In this eight-part series, Carl Van shares his thoughts on thecharacteristics of the awesome adjuster. The series is to serve asa sort of road map for those interested in knowing what it takes tobe among the top in their field.

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Imagine that you are a claim supervisor. Two of your adjusters,Stann Rose and Dopey McClaim, come up to you on the same day withessentially the same situation. Which one would you want workingfor you?

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Dopey: Is Med Pay subrogateable inCalifornia?

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You: In some situations.

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Dopey: What situations?

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You: Let's go over it.

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After taking 30 minutes to review the circumstances under whichCalifornia might allow subrogation in Med Pay cases, Dopey leaves.A little while later, Stann approaches and says, “I have aquestion.”

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“What is it?” you ask.

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“I have a claim and I need to figure out if Med Pay issubrogateable in California. I asked a couple of senior adjusters,and they gave me some information, but not enough to concludewhether it applies in this case.

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“Then I went to the FC&S books and found a case similar tomine. It helped me, but still I couldn't nail it down. So, I calledour in-house counsel, and they gave me the name of a law firm theyuse in California sometimes, Dew Knot Winn & Pay. I calledthem, and Mr. Winn told me about a case in California aboutsubrogateable rights for Med Pay, but said that it really came downto the wording of the policy.

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“I looked up the case he referred to and found out what policywas analyzed in the court case. I got a copy of that policy andread it. It appears that the wording of that policy and our policyare very similar, with just slight variations. After looking at itfor a while, I believe that the case would apply, and that we areentitled to subro for our damages, but I would like to go over itwith you.”

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My guess is that you would rather have Stann working for you. IsDopey a bad claim adjuster? Of course not. In fact, he is average.Most of us operate just as Dopey did. When we have a question, weask our supervisor. Stann, however, took steps that showedinitiative.

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Because of that, Stann will learn in his career five timesfaster than Dopey can ever hope to. While researching his answer,Stann gained a great deal of knowledge in many other areas thatDopey will never even be exposed to.

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Stann is now a top claim executive for a national insurer. Onceupon a time, however, he was an adjuster, and I was his supervisor.Stann demonstrated a high level of initiative from day one. I didnot instill it in him; he just had it when I met him. Nevertheless,I have seen that characteristic in every awesome claim adjusterthat I have ever met.

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It is true of Tom Del Corso. He is a regional claim manger now,but once was an adjuster of mine. Like Stann, I found Tom to have ahigh level of initiative that helped him learn and grow faster thaneveryone else around him. By the time Tom came to me with aquestion, I was confident that he had done his homework and hadthought things through. Even if he were wrong in his conclusion, itwas the effort that he had made and the initiative that he haddisplayed that I most appreciated.

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A good adjuster is one who comes to his supervisor for answersbecause he is concerned with doing things right. An excellentadjuster follows his supervisor's suggestions on where to go tofind the answers. An awesome adjuster, however, is one who feelsobligated to do as much legwork and analysis as he can on his ownand then comes to his supervisor for guidance.

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Take the Challenge

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Can initiative be learned? It is not easy, but it is notimpossible. It is important to describe what we mean by initiative.Most adjusters do not really appreciate it. Even most supervisorsdo not fully appreciate what initiative really is and, therefore,they have no way of imparting it to their adjusters.

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We teach a full-day class on just attitude and initiativetraining for claim adjusters. Believe me, it is not a quick thing.Therefore, I cannot outline here everything that you would need toknow to inspire high levels of initiative in yourself or in someoneelse. I can, however, give you one simple training technique that,if you apply it, will triple the amount of initiative that youdisplay in just a month or so.

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Interested? If so, you'll have to put up with a little challengethat I give to my Teaching and Coaching for Claim Supervisors andManagers class. The point of the exercise is to get people to thinkabout what initiative really is. Here is how the conversationgoes:

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Carl: So, is initiative important? Would yourather have Stann working for you or Dopey?

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First Student: Yes, initiative is extremelyimportant. I'd rather have Stann working for me.

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Carl: How do you instill initiative in youradjusters?

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Second Student: I always tell them to readtheir policies before they come to me.

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Carl: Then that's not initiative. They are justdoing what you told them to. Initiative is doing it on their ownbefore they are told.

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Third Student: I always tell them to researchsomething and come to me with a suggestion on what they think theanswer is.

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Carl: Again, that's not initiative. They arejust following your directions. Don't get me wrong: if they carryout your orders by checking something out before coming to you,that is better than if they just come to you directly, but it'sstill not initiative.

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Fourth student: I tell them they need to takethe initiative to find the answer on their own.

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Carl: That's not initiative; they are justfollowing your orders. Remember, initiative is when they take stepson their own without your telling them to do it. They do it out ofa sense of obligation.

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At this point, my students begin to realize the Catch 22 here.You cannot tell someone to take initiative and have it truly beinitiative.

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Carl: Does anyone, right now, have someoneworking for you like Stann and Tom?

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Class: We wish.

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Carl: So whatever you are doing now to instillinitiative in your people is not working. The proof is that youdon't have anybody like Stann and Tom. You said you would likesomeone like that, so all you have to do is do a littletraining.

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First, you must ask yourself. Do you want to be like Stann andTom or Dopey? If your answer is that you would rather be more likeStann and Tom, here is the trick: from this point forward, any timethat you find the need to ask your manager for the answer tosomething, first ask yourself, “What steps did I take to get theanswer before coming to my boss?”

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If you answer, “Nothing,” and feel okay about it, go ask yourboss your question and forget about it. The next time you have aquestion, again ask yourself, “What steps did I take to get theanswer before coming to my boss?. Believe it or not, pretty soonyou are going to feel obligated to yourself to take someinitiative. And guess what? You will start changing yourbehavior.

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If, however, after six or seven times in a row, you can askyourself what extra steps you have taken and can still say,“Nothing,” and feel okay about it, go work on your letter-writingskills or something, because initiative is just not your bag.

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That's it. That is just one small example of how easy it can beto create initiative in yourself, once you decide how you wantpeople to see you.

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Carl Van is president and CEO of International InsuranceInstitute and dean of he School of Claims Performance. He can bereached at www.insuranceinstitute.com.

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