An announcement was posted yesterday morning to an internal News bulletin system for SAIF employees, informing them that two of their new board members will be available later this month to meet directly with employees of the embattled Oregon insurer. The announcement reads:

Two of SAIF's new board members are visiting the Salem campus on October 21. Jeff Stone and Jenny Ulum will attend that morning's Executive Council meeting, then meet with employees afterwards.

Jeff and Jenny will be available from 9:15 to 10:45 a.m. in the Parkway third floor conference room. All employees are invited to attend; you do not need to reserve a space in advance.

Short bios of each can be found on the Board of Directors page on

For more information, please contact Kellie Lute.

I personally view this as a very positive outreach attempt, particularly since I've heard from employees that have been with SAIF for years who have never met a board member.  Clearly this is a step out from what has traditionally been a very isolated and insular Board of Directors.

The results of which, by the way, have clearly shown in the last few months.

Still, if I was King for a Day I would handle this a bit differently. I am an advocate of a management concept simply known as MBWA; Management by Wandering Around. It is the simple idea that a manager can gain tremendous insight by familiarizing themselves with all aspects of the operation in the environment where they exist, and that the concept of “wandering around” allows you to have a more direct feel of what needs addressing and when. Therefore I think the new board members time would be better spent not isolated in a conference room, but rather wandering the campus. As I recommended in a previous article, they should tour the floors, “wade” in to the cubicles, and perhaps take their lunch in the employee cafeteria, without, of course, their corporate handlers. They will likely get a much better feel for employee opinion and morale than in a monitored conference room with limited access.

The Parkway third floor conference room at SAIF’s Salem headquarters seats 12 people. Meanwhile, the facility has an auditorium that shows to be available at the time the board members will be there. It can accommodate 79 people. One must ask, “Why is that room not being used?” I suppose that would be a question for Kellie Lute.

I am sure that these new board members simply let their desire to do this be known, and the logistics for the process were left to the EC “leadership” (Sorry, there I go with the quotes again). I don’t know, perhaps someone who heads Operations determined a tiny conference room would be the most appropriate venue for this. Perhaps “leadership” believes just a few disgruntled troublemakers will be the only ones to show.

An open, wandering familiarization with the facility and it’s people would likely produce much more honest and direct feedback. Instead, that conference room door may act as a gauntlet through which people who pass may be monitored by those whom they no longer trust. It is a barrier, and a 12 seat capacity is not exactly a welcoming feature. However, and let me be painfully clear on this point, pass through that door they must.

My advice to SAIF employees: Your new board is extending an opportunity here, and signaling that the way they do business is about to change. You must take advantage of the availability they are offering. Screw the gauntlet. Screw the limited capacity. You should, indeed you must, fill that room and the hall outside. I am not referring to or recommending an “angry mob”; simply just a visual show of support for those who are able to speak. Even if you don’t get to address them and someone speaks on your behalf, the physical presence of many will be noted and impactful. If in fact you are as displeased as your many comments have indicated over the last 5 months, you must turn out in a visual force to demand a change in culture, as well as to demand answers in the firing of John Plotkin. If you do not, if you remain in your cubicles, if you let your fear conquer your desires, then you are simply spinning your wheels and wasting your time.

And you are wasting mine as well.

This has become a national story with significant interest from many quarters. John Plotkin is, by the way of his misfortune, now one of the more recognizable names in the industry. But the battles over the injustices dealt to him are not mine nor are they the industry's. They are yours. The lives and careers affected by a select few in your organization do not belong to me or those across the nation, they are in fact yours. You can rise to the occasion and provide your new board members with a realistic view of what is happening in your agency; or you can let it pass and accept the status quo for the remainder of your careers.

Mr. Stone and Ms. Ulum’s willingness to make themselves available to you is the most positive development I’ve been able to report since the previous board bungled the entire Plotkin affair. I applaud them for the effort, and hope that it proves to be a fruitful endeavor.

But that, after all, is now up to SAIF employees. October 21st, in the Parkway third floor conference room, you will have 90 minutes to potentially change the course of your company’s history. It is not “Management by Wandering Around”, but it is, in fact, the next best thing. It is a sign of hope, and a chance to make a difference.

Take it.


For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.

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