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What Football Can Teach the Insurance Industry

Posted By Rosalie L. Donlon, Thursday, February 1, 2018

Disruption, collaboration and leadership: Football players have learned to expect the unexpected, and the insurance industry can as well.

from, January 26, 2018

“Disruption is what the game of football is all about,” Terrell Davis, Pro Football Hall of Fame 2017 inductee and former star running back for the Denver Broncos, told the insurance industry professionals gathered at the Property Casualty Insurance Joint Industry Forum 2018 on Jan. 16.

Davis explained that teams go into the game with a strategy and a play book, but the strategy can be completely disrupted in myriad ways: Plays don’t go as planned, the other team does something unexpected, or a key player can be hurt and out for the remainder of the game, if not the season. Football players have learned to expect the unexpected, and other industries can as well.

In answer to questions posed by Insurance Information Institute President and CEO Sean Kevelighan, he urged the audience to be prepared to deal with disruptions, even if they weren’t ready to embrace them. And he reminded the audience that companies that succeed, like teams that succeed, expect disruption; they’re not defeated by it.

Stay focused on the end goal

During his time with the Denver Broncos, Davis played in two Super Bowl games, and he credited the team’s ability to collaborate and stay focused on the end goal with the team’s winning the championship. He explained that on the football field, collaboration is key. All 11 players have to work together to execute plays effectively. They have to keep the Lombardi Trophy in sight and agree that winning the game, and eventually the championship, is more important than any individual player. “Teams that win, teams that succeed, have guys that collaborate, that think of the team first and themselves second,” he said.

Davis used the example of player bonuses — similar to executive bonuses in the insurance industry — as one way his Broncos teammates pulled together to win games. “Many contracts have bonuses if the individual carries the ball a number of times per game, and a number of times a season,” he explained. But in certain games, handing the ball off to someone else means that the play will be made and the game will be won. Does that mean the player forgoes the bonus? Yes. Does it mean the team may advance to a higher level? Also, yes.

For insurance professionals, Davis said, taking the risk of letting someone else “carry the ball” can mean better results overall, even if it’s not in the best interests of the individual.

Leadership and mentoring

Davis spoke eloquently about the role of mentors in his life and the many ways outstanding leaders in sports helped him succeed in his profession. He told the audience that his father passed away when Davis was only 13, and he got off track for a while, dropping football and failing at school. When he finally decided to turn himself around, there were teachers and coaches who stepped up to help him get back on track. They made sure he had someone to talk to and ask advice from, whether it was about sports, academics or life.

He credited then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and the team’s owners with seeing the players as individuals as well as a winning football team. As Davis reminded the audience, “Football players are human too. You see us on Sunday on the field and think we have no problems. But we all have wives, children, families, and everyone has something that’s not going right.”

Davis noted that appreciating employees doesn’t take a lot, that small gestures go a long way. He explained that many football teams require players to share rooms when traveling to away games. It’s a reasonable cost-saving measure, but it can interfere with preparation if the roommates have different ways of getting ready for the game.

Some like to watch game films of opponents over and over, while other prefer to exercise and get plenty of rest. The Broncos made sure that players had single rooms and paid for two in-room movies. “That doesn’t seem like much,” Davis said, “but it went a long way to making us feel valued.”

Athletes as insurance professionals?

Kevelighan asked Davis whether he thought professional athletes would be interested in the insurance industry as a second career. “It could be a great fit,” Davis said. He noted that football players, like most professional athletes, are accustomed to taking risks on and off the field and devising strategy to win games, as well as thinking quickly during a play. All those skills could translate well to insurance as the industry looks to nontraditional sources for talent.

I am an unabashed football fan, who regularly watches college and professional games on weekends. After listening to Davis, I’ve thought more about the teams who do consistently well on the field and about the many organizations, not just insurance companies, that thrive even as the world shifts around them. I found myself agreeing with Davis that disruption and change, whether major or minor, are a fact of life, and that those who succeed will manage the change, not let the change manage them.

If you’re in the insurance industry, what do you think about Terrell Davis’ words of wisdom?

Tags:  Agency Management  Collaboration  Leadership 

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