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Iowa Insurer Grows Engagement by Building Relationships
Helping you live the life you love. You’re in good hands. Like a good neighbor. Insurance company marketing often focuses on relationships. But at IMT Group, relationships are a competitive advantage – and not merely agent relationships, but those among employees, with senior leaders, and with the community.
“People are our most valuable resource,” said Sean Kennedy, president and CEO of Des Moines-based IMT. “Without good people, we can’t strive for the vision we have for the company. We can’t move our strategy forward.”
Kennedy said, “When you have good people, give them ways to be involved, and help them understand what you’re doing and where you’re going as a company, the financials take care of themselves.” The reason, he said, is that, “People want to connect. They want to achieve. We help them do both here, and that makes us a special place.”
On the power of relationships, a company started in 1884 by offering wind and tornado insurance to Iowa farmers has grown into a personal and commercial insurer working through nearly 1,000 agents to offer home, auto, and business coverage across six Midwestern states. That success is reflected not just on a balance sheet that shows nine years of growth, but in a workplace environment that has made IMT a Des Moines Register Top Workplaces winner four years in a row. In fact, in 2016, they ranked at the top of the midsize category.
Engagement starts with involvement
“We have always talked about being relationship-driven and high touch,” said Marsha Aldridge, director of Talent and Engagement at IMT. “You can’t be that unless you invest in what that looks like and what your foundation is. That’s our competitive advantage. It’s who we are.”
IMT’s foundation includes a range of opportunities for strengthening partnerships among employees. There are offcampus team-building exercises organized by department. Employee committees have been formed around wellness, charitable giving, customer service, and technology. There’s even the CREW, the Committee Responsible for Enthusiasm in the Workplace, which runs events every other month. In the other months, events focus on company values.
Kennedy said for him, involvement in these efforts is a dependable indicator of employee engagement. “When we have different types of events in IMT, we don’t have people just sitting in their work spaces. They’re getting involved in planning them, and then they are participating.”
Aldridge said, “I see employees with a vested interest in the outcome. They want to find solutions. Their minds are going. They find ways to get it done, to have fun, and to engage our agents. I watch them and am in awe of their ownership of everything that’s going on.”
“I feel well-informed about important decisions at this company.” IMT Group scored 14 percentage points higher than other insurance and financial services firms
Source: 2016 Workplace Survey
Managers are transparent, consistent
To strengthen the relationships between employees and senior leaders, IMT relies on both transparency and consistency.
Kennedy said, “We’re much more transparent than in the past about sharing why we’re doing things. There are still places we can work on that, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”
Brad Buchanan, vice president of personal lines, added, “When we decide something, I always try to think about having that conversation across my desk with an employee and being able to not just say, ‘Well, that’s what we decided,’ but instead to say, ‘This is why.’ I think we’ve done a lot of that. We answer the whys to everything.”
Consistency, Buchanan said, is key. “We’re consistent across departments in the way that we describe things that we do, and the way that we make decisions. I think that if an employee were to go to each department head and say, ‘Why do we do this?’ I think they would get a pretty consistent answer throughout.”
“When you have good people, give them ways to be involved, and help them understand what you’re doing and where you’re going as a company, the financials take care of themselves.”
Sean Kennedy, President & CEO
With agents, more than just business
IMT’s 975 independent agents are its connection to its policyholders, and those relationships are highly prized.
“We go to agency outings and into agency offices throughout the year,” Buchanan said. “They always want to talk about the relationships they have with the people back here. They rave about the underwriting and the service and the relationship they have with their underwriters. That, to me, says it all. They really think that we have something here that’s different.”
What is certainly different, he said, is IMT’s approach to underwriting. “We keep underwriters committed to certain territories, so they really do develop,” he said. “The underwriters and agents get to know each other personally. They talk about things beyond business. It’s more than just business.”
Kennedy said, “It’s a personalized relationship,” adding that IMT is even bucking an industry trend toward moneysaving call centers.
“We believe that that relationship is more important than the dollars and cents – that we’re going to save it on the loss ratio side, because agents are going to put good business with us if they have a personal relationship with us and they know us. That’s where we think we can outshine our competitors. We’re happy servicing our agents and our policy holders, and doing right by them.”
IMT is clearly committed to doing right by the community, and its list of involvements is long. It’s topped by its title sponsorship of the IMT Des Moines Marathon, which sends not only a strong health and fitness message, but one about longevity and determination.
But there are many other less glamorous contributions. In 2016 alone, more than 100 employees spent nearly 750 hours on company time doing work in the community. A Disaster Response Team helped during flooding. In all, IMT supports more than 150 charities with financial contributions.
“My manager cares about my concerns.” IMT Group scored 6 percentage points higher than similar firms
Source: 2016 Workplace Survey
Our values really mean something
True engagement is built on trust, and there are moments when that trust is tested. At IMT, such a moment came when they had to make a tough business decision that was very visible and impacted many.
Buchanan said, “People were watching. They wondered, ‘What’s going to happen here?’ But our values really
mean something. They’re not just on a board. They’re not just on a wall. So we looked at the foundation of our values and made the right decision.
“An employee came up to me, and he got pretty emotional, just to say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate what you did.’ Not everybody knew what was going on. But plenty of people did, and said, ‘Wow, that’s a moment there.’
“For us, a decision like that comes down to being willing to make a statement that we will be true to our mission. It answers the question, ‘Do we live it, or do we just talk about it?’ We live it.”
Another situation arose over adding an agent.
Buchanan said, “We had three good agents representing the territory, and they were giving us plenty of business, so there was no reason to add a fourth. Doing that cost a substantial amount of money in income for the business, but we wanted to do what’s best for IMT and for our agents.”
Kennedy said, “For me, it comes down to doing the right thing, even though it may be difficult.”
“But then I talk to agents and hear them describe their relationship with their underwriter, or their claims adjuster, or their marketing manager – their friend, their buddy – and how great a job they do for them. It gives me a sense of pride to be a part of this company.”