Don't Fear Change

by Phil Kalin

A show of (virtual) hands, please: how many of you are not grappling with how to evolve your company in the midst of disruption/competition in your industry, rapidly changing customer expectations and customer behaviors that are still being reshaped by the pandemic?

I’ll take the liberty of assuming that no one reading this would raise their hand in response. And I’ll further assume that each of you, like me, is devouring the literature for ideas and insights.

One of my board members recently shared this article from the consulting firm EY about how life insurers can navigate the landscape of changing customer needs and new technologies. You don’t have to be in the life insurance business (we’re not) to draw useful lessons from the piece. Indeed, I can’t think of any business or business model that is not being reshaped by these trends.

For example, the author notes that “A customer-centric approach is vital, but with four generations of potential customers, there’s a greater need for customization and commoditization to deliver.” Aren’t we all dealing with increasing stratification of our customers? “One size fits all” fits none, whether you’re selling services or products, whether your market is businesses or consumers. A sharp focus on customer needs becomes more challenging in a world of such granularity, but all the more essential.

That, in turn, leads to a need to rethink business models and distribution channels. What’s the model that enables the greatest flexibility? How are your customers accessing all the products and services they use, and how can you adapt your business to fit with those behaviors? Everyone wants “easy buttons”; what are yours?

Finally, at the risk of sounding trite and jargon-y, every business – even the corner coffee shop – needs to become, as the author says, data-driven and digital-first. These phrases have become fashionable and thus a bit shopworn over the last few years. But they’re trite because they’re true. If you’re not tracking behaviors and responding to them, you’re losing customers. And one of those behaviors is an increasing reliance on digital platforms, especially mobile ones. We all saw reliance on online ordering explode during the pandemic, and it’s not going away.

While I find change stimulating, I recognize that it’s also exhausting and scary for many people – especially when it comes at the rate we’re all seeing now. I’m reminded of a quote from Abraham Maslow, the psychologist most of us know as the ideator of the hierarchy of needs. He also said, "One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth."  From my vantage point, there is no safety in stepping back. Fear of failure must be overcome.

Phil Kalin

Phil Kalin joined Pinnacol Assurance as CEO in 2013. He has served as the chief executive of both public and privately-backed companies, including large hospital systems, as well as organizations focused on health care data, technology and education.

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