Retooling the Review

Tips for improving the dreaded claims performance ritual

September 19, 2017 Photo

Claim supervisors and their staff may occasionally clash, but one issue where they often find common ground is the dreaded annual performance appraisal. Both groups find it time consuming and, at times, irrelevant to the employee’s assessment. Some find it confrontational. Often, performance appraisals focus more on process than on anything else. Let’s face it: the performance appraisal is misnamed and often poorly implemented.

So, how can the experience improve for all parties? From a management perspective, be clear on the following:

• The performance appraisal’s purpose.

• The tools necessary for the performance appraisal.

• The time needed for the performance appraisal.

Every manager and employee should understand the performance appraisal’s aim. If employees have different ideas about the purpose of performance appraisals, management must remedy any misperceptions. What is the purpose of a performance appraisal? Depending on your organization, it can:

• Boost performance.

• Determine how an employee compares with peers.

• Drive organizational goals.

• Help employees reach their full potentials.

• Address underperformance.

• Move employees to new roles.

• Justify salary changes or performance bonuses.

If you are not clear on the performance appraisal’s true purpose, then be sure to define it and communicate the objectives to the staff. If the appraisal has any value, management and employees must align around the appraisal’s purpose. To be effective as performance feedback tools, however, appraisals should be immediate, personalized, and on-going. Managers must take time to coach employees, spurring growth through real-time feedback. This takes time, especially when claims supervisors and managers are stretched thin and are responsible for large staff numbers.


Hopefully, the performance appraisal tool or computer application is user-friendly. If not, then the process can be burdensome even if all else goes well. Each employee’s file should note significant events or milestones. Document coachable moments. Encourage employees to make it a regular “task” to review and capture what they have accomplished recently, lest frenzied workday demands dull memories. Include activities that help the unit save money, improve claims quality, boost customer service capabilities, or expand skillsets. If the appraisal tool or application lacks a real-time notes feature, then use your email system or create a hard copy file labeled “2017 Accomplishments” or “2017 Kudos.”

Encourage staff to do the same. Both the manager and the employee should install a recurring task in Outlook or a reminder system to “record and review recent accomplishments.” This way, they build into their schedules the time necessary to reflect on what they have done before the memories dim. Then, when the annual performance appraisal arrives, the manager and the employee have records of what they deem significant.

Here are examples of how claims professionals can use this system. Every time you participate in a significant claims project, note that as a bullet point in your folder. Include your role on the project, the accomplishment, and the unique contribution. Whenever you get a complimentary letter or email on a claim or project, tuck that in the “Kudos” file. If someone relays that by phone, then ask if they would please put that in a letter or email. Remember—if you don’t toot your own horn, there’s no music playing at review time.

Capture Customer Feedback

Customer testimonials are tangible and credible evidence of support for quality claims work. Note who you have been collaborating with and how it has worked. Every claims unit wants team players, even if they are also individual contributors. This helps managers understand how your efforts blend with those of others to fuel the company and its claims service mission.

Corporate America stresses teamwork, so it’s important to show that you are not a lone ranger. Also, document your continuing professional development. Retain brochures from educational events, seminars, courses, workshops, and webinars that you attend throughout the year. This builds a record and documents how you have been honing your skills.

If you are working toward promotion or a pay raise, then use this system to build a convincing case with specifics. Show how you have saved the company money through effective claims handling, how you have trimmed expenses, streamlined processes, or improved customer service. Be specific, as generalities do not count. Show not only where you have gone above and beyond in the claims office, but also—and more importantly—where the extra effort has yielded tangible results. Hard effort and extra effort by themselves will not get that coveted claims promotion or salary bump. In business, you get paid for results, not effort.

Managers should use a variant of this system. Document coachable moments. Record examples of effective and ineffective work. Include the steps given to an employee in order to improve. Some employees want and need frequent feedback; others find it annoying or demotivating. Keeping an immediate and on-going record counteracts a “recency bias” and keeps appraisals from turning into a “what have you done for me lately?” discussion. This also filters personal biases out of the discussion. Use coachable moments to ask employees the best way to motivate them as individuals. Document monthly or weekly one-on-ones to see what works, what does not, and what additional tools the employee needs.

Salary Discussions

Often during annual performance appraisals, supervisors and their employees discuss the coming year’s goals and objectives. However, separating goal-setting from appraisal lets managers actively develop performance. A separate meeting lets employees and managers prepare for a discussion centering around the actions to take for employees to advance or qualify for professional or salary advancement.

If the manager and the employee share a clear understanding of the purpose of the performance appraisal and well-documented folders containing accomplishments and issues, then the performance appraisal will be more meaningful for both parties and may improve employee empowerment and job satisfaction.

About The Authors
Multiple Contributors
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)

Kevin Quinley

Kevin Quinley, CPCU, AIC, ARM, is an advisor at CLM Advisors and is principal of Quinley Risk Associates, LLC. He has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at,  

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