Insurance Veteran Robert McHenry Teaches On and Off the Field

How one coach applies lessons from the field to the office and vice versa.

December 15, 2014 Photo

Many of us have been fortunate enough to experience a good coach in high school or college athletics, but it’s a good bet that the experience has not been the same with a job-related coach. Coaching employees builds them up and drives profitability. How does one make the connection or transition from coaching an athletic team to coaching in the workplace?

To answer that question, I interviewed CLM Fellow Robert E. McHenry, CPCU, a man who has spent 40 years working in claims, the last 23 years with Westfield Group, and also is a women’s fast-pitch softball coach.

When and why did you get involved in coaching softball?

My daughter’s first softball coach asked me to assist during the second season she played recreational softball. I think the coach recognized that I was a better softball coach than a softball parent. Coaching girl’s fast-pitch has now become a lifelong passion.

What traits make a successful coach, and how do those carry over into claims?

Theodore Roosevelt said, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I truly care about student-athletes. Other important traits are knowledge of the game, knowing how to get recruited, and stressing solid fundamentals combined with being good students. I stress taking time to teach necessary skills to be a success on the field and in the classroom.

Becoming a Charted Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) helped me to learn how things work in an insurance company. When I coach a co-worker, the overall fundamentals of operations and how the pieces work together are expressed. At a recent training session, IBNR—incurred but not reported losses—was mentioned. An experienced colleague didn’t know what it was, so I took the time to explain the two parts of IBNR to him and the group.

How is coaching different from showing someone how to do something?

“They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You just don’t tell them what to do, you show them,” said Vince Lombardi. I like to tell someone how to do something and then demonstrate the task. This method reinforces the learning process.

After 40 years in claims and 35 seasons of fast-pitch softball, listening to and observing the representative or player is the best way I know to recognize a coachable moment. Seeing someone struggle and asking to help them may be required.

How do you set up a coachable moment?

I make a point when visiting a claim office to talk to each team member and ask how they are doing. Not through a text or an email, but in an actual conversation.

Is there a difference between coaching an individual and coaching a team?

Yes, there is a difference. An individual player is coached on playing his position in the company or on the field. The team is taught how individual contributions fit into the overall goal of working together for top performance.

You told me that a team should be made up of A, B, and C players. How do you coach these players differently?

“A” players are the superstars. A team of all A’s is difficult to coach because the stars have issues getting along with one another. While stressing the fundamentals, A’s coaching may be about getting along with teammates. During a game when my daughter Mac was in middle school, her body language showed that she was struggling. (In eight games in middle school, Mac struck out 100 batters, and the team had a 5-3 record.) I went to the mound and asked if she was OK. Mac said she felt like she was alone on the field. I told her that there were nine other girls playing their hearts out for her. She became more determined, and the team won the game.

“B” players are the steady and reliable members. The B’s are eager to learn, please, and advance their skills. These players fill important roles. Coaching time with B’s should include fundamentals, position improvement, teamwork, and some advanced techniques to make them better.

“C” players are new, inexperienced, or less-skilled team members. The C’s are called on to fill a role vacated by a B or substitute in times of crisis. These players might not have the mental or physical skills to advance to the next level, yet the C’s are important for filling gaps and allow the team to be whole. It is important that respect is given along with teaching the basic skills to be competitive and contribute to the team.

Is there a difference between coaching for improved performance versus coaching for a new task?

Yes, in my opinion, there is a definite difference. I had a new adjuster who started handling small claims. She didn’t handle one very well, so I found another similar loss that she had done a great job resolving. We discussed the differences between the two losses, and it restored her confidence.

In any new task, the teaching role is critical. Start with the basic steps and demonstrate each one. Take the time to explain these steps and why they are important in the process. Have the person show you they understand, and then take the time to correct any miscues so they can begin to handle the new duty.

How do you know if your coaching is working, and how do you measure success?

It seems easy to measure success in terms of record. Personally, I stress playing your best and not worrying about the score. If the girls play like a team, everyone can tell. In claims, if your diary, inventory, and incoming losses are under control, you are winning—or at least breaking even. Once a claims representative accomplishes this, the company’s bottom line will show the results.

Can you tell us about a successful on-the-job coaching you participated in?

After being hired at a new insurance company, my boss told me to decide if my co-worker should be let go. I took the time to learn her skills and needs, and then I began teaching her about auto casualty claims. Each assignment was discussed as it progressed, and time was taken for coaching. Within two years, she was managing one of the offices and coaching her own adjusters.

How about an unsuccessful on-the-job coaching experience and why it didn’t work?

I was attending an office meeting, and the manager chose to coach a co-worker on a poor performance issue in a public setting. My co-worker was embarrassed and then became angry in reaction to being called out in public. Then the manager became angry, and they both started raising their voices at each other. I took the opportunity to become the coach and put my hand on my co-worker’s arm asking him to calm down and make the matter private. I also coached the manager that correcting an individual’s performance should be done privately. This diffused the situation.

Are there any words of wisdom you would like to pass along to our readers to help them become better coaches?

A coach doesn’t play the game, so he must be the best cheerleader the team has. Find good outcomes and celebrate successes. Seek out coachable moments by being a good listener and observer. Have a real conversation and not an email or text. Care about the people you work with and their successes. Congratulate someone in writing—there is a lot of power in the written word. Ask questions to gain an understanding of what teaching is needed. Ask follow-up questions if you’re not sure you understand. Never mess up an apology with an excuse, and if the individual’s performance is poor, keep it private.  

About The Authors
Donna J. Popow

Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829.

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