While there is a growing recognition throughout the insurance industry of the importance of training staff – to what extent has that culture spread to their bosses?
Is the training of managers being taken seriously in the industry, or are they being missed out of the loop?
The answer seems to be that the larger insurers and brokers are indeed putting more stress on management training, at the same time building a mound of jargon to go with it, such as “sheep-dipping” and “360-degree feedback”.
But, in the view of many specialist recruitment consultants, there is very little training of managers among the small to medium-sized firms.
“The major broking and underwriting groups will have funded training and development programmes, but there are only a handful of those,” says Richard Griffiths of consultants Hays.
“There's a plethora of small organisations that don't train and develop management skills.”
The problem for the smaller firms is that too often people who have reached the top in one area – say the sales function – are promoted on the assumption they will make a good manager. “Very often that isn't the case,” says Griffiths.
In those cases it is better to give salesmen “the job titles, pay and rations” but keep them doing the job they are good at, he says.
“Many good sales and marketing people have a big ego – which is fine for their job, but not necessarily for management. Management should be seen as a skill in itself.”
The opposite is also true. Someone who is only, say, a “B-grade” salesman may on the other hand, have the patience and tact to be a good manager, and companies should make sure this is spotted, though often it is not.
Griffiths adds: “They're not As so they don't need to be primadonnas. Often they're the best-quality managers.” He believes that, particularly in the general insurance and reinsurance industry, a formalised annual personal development programme is needed.
“There are tens of thousands of those employees. If you're developing management skills, you're developing the business.”
This view is largely endorsed by Mark Redfern of consultants Searchlight Solutions.
He says he finds that while there is often technical training for a management role among smaller companies, there is less management skills training. “It's not so easy for them to hold those processes together. Often there's nowhere for them to go for training,” he says.
In fact, Searchlight runs its own executive coaching arm, aimed not just at smaller firms, but at, say, managing directors of divisions within larger companies.
This consists of a number of sessions which take place at the employer's premises and are often carried out over a long period of time. All aspects of management and people skills are covered, including such things as performance measurement, using associates who are trained in coaching skills at that level.
This programme also suits companies who have some training provision, but not the full range, says Redfern.
One senior consultant, who asked not be identified, is scathing about the level of management training in the insurance industry.
“My experience is that training is not really there at all,” he says. “People management – the soft skills side – is too often lacking.” Again, this is more evident in the small to medium-sized sector “where some people would say a structure for management is not needed.”
The insurance industry is well known for it slack of a rigid structure, adds the source. “But for many in the business, that's the attraction. Theywouldn't do it if it was too formalised. It's a flair business.”
While the training problem may exist in the world of the smaller general insurers, underwriters and brokers, most of the larger operators insist they take management training very seriously indeed.
The exact type of training naturally varies between one kind of company and another but all have a broad principle in common – to develop truly professional manager. And this involves more than “sheep-dipping” – where all potential managers are given the same training sessions – and “360-degree feedback” that seeks the reactions of staff at every level of the company.