Leaders At Agile, Top-Performing Insurers See Uncertainty As Potential Opportunity

Michael Lyman

Mature man standing on empty beach, using binoculars, side viewThe business world has come to understand that adaptability and agility are distinguishing characteristics of high-performance companies. Like in any industry, the challenge for insurers during times of change, volatility, and disruption is foreseeing what’s coming far enough in advance to position themselves faster and more effectively than their competitors.

But how? New research from Accenture – detailed in the report, Leadership Imperatives for an Agile Workforce – shows the importance of effective leadership in creating and enabling an agile business.

Of course, masterfully piloting an insurer through tumultuous waters is easier said than done, as that may be the most difficult responsibility executives face during their careers. But our business agility research shows that those who have succeeded share what Accenture calls the “three pillars of leadership.” These leaders all:

  • Consistently maintain a vision of the future.
  • Flexibly utilize executives and managers at all levels.
  • Drive results by quickly making and implementing decisions.

In this series, I’ll examine all three traits, beginning this time with vision.

One finding in our research that stands out is that short-term needs and urgencies prevent many companies from effectively thinking about the future. Being too reactive to immediate events and feeling forced to put out fires – rather than thinking about the long term – is part of the collateral damage many companies suffer when experiencing market volatility and industry uncertainty.

Our research shows that top performing companies – those with a sales increase exceeding 10% in the past fiscal year – have leaders with a different mindset about uncertainty than do low-performing companies – those reporting a sales decrease:

  • By a wide margin, 43% to 29%, top performers are more likely to view uncertainty as a potential opportunity as well as a threat.
  • Half of top performers, compared with 24% of low performers, say their leaders regularly review trends and emerging possibilities.
  • By a 58% to 19% margin, leaders at top-performing companies feel very well prepared to deal with uncertainty.

Effective leaders also take a structured approach when considering an uncertain future. For example, they regularly bring unconventional thinkers into top management meetings to shake participants loose from their current assumptions and inspire them to consider alternative futures for the company. Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer observes: “Where does change in organizations come from? Not from the insiders, with their intellectual blinders and their vested interests. Rather, innovation, adaptation, and change almost always come from someone at least partly outside the mainstream.”

Next time:  Flexibly utilizing executives and managers at all levels.

Ever-increasing volatility in business is leading to ever-increasing complexity, and building simpler companies and cultures is the only way to survive and thrive in the future. Learn how by downloading the free e-book Building Simpler Corporate Cultures.


Michael Lyman

About Michael Lyman

Michael Lyman is Senior Managing Director in Accenture’s Insurance Management Consulting Practice where he assists CEOs and their Executive Teams in formulating and executing strategy, transforming their organizations, and integrating mergers. During his 30 years of consulting, Michael has served many of the leading global insurance carriers. He also leads Accenture’s C-Suite Networks.

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Agility