as well as collectively as an organization understand your values it creates a focus on what values you are looking for in candidates. As with the regular daily tasks of employment, clarifying what you as an organization bring to the table and what you need from a candidate in order for them to embrace the vision for your team will create a more consistent path to development of new hires as well as the upholding of the existing culture. As there is parity in the NFL, the margins of success and failure are often very thin, which means that simple changes have the potential to produce sustainable positive changes.
What have you learned about hiring that has helped you to be successful?
Fatemi, F. (2016, September 28) The true cost of a bad hire – it’s more than you think. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/falonfatemi/2016/09/28/the-true-cost-of-a-bad-hire-its-more-than-you-think/#67700bc44aa4
Sisney, L. (2013, December 6) How to hire like the NFL’s best teams. http://organizationalphysics.com/2013/12/06/how-to-hire-like-the-nfls-best-teams/
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Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer