I was interviewed earlier this week by Greg Hamlin and Michael Gilmartin for their podcast, “Adjusted.” Recorded for release in a few weeks, it was a fun and entertaining experience. Those two probably missed their calling. They made it a very easy process. 

One of the questions I was asked was related to the workers’ compensation industry’s reluctance or hesitancy to adapt to or accept change. While our ability to pivot in response to a pandemic was impressive, overall, we are a risk-averse industry seen as reluctant to try new and innovative ideas. No one ever really wants to be the first person in the pool. 

We are not alone in this, of course. Many industries in America suffer this particular complaint. And the larger the company, the more difficult it is to turn that ship in a different direction. I’ve thought about it more since the podcast and have realized that part of the problem in corporate America is one of vision; in how we view the environment and risks around us. A narrow viewpoint tends to develop “one size fits all” solutions to issues that are considered as similar, but in reality, can be quite different. And when you are a hammer that sees everything as a nail, change will be difficult indeed. 

A hammer is a simple tool with one primary purpose. It is designed to pound nails. In my house, the mission of that instrument is sometimes expanded. A hammer under my command is a tool that may also be introduced in the middle of a home improvement project that isn’t going as planned or is taking too long. After all, I subscribe to the old time-worn adage, if it doesn’t fit, hit it harder. I once even used a hammer in the process of installing a mirror. It didn’t end well.

And I’d rather not talk about it.

As a small company that deals with some very large corporations, we most often see this phenomenon in the arena of vendor management or vendor services agreements. Not all vendors provide the same services. Not all vendors expose customers to the same level of risk. But quite often all vendors are put through the same rigorous vetting process, regardless of whether they are managing claimant data or striping the parking lot when the office is closed. And that often means many trips “back to legal” for edits and exceptions. Usually, common ground can be found, but it is a slow and inefficient process to go through. And once in a while, you may get a result similar to that of our hammer-aided mirror installation. 

This is just one area as an example, of course. The phenomenon can happen throughout any organization. Any of us may develop processes designed to perform a specific function that fails to easily allow for variances and variables, which ends up getting in the way of progress. I’ve been privy to calls with companies where there is a detailed discussion regarding internal negotiations between various divisions to navigate the process of change. The silos of corporate America can create many internal hammers; likely more than those directed to external entities.  

In many ways, Dilbert is alive and well in corporate America (if you don’t read the Dilbert cartoon series, that reference may be lost on you). We must learn to see beyond the solutions we create, to anticipate the level of response appropriate to each situation. If we don’t do that, we just simply become another hammer.

Which I suppose is still better than being the nail.

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