We all want a career that is filled with purpose and meaning, but building said career is far from straightforward. The most successful of people will tell you that it takes time, planning, discipline, connections and a good helping of luck.
Leadership coaches tell us that most people lack the ability to make the good decisions that can lead to career satisfaction but with the right coaching and advice, it’s something that we can learn. Indeed, seeking advice from those who’ve gone before us is a tried and tested method of upskilling ourselves. And thankfully, there are plenty of leaders within the insurance community who are more than willing to share.
“One of the best pieces of advice I was given and that I now give to others is to take every opportunity to be involved in things outside of your immediate role, such as projects,” says Jacqui McIntosh, Manager - Sales and Service, Direct Insurance (State, AMI & NAC), IAG.
“This is a great way to build up your network, expand your skills and promote ‘brand you.’”
This idea of extracurricular work isn’t a new one and the benefits outweigh the burden of the additional workload. Being exposed to projects outside of your job description fosters flexibility and adaptability and helps you connect with others you wouldn’t normally connect with.
“You need to speak up,” instructs Karl Armstrong, Chief Risk Officer, IAG. “Speak up, express your ideas and grab every opportunity that comes your way.”
Crossley Gates, Partner at DLA Piper NZ, agrees. Living by the mantra ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day’, Crossley believes that our careers are peppered with opportunities that a lot of us fail to grasp.
“Always seize every opportunity that comes your way even if it is not your ultimate role,” he tells us. “And most importantly, believe in yourself.”
Seeing and taking opportunities is just one part of a larger idea. In order to build a satisfying purposeful career, we need to take responsibility for it, because - as they say in the classics — no one else will.
“It’s about taking ownership of your career,” affirms Steven Beale, Head of Heartland Agribusiness at FMG. “I believe it’s the most important thing anyone can do to develop themselves. You need to be accountable and make it happen.”
Accountability is more than just doing your job — it’s doing it well and according to Jacqui, “recognising that the best way to be successful in your career is do the job you have well. Do that and opportunities will come.”
“The greatest helping hand you will ever get is attached to the end of your arm.”
Rising to the challenge
But owning your career as it were is more than just doing your job well. In today’s world we are beset with a multitude of pressures: coping with increasing workloads, longer hours, a complicated and changing workplace and our internal need to progress as individuals. How we deal with those pressures will shape the way our careers evolve.
It’s been said that time management is really about setting boundaries, but the same can apply to client expectations. According to Jonathan Scragg, Partner, Duncan Cotteril, managing both are key to achieving a less stressful career.
“Managing both time pressure and client demands effectively are key to alleviating pressure in your work,” says Jonathan. “You have to strive to always be time efficient and to put clients' interests first.”
Phil Barclay, General Manager Bank Partners at NZI agrees, believing we need to understand the wants and needs of our clients to be better at our jobs and subsequently, manage their expectations.
“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and try and imagine how you would feel if you were in their place,” insists Phil. “You’ll be better placed to manage their expectation and provide a solution that is beneficial to both of you.”
By far, one of the most challenging times in any insurance professional’s career is responding to the fallout of a major catastrophe. The Canterbury Earthquake is a prime example. Indeed, a disaster of such magnitude transcends doing your job as its capacity to impact us on a personal and emotional level can be overwhelming.
“Managing my own and my family’s personal experiences of living in Christchurch during the Canterbury Earthquakes was incredibly difficult,” admits Jacqui. “When you come to work every day because you are passionate about helping customers recover from a loss, it is really tough to see the scale of the devastation from an event like the earthquake.”
“However, it also creates tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the value in what is often seen as a “grudge” purchase for many people,” she adds.
As Jacqui and so many others have found, opportunity invariably follows adversity but only to those willing and able to take them.
“The earthquake gave me the chance to become involved in some “once in a career” projects, including the immediate and longer term underwriting response and the change from a square metre replacement to a capped sum insured for home insurance,” says Jacqui.
“It really highlighted that every customer values something different. For some it might be the prestige of saying that their replacement home was designed by the same architect, for others it might be being able to replace the soft toy that their child can’t sleep without.”
“It is not our role to judge them, it is out role to focus on delivering on the promise that our products provide.”
Catastrophes are stressful for everyone concerned, but often there are contingencies and clear plans of attack on how to respond. For many, the day-to-day pressures that wear us down will challenge our resilience far more readily.
In an industry that touches the lives of so many, the people we work with have the capacity to have the greatest impact — both positive and negative —on our careers. For some, like Crossley, the Machiavellian machinations of corporate life are a burden we have to endure.
“I’ve found dealing with corporate politics in a large organisation one of the more challenging aspects of my career,” admits Crossley. “On some occasions it demoralised me, but I found that staying philosophical about it helped me immeasurably — and never burn your bridges.”
While bureaucracy and team politics play their part, Phil has found the challenge of the dreaded restructure casts a greater shadow and can often change the very fabric that holds our careers together.
“Working within a large organisation, you’re never far away from the next restructure/latest thinking on organisational design,” points out Phil. “These times are the most challenging as they force you into serious consideration about your future.”
“Conversely though, each time I go through these I recognise within myself that I still have a lot to offer the industry and customers I work with,” he adds.
For others, like Steve, the struggle comes from not understanding when and who to seek advice from and the flow-on effect it has on our decision making process.
“My biggest stresses have come about when I haven’t consulted with senior colleagues/peers or line managers,” confides Steve. “Making decisions — that is, hard decisions — are best made with a balanced and shared perspective.”
“I’ve learned that the collective intelligence of my colleagues far outweighs my knowledge solely. I still own the decision and I make the hard calls. I just now know that I based that decision on sound collective knowledge.”
Many people believe that the greatest pressure we face is the pressure we place on ourselves which, according to Jacqui, is also the most difficult to manage.
“Even our worst enemy doesn’t judge us in the way we sometimes judge ourselves,” she says “Accept your own thoughts, feelings and actions in a non-judgement way.”
“The pressure of your own performance to promote your careers can really affect your work life balance,” says Karin Sholz, Principal, Placement Services, Marsh Ltd.
“I’ve found the key is having a strong performance review process that you can trust followed by learning to leave work at work. This fosters the right headspace to allow you to be your best — this is your platform.”
“And remember, have a plan, don’t just hope.”