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By:  Patricia McHugh Lambert

One of my favorite motivational quotes is from Winston Churchill, the great British Prime Minister who led England during World War II.   As he noted, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”  From my perspective, these are important words for the modern insurance industry.

While none of us like to fail, failure creates the need for insurance products, particularly property and casualty insurance products.  In the 1700’s, failed shipping expeditions with resulting loss of cargo caused investors to seek insurance; thus, Lloyds of London grew to meet the need of potential failures in shipping.  Today, computer systems failures have created cyber risks; the risk of system failure has created the need for cyber-insurance.  Risk and failure spurs on the development of new insurance products.

On the claims side, human or institutional failures create claims.  A homeowner forgets to unplug Christmas tree lights (or even to water the tree) and a fire occurs.  A person driving a car becomes distracted and an accident occurs.  A busy business neglects to take the time to put needed processes in place and property is damaged and people are injured.  Failure is what generally causes claims.

Even on the business side of insurance, failure is an ever present specter.  An agency loses a contingency bonus when one of its clients has a substantial claim. A boss pushes an employee too hard, resulting in the employee quitting in order to have a better work-life balance.  An insurance professional omits an important detail from a report, simply because of inadvertence and life stresses.  All commonplace failures that have a business impact.

So with insurance being built on the concept of failure and failures being so common in business, why do we avoid discussion of failure except among our discrete intimate friends and our therapists?  Is it simply because most people do not want to carry the label of being a loser? Do we fear that being labeled as having failed in one thing in the past will label us as a potential loser for future endeavors?  Or do we become so fearful of failure that we stop taking risks?  Whatever the answer, we, as an industry, need to understand Churchill’s concept of failure not being fatal.

First and foremost, we insurance leaders need to embrace the concept of failure.  It would be refreshing for insurance businesses to embrace the concept that growth can come from not being perfect. It would be informative for a CEO to discuss mistakes made and lessons learned.  Knowing that mistakes can be costly, embracing the concept of failure will likely be difficult.  So how do we inspire a culture of failure not being viewed as fatal?   The first step is for business leaders to accept and convey that mistakes—at least most mistakes–can create an opportunity for improvement. (And a little hint, employees love to hear that the boss is a person who has made mistakes in the past.)

Second, when a ‘failure’ occurs, there needs to be an honest assessment of what happened and how, in the future, the situation can be improved.  Sometimes this requires there be a detailed 360 degree post mortem.  Too often, failure is laid at the foot of a single person, when, in actuality, the blame needs to be shared.  For example, the failure that I had this week was in not being a particularly good coach to a new employee.  I was too busy to explain the assignment in detail or to discuss what I particularly wanted in a work product.  As a result, the product given to me was almost unusable, requiring extra effort and time.  In the post mortem that I had with this employee, we discussed where the assignment got off track, focusing on what we both could do better in the future.   The exchange of ideas as to what could be done better by both of us in the future, rather than  pointing out all the flaws of the employee, allowed us to have a candid and workable plan for the future.

Finally, I increasingly embrace the concept of going slow to go fast. Where I go too fast, I make mistakes. We have all seen the sign over the desk of administrative assistants that says: “do you want my work to be good or fast?”  While I actually want it to be both, I must accept the idea that it takes time to do a good and thorough job. Particularly where there is a need to be close to perfect, we must give time allowances.  If I do not give such allowance, I must also understand that mistakes should not be viewed as fatal mistakes.

Of course, there are many ways to prevent failure by study, by training, by experience and by mentorship of insurance professionals.  Unfortunately, not all failure can be prevented.  So where failure occurs, we need to understand, what Churchill said so many years ago, that it is “the courage to continue that counts.”  Here is hoping for continued change in our insurance industry when failures are faced.

Ms. Lambert has over 35 years of experience in handling complex commercial litigation and insurance matters. Ms. Lambert has worked on national class actions, significant litigation and regulatory matters for Fortune 500 companies. She has also assisted small and mid-sized companies and business executives with contract, real estate, liability assessment and commercial disputes that needed to be resolved quickly and efficiently. Ms. Lambert is best known as an attorney who knows the field of insurance. She has represented insurers, policyholders, and insurance producers in disputes both in court and before the Maryland Insurance Administration.

Ms. Lambert is the firm’s Co-Liaison for Harmonie, a national network of high quality law firms that serve the special needs of the risk industry, and was recently appointed to Harmonie’s Board.  She can be reached by phone at 410-339-6759 or email