What We’ve Learned About Building a Great Place to Work
By: Melissa Berry
Continental Underwriters, Inc. has something big to celebrate: We’ve been named one of the nation’s five small Top Insurance Employers by Insurance Business. It’s rare to be recognized for what a company believes in and how employees collaborate and support each other. Our workplace culture, in turn, sets the tone for how we conduct ourselves externally.
This award is especially meaningful because it’s based on our employees’ experiences. Each team member had the opportunity to share anonymous assessments of our benefits, compensation, culture, employee development and commitment to diversity and inclusion, among other metrics. Continental Underwriters received an 80% or greater satisfaction rating.
Clients and partners sometimes ask me how Continental Underwriters built our close-knit culture – and how they can do it too. Here’s what I tell them.
Start with strong bones.
“The house don’t fall when the bones are good,” country singer Maren Morris says in one of my favorite songs. That’s true of our company too. When C. Preston Herrington III founded Continental Underwriters, he sat down with his first few hires (including me) and in a series of workshops we asked — and answered — the big questions: What do we want to become? How do we become that? How do we reward employees? How do we measure success?
That conversation gave rise to our We Proposition, a value statement that governs everything we do. We have weathered so many storms, and this shared principle just brings us closer together.
Make sure every hire is aligned with your values.
While we value education and experience, we consider cultural fit to be one of the most important characteristic when we’re hiring. I personally had never worked in marketing before coming to CU, but Preston knew I brought something to the team that he needed. I’ve worked with him for 10 years, and was a member of the company’s foundational team.
Every new employee receives a copy of The Go-Giver, a book about how putting others’ interests first leads to unexpected rewards. The book’s lessons about leadership, authenticity, receptivity and other themes strike a chord with everyone who reads it.
No matter whom you talk to at Continental Underwriters, you’ll hear the same values echoed in different voices. Our thoughts, the ways we feel and think, and the way we think things should be done are aligned.
Recognize that good ideas come from fresh eyes, not just long experience.
A key lesson from The Go-Giver is “Be open to receiving.” At some companies, senior staff might bristle when a 22-year-old makes a suggestion. Here, we listen. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for 10 years or 10 minutes; if it’s the right idea, it’s the right idea.
Invest in education.
When team members learn and grow, everyone on the team benefits. That’s why Continental Underwriters pays for continuing education for eligible full-time employees.
Quite a few of our employees are working on their Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation right now, and we encourage team members to pursue other education and credentials to help them excel in their roles. We tell employees that “however you learn best, we’ll pay for it” — whether that means online course, in-person classes or another approach that will set them up for success.
Informal education is important to us too. Someone once asked me who was my biggest mentor. My answer is “everyone,” from the newest hire to Preston. I learn from everyone in here every day.
Honesty is everything.
Forest products insurance is a complex and ever-changing field, where making the right — or wrong — decision can have enormous consequences. That’s why Continental Underwriters is known for honesty, integrity and reliability.
We’re always, always honest with our clients. If a client asks us a question and we don’t immediately know the answer, we say so! And then, we lean on each other and each other’s knowledge to find the answers.
We study trends, analyze the market and act as thought leaders in the field. (Take a look at this recent piece about Preston’s leadership practices from the National Hardwood Lumber Association.) We educate our clients and partners about common misconceptions, sustainability facts and other topics that are critical for them to work efficiently and effectively. For instance, Claims and Risk Assessment Coordinator Andrea Morrison wrote this detailed guide on how to handle a loss that helps our insureds know exactly what to expect.
Our mission is simple: to bring quality, passion, and expertise back to the insurance industry. Our team is not afraid to challenge the status quo or stand out from the crowd to fulfill this mission to its fullest. As Preston always says — and as we all believe — “When you team up with the right people to do the right thing under the right circumstances, success will always follow.”
Contact Melissa at email@example.com if you’d like to know more about how our awesome team can help yours!