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How to know what’s really happening in work comp.

Want to know what’s really happening in comp?  Spend a day sitting next to an adjuster.

Whether you’re a work comp exec, big employer, investor, or service provider, there’s no faster or better way to really understand what goes on, what works and what doesn’t, and why, then spending a day with someone at the “pointy end of the spear”.

Or, as one adjuster said, “the end of the pipe that starts at home office and ends on top of my desk.”  I won’t repeat what he said was coming out of said pipe, but it wasn’t champagne.

There’s a reason the series “Undercover Boss” is so popular; it reveals that many execs really don’t know what happens at the most important point in their organization – the customer interaction.  Execs (and consultants too) make plans, devise workflows, develop strategy, change IT platforms, often with limited or no idea of what actually happens when that pipe dumps out in front of the customer.  Sure, they may seek input from managers or survey customers, but unless the bosses understand all aspects of that customer-facing job (sorry, consultant-speak) there’s just no way to grasp the nuance, understand the implications.

I’d suggest that execs, consultants, investors, service providers spend at least a day a year sitting next to an adjuster – ideally two days.  Don’t do this with anything specific in mind. This isn’t something you should do as part of a product launch or change, but rather come in with an open mind, to watch, listen, and learn.  That way you’ll pick up a LOT more than if you’re focused on this or that specific issue/workflow/concern.

Make it a day. Promise nothing will ever get published, be shared with the office manager, or find its way back to the adjuster. Bring coffee and a couple breakfast items, have lunch delivered for you and your new colleague, take lots of notes (but do so unobtrusively and rely on memory alone if note-taking appears to concern your colleague), and send a sincere hand-written note of appreciation.

No emails; they get far too many of those.

You will leave energized and with a new and much deeper understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly why.

What does this mean for you?

If you can’t find the time to do this, you don’t have the right priorities. 


8 thoughts on “How to know what’s really happening in work comp.”

  1. You’re right on with this one, Joe. The more you understand what your people do, what works, and what doesn’t, the better leader you will be.

  2. I totally agree with this recommendation. I truly believe that a Leader can’t lead if he doesn’t know where the rest of the team is going. The adjuster certainly can’t begin to understand the President’s role and the fact he is thinking globally but if the adjuster thinks the President is interested in the role of front line position that message will be welcomed.

    I totally agree that he should be as unobtrusive as possible and not ask questions but simply observe.

    My one cavaet is that I would still take what is shown with a grain of salt as I would expect that the local management will be very careful who and what the President actually sees.

    I would suggest that the President choose two or even three individuals over a full day during the year throughout the year and across the country to get a more rounded viewpoint and from those observations be able to reach better conclusions.

  3. After 30+ years as a claims exec, I worked an adjusters desk for 90 days.It was horrifying! I counted 14 separate steps to process a medical bill. Between doing your own filing and retrieval, chasing to the copy room for form letters and handling a 175 case load, it is a wonder that any claim “management” takes place.
    If true work comp reform is to ever succeed, it has to start at the adjuster level.

    Jim K.

  4. Great post Joe! This reminds me of one of the greatest CEOs of all time, Herb Kelleher. He understood the value of every employee from the bag handler to the pilot. He walked the walk, known to show up at a gate at three in the morning to help clean a plane, or unload baggage to help turn the plane around quickly. Then, take the time to sit down with the baggage crew and ask “what is working well” or “what do we need to do differently”.

    One of my favorite quotes from him is: “If the employees come first, then they’re happy…A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”

    Herb clearly understood the value and strategic impact of all employees. The question for workers’ comp leaders is, do they view claims adjusters as critical to the organization’s success/value proposition?

  5. Joe, Once again you strip away much of the rhetoric and get to the “point.” I might suggest any of the individuals you mention could learn a lot by sitting with the collection staff at a busy occupational medicine group. It would be extremely educational to then assemble a group of adjusters and providers (medical or otherwise) to discuss their jobs with one another.

  6. You’d be amazed at what you can learn as a manager or director when you get back in the nitty gritty of things. Sometimes we get so far removed from how things actually work (and only focus on the “process” as we think it should) we create a disconnect between ourselves and our employees, not to mention ourselves and our customers. You’ve got to watch how things ACTUALLY get done if you want to improve them.

  7. Love it. It’s always enlightening to view the canyon that sometimes exists between what is said about front-line adjusters by senior management and what actually take place. We’ve recommended this before to c-suite folks and even claims leaders with a variety of amused looks received in return.
    I’d agree that this be expanded to sitting with a front line claims team leader/supervisor as well, and that this be spread across multiple offices.
    Also, the front-line claims folks should be selected randomly from an org chart, so that the CEO is not placed with the show adjuster. Get the real deal…

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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