It was the “word” from NCCI during their Annual Issues Symposium last week: Transforming. Newly ensconced CEO Bill Donnell announced it as the latest edition in a long running tradition at NCCI, the word best describing the current state of the workers' compensation industry. None of the almost 1,000 people in attendance was likely prepared to argue with him. 

Donnell, in his first AIS appearance since taking the helm of NCCI, set a forthright and direct tone for the two-day event with a timely and accurate recap of recent challenges and opportunities facing our industry. Most impressively, he took the time to highlight specific positive stories reflecting quality outcomes that our system provides to many. Acknowledging that we were under an immense microscope from external forces, he encouraged and challenged workers' comp professionals to speak openly about the positive results we achieve and encounter. It is a solid point that bears repeating here. 

Bill Donnell and I have at least two things in common. First, despite the myriad of activities associated with taking on a new position at such an important organization as NCCI, he immediately committed to joining the fledgling board of Kids' Chance of Florida, on which I also serve (NCCI has a long history of supporting Kids' Chance, both nationally and at state levels). But more importantly, he is probably the only person in the workers' compensation industry who is personally familiar with my alma mater, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. It turns out we both applied to Fort Lewis in 1979, but alas, he was an out of state student and the college did not have enough room for them at the time. He instead had to go to Colorado State University, a slightly larger (by about 30,000) and better known school that was governed by the same Board of Regents. The fact that, 37 years later, Bill is running the organization that produced the slick AIS while I sat in the audience checking my Facebook status bears no reflection on the quality of our respective educational experiences.

At least that is what I keep telling myself.

The word, Transformation, was a perfect choice for this year. We are at the threshold of immense change; with legal, demographic and technological influences poised to recreate much of how our industry operates. I had the opportunity to expand on these points a bit as a panelist Thursday afternoon. I, along with Mark Walls, Joe Paduda and Moderator Peter Burton discussed in detail many of the issues broached in Donnell's opening remarks. From exclusive remedy court challenges to the gig economy to technology, we are likely to see changes in our industry at a pace never previously seen. We are staring down the throat of transformational transformation, indeed.

For Walls, Paduda and me it was a typical bloggers panel such as others we've done before. The reaction of the attendees, however, was something the three of us had not encountered prior. It was overwhelmingly positive, with many people stopping us over the remainder of the conference to tell us how much they enjoyed it. I'm not sure why we were so well received, but I suspect it was just a unique format compared to that they are normally accustomed to. NCCI, much like WCRI's annual datafest in Boston, is a statistically laden and conservative affair. The panels, speakers and presentation systems are slick, professional and informative. Our panel, on the other hand, was anything but; these people had probably never seen the likes of our virtual “Three Amigos” mudwrestling, eye poking, face slapping extravaganza before. When you are used to manners, tact and decorum, the image of Paduda and I rolling off the stage in a mutual headlock has to be a jarring one.

For the Annual Issues Symposium, it was no doubt a transformative moment. And perhaps that is not a bad thing, since transforming is the “word”, and significant transformation for workers' comp lies directly on the road ahead.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *