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Hurricane and Tropical Strom Action Plan

While Hurricanes don’t usually affect us in the Northwest. We have had some requests to provide information on how businesses, that may be exposed, can mitigate the damage and danger that Hurricanes present.
Below is a document titled Hurricane and Tropical Strom Action Plan, provided by Liberty Mutual. This document is a good starting place when developing a comprehensive plan. It also has some good checklists that will walk you through the process before, during and after the event.
Hurricane and Tropical Strom Action Plan (PDF 566kb)

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Value Creation

The concept of value creation is based on the premise that successful organizations bring value to their customers, their employees, and investors and that if done appropriately all three are not just rewarded, but are linked together in a symbiotic relationship. Their goals are mutually aligned. Increasingly, however, it seems that value creation has been corrupted and more than ever corporations have swung radically toward wealth creation, either for the benefit of a few owners in a private company or the investors in a public company.
This was never more in evidence than during the Wall Street collapse in 2008. The drive to create enormous wealth overshadowed all the tenants of value creation with the result being financial meltdown. This disturbing trend is also visible in the private sector – in our space in the insurance industry. More than ever there is desperation to grow, primarily through acquisitions, in order to simply get bigger and create more wealth for a few investors. The losers are customers and employees who are often forgotten in the deal.
As a 75 year old private company that has had the good fortune to develop an enviable client list, attract a talented staff and build a reputation for integrity and professionalism, we continue to be a target of many companies desperate to grow. We are bombarded with inquires to sell our firm and become a cog in a bigger wheel.
There is nothing inherently wrong with growth through acquisition, or being acquired for that matter. In fact it’s a useful strategy to bring new expertise into your organization, to expand your footprint, bring more services (more value) to a larger client base and infuse capital that can be used to grow needed resources and infrastructure. That makes sense as a business plan. What’s increasingly happening today is acquisition and growth as a financial plan.
Parker Smith & Feek was founded in 1937 and is operated today on the basis that our business operations must match our core values: Focus on client objectives; Commit to the success of all team members; Act with uncompromising integrity; Demonstrate intellectual curiosity. Nothing about our core values talks of creating wealth for a few. Our company’s founders had many opportunities to execute a different exit strategy than an internal sale of their ownership, but they eschewed wealth for values and all owners since have elected to perpetuate as a private, employee owned company. That has directly resulted in the clientele, staff and culture so crucial to our success.
In business, as in life, there are no guarantees. None of us can ever say ‘never’. Good planning, good execution and good luck are as important in business as they are in health. Currently, our business future is in our own hands. We have the luxury of being able to look at every opportunity through the lens of our values system and to make short and long term decisions that fit those values and inure to the mutual benefit of all our stakeholders – clients, employees, and investors. It’s a strategy that has served us for 75 years and will continue to well into the future.

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Traveling Safe

As an employer, we know that we must provide a safe work place environment. But are you also aware that you have a duty of care to your employees while traveling?
Safe travel is an important part of an overall risk management strategy that includes risk transfer through a comprehensive insurance policy, preventative training, information, and crisis management preparation.
Kevin Henry, VP of Hiscox, a Global leader in Kidnap and Ransom Insurance, speaks to the “Three Tenets of Safe Travel” (200 kb) – be alert, anonymous, and unpredictable. Employers have a responsibility (i.e. duty of care) to their employees; feel free to incorporate the tips provided by Hiscox into your corporate travel risk management program.
Click here to download the article (200 kb)

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Do You Have a Moon Mission?

Most all of us enjoy sitting down and watching a good movie. We engage in this form of entertainment for many reasons, the need for a good laugh, the attraction of the arts, the acting itself or maybe what is behind the story. Many of us relate to a movie because to some extent we have lived it and it may strike a chord for the moment. Though I enjoy the humor or action, I have found in many cases there is application within the story line to apply in our daily lives be it personal or professional (Though I hope one never experiences what Andy Dufresne did in crawling down a quarter mile of sewage drain in the “Shawshank Redemption”). Sorry, bad visual.
If I could take you back to 1995, the movie is the award winning “Apollo 13”. You might already be asking how flying to the moon has any correlation to working for an insurance broker, or for that matter any company.
Follow along if you will. Well into the movie, Apollo 13 was heading towards the moon when a malfunction occurred. In short, a quadruple failure, resulting in oxygen levels dropping. Mission aborted with a new directive. Get our astronauts back to earth alive. The astronauts move from the Command Module to the Lunar Module (LM). Once inside the LM they are soon faced with another problem. There is a buildup of deadly carbon dioxide that could be life threatening if they don’t find a solution. The primary goal of returning to earth alive has temporarily been altered with a new goal. They need to reduce the CO2 buildup to sustain life.
You can surely relate in your years of employment to a serious issue, maybe an emergency not to this extent, but one that could have severe consequences to you, others or maybe the company. The fix is not easy as there are one or several dilemmas you are faced with. Now what?
Let’s continue, Gene Krantz (Ed Harris) is the Flight Director. He is assessing the situation, discussing with others at the Command Center the options. After some typical fault finding, finger pointing and washing of hands of any responsibility, Mr. Krantz directs the staff to refocus on the matter at hand. They develop a list of inventory items in the LM. Director Krantz sends several of the staff members into a room with the items they have to work with. The goal here is to “retrofit” a filter that will reduce the CO2 levels. Gene Krantz informs his team, “Failure is not an option”.
With strength in numbers and brain power, the filter is designed. This was completed by individuals in different capacities of the organization, who came together as a team to meet an immediate challenge. The astronauts where provided instructions on how to fabricate the filter in the LM. The filter was constructed, installed and waited for the results. From the words of Jim Lovell, “Houston… the CO2 level has dropped to 9…and is still falling”. A potential travesty, turns into a success story all coordinated by leadership, teamwork , focus, creativity, brainstorming and a fixation on the same goal!
Though our story lines are not as severe, we can relate. We too have challenges that confront us at times, which may require immediate attention or in the near future. We too can use the same applications as depicted in the movie in resolving our own problems:

Clarity of mind and knowledge of the situation

There needs to be one willing to take on the role of leadership and that might in some cases be someone other than the assigned leader

Define the goal and establish stability

Determine the current problems and define the solutions

If there are multiple issues facing us, assess and take on the major issue first. Leave the secondary issues for a later time as all items cannot necessarily be resolved at the same time

Understand that individuals will seek others to be the “fall guy”. Defer the “fault finding” and get everyone focused on the defined goal

Use the surrounding brain power to work together allowing them to use their creativity

Know people are typically willing to jump in during a crisis with a relentless determination

We engage not for ourselves, but for the benefits of the whole

Accept the success or in some cases the failure together, growing from the experience

Typically, tough circumstances bring people closer together, especially when all are affected

Realize something’s may be out of our hands and the results are not controllable

As you may recall there were a few other challenges in getting the astronauts home, one which was the heat shield that was potentially damaged and critical during the re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. In my opinion, one of the great lines of all times as the Odyssey was approaching re-entry, there was discussions of all the negatives, possibly the worst disaster ever for NASA. Flight Director Krantz overhearing this establishes the defining moment by saying to the NASA Director, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour” Is that awesome or what?
The end results were a successful story in that all three astronauts returned home safely. These applications can make your story a successful one as well!

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Workers Compensation Reform in Washington

On May 25th the state Legislature delivered a package of five bills overhauling Washington’s workers’ compensation system for signature into law.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle said that the aim of the bills is to strike a “fair and reasonable” balance for injured workers. The bills were strongly opposed by labor groups on the grounds that the new legislation could lead to reduced payments and decreased benefits that injured workers otherwise may have been entitled to receive.

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The Eastside’s Fastest Growing Private Companies

Congratulations to our clients that were named as part of the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of The Eastside’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.

Affirma Consulting – www.affirmaconsulting.com            

JeffreyM Consulting LLC – www.jeffreym.com  

The Odom Corp./Odom Southern Holdings LLC – www.odomcorp.com

 

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It finally feels like spring!

Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation
On May 25 at 12:05 pm the North Cascades Highway opened for the season. Built in 1972, Highway 20 is the most direct connection between Puget Sound and the Methow Valley. Because of the extreme avalanche danger it typically closes across Washington and Rainy passes in late November, reopening in the spring when the DOT can safely clear the winter accumulations.
Record snow levels in the Cascades kept snow removal crews focused on Stevens and Snoqualmie passes until April 11, and then DOT crews had to contend with over 65 feet of snow covering the highway in the avalanche zones. Last year the pass opened on April 16, and the May 25 opening this year was the second latest opening ever.
I find it special to drive across the pass soon after opening. As you can see from the photo above, you’re surrounded by walls of snow, creating an amazing tunnel effect. With the brilliant white snow to either side of you, the deep blue sky above, and the towering mountains in the background, you realize what a special place this is – and only 150 miles from Seattle. For many of us, the late opening of the pass underscores the lousy spring we have experienced. Record rain, nagging cold and only brief respites of sunshine. By the end of May we were celebrating 60 degree days!
As much as we might complain about our lack of good weather in the Northwest, the rest of the world is suffering infinitely more. Beginning with the Haiti earthquake last year we have seen a succession of natural disasters. Followed closely by earthquakes in Chile, New Zealand and most recently the devastating quake and tsunami in Japan, they have literally shaken the world. In the U.S., record flooding and tornados have left much of the Midwest and South reeling. The pictures and stories are heartbreaking.
It can happen anywhere, and our area certainly is not exempt. Seattle sits in the northeast quadrant of the ‘Ring of Fire’, the Pacific Rim earthquake zone that includes Chile, New Zealand and Japan. We could experience a +8 Richter scale quake tomorrow, or perhaps 500 years from now, which are relatively speaking only seconds apart on earth’s geologic clock.
It’s incongruous to think that what can provide as much pleasure and natural beauty as the North Cascades could instantly be transformed into a cataclysmic event. Lives would be lost, and none of us would ever be the same. To some extent, I suppose, the power of nature is part of its mystique.
What will happen, geologically and climatically, is largely out of our hands. But we can all do our best to prepare. If you’re a business, now is a good time to update your disaster plan. At home, make sure you have the supplies you need and your family has a plan. Check out the links below to assist you. And if you’re a client of PS&F, know that our own disaster plan is based on being ready to help you should the need arise.
And maybe we won’t complain too much about the rain.
Family Disaster Plan – www.redcross.org/images/pdfs/code/family_disaster_plan.pdf
Business Disaster Planning – http://www.disaster-recovery-guide.com

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For our Construction clients: Insurance Companies Can Now File Proof of Contractor Registration Online With L&I

Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has created an online system for insurance agents to create, cancel and reinstate general liability insurance certificates for contractors registered in the state.
Parker, Smith & Feek currently handles the submission of this information on behalf of our clients, and has already started using this system for some of our clients. We will be moving all our clients to the online system before the deadline of June 30, 2011.
The new online system allows Parker, Smith & Feek to electronically submit the required general liability insurance certificates, instead of printing or emailing the original certificates.
If you have any questions regarding this new system, and how it may affect you, please contact your Parker, Smith & Feek Account Executive.
For more information on this online system, visit http://lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Contractors/ElectronicInsurance/default.asp

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Focusing On The Positive

Another photo in the Seattle rain!
Over the past two weeks I have had the privilege to participate in two charitable events here on the Eastside. What really struck me was the generosity of people, even though the economy is tough and almost everyone has been affected in one way or another by this recession – giving at both events hit all time records.
We cannot watch, read or listen to the news without the first item being negative. The positive “help your neighbor” stuff almost never gets news coverage, and when it does the news outlets make it sound like these types of events are rare. From what I saw last week this is not the case at all.
Our firm believes that as part of our core value – we need to be active in organizations (with our time and money) that support our community and our clients.
This was highlighted earlier this week, when a truck from the Northwest Center turned up to collect a huge pile of clothes donated by our staff as part of our Spring Cleaning wellness challenge.
I can’t tell you how enriching these experiences over the last two weeks been for me.

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The World is Flat

In his landmark book, “The World is Flat”, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman revealed how countries around the globe are increasingly interconnected by business, and that to flourish in the economy of the future we all must learn to embrace the fact that we now live in a global economy. That interconnectivity has been prominent during the recession. As the U.S. economy stumbled in 2008, the world financial markets were impacted as well, further emphasizing the reality of financial interdependence.
This is often perceived as a negative development – whether it is U.S. jobs shipped overseas or the fact that U.S. creditors are countries who may not always seem to have our best economic interests at heart. Regardless, it is a reality that we now depend on this foreign investment and trade – but so does the rest of the world. This dependence has its benefits, as well. The need to effectively generate commerce between disparate continents and cultures has the added value of bringing people together for a common purpose – economic growth.
That’s no more evident than the development of Assurex, a corporation that Parker Smith & Feek joined in 1982. Assurex was founded in 1954 and was predominately North American based. It was established to provide private brokers with a network to help them deliver service to their clients across state lines and to share best practices in their respective firms. In 1998, recognizing that U.S. clients were increasingly conducting business outside the country, Assurex adopted what was then seen as a bold, and controversial strategy. We began to rapidly expand our network beyond North America, beginning with a number of key, high quality firms in Europe. Rebranding itself as Assurex Global (AG), the network continues to expand to every corner of the globe. Today there are 107 AG partner/owners on six continents, comprising the third largest insurance distribution system in the world.
This has been significant for PS&F. Our clients have established operations around the world as well. The only continent where we don’t conduct business today is Antarctica. It would be impossible for us to provide service to our international clients without a network like AG.
I have the privilege of having chaired the AG Board (2003) and serving as a Director since 2001. I could never have imagined how that experience would have enriched my business career. I just returned from our spring AG meeting in Dallas. Serving on our Board are principals from our network partners in Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and India. The chance to interact and transact business with them, to learn about their firms, their best practices, and their cultures has been immeasurable – for me and for PS&F.
As I said at the outset, it has been enlightening to see how the need to be competitive in today’s global economy transcends most issues around culture and politics. Business has created a platform by which diverse peoples find commonality in the need – the requirement – to work together. AG is a microcosm of that reality. It teaches you that there are far more similarities than differences among countries. Rather than being threats to each other, we now become partners in business.

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Connecting existing web sites to social media.

A couple of years ago if you had asked me about that whole “social media” thing I would have told you that it was a cute little thing the non-geeks use to pass the day away. In the internet world I am an old web dog who has been coding web sites for over fifteen years so I had no need for that social stuff. When I wanted a blog, in 1998, I built it from scratch. When I wanted a family photo album, a decade ago, I programmed the database to do it. Have fun playing Farmville, folks, while I do “real” web work, okay? But then a good friend showed me how wrong I was.
Sure, I knew how much the kids (even the middle aged ones) loved social media and how it allowed anyone to post a story, share a video or build a survey with a few mouse clicks. The number of sites out there that fall into the “social media” definition is overwhelming and seemingly everyone is collecting their favorites and spending their free hours on them every day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites
Aside from trying it out and learning the ropes I generally categorized that as something for everyone else. I program my own sites because we have an emotional and technological investment in this existing infrastructure built around an online identity we have developed for years. The information we are posting also needs to be under our control and handled the way we want it to. Clearly social media is not for us.
My friend and programming partner on the other side of the country, Ryan Deeds, started explaining to me what I am missing by ignoring this online phenomenon. The world wants to access posts through the key blogging networks so it interfaces with the tools they use every day. They want to access pictures through the major picture databases so they can select favorites and view photos on their WiFi picture frames. For content creators these tools have features for adding new information and backing it up that would take us countless hours to create on our own. Why create my own backup system for my SQL Server, ASP, DotNetNuke or Drupal site when these developers have already coded it for us?
Ryan brought online his own site connecting to Twitter accounts so that users could not only access the information (and continue to track them) with a click of a button, but it also allowed all of us to communicate and get to know each other better. One simple little piece of code allowed his existing web site to integrate with the outside world, saving everyone from having to create yet another login or type in a silly verification code while also allowing us to discover each other. It was such a simple yet brilliant concept that I spent the entire weekend kicking myself for not thinking of it first.
With Ryan’s advice I started playing around with Flickr, an online picture database. Then it an afternoon “Doh!” moment the light in my brain switched on. Why use my own database infrastructure and limit my editing and access to my own code when I can use Flickr and simply build their code into my own site? A couple of days later I had transformed my family web site where all of the pictures are connecting to our Flickr Photostream and displaying them in through HTML and a Flash engine..  Suddenly my visitors can comment on pictures, mark their favorites, access them through countless devices and we can add photos directly from my phone. Best of all, I suddenly do not need to worry about coding pages for taking various picture forms, backing up databases, connecting with an ISP that can hold all of that data since Flickr did it all for me.
Why stop there? I started to wonder about my personal blog site and why I am maintaining my own infrastructure. Why not use Blogger as the back end pointing to my own design so visitors can organize the information, pull it in an RSS feed, comment on stories and then I could maintain them with the countless tools they make available. Suddenly I can upload a blog entry, have it automatically send out a Twitter entry for me while connecting to the photos and videos I want directly from my cell phone. My audience can subscribe to my submissions, organize favorites from all the blogs they follow and comment on the items without needing to create a login or type in a verification code. All I have to give is a minimal amount of coding and an open mind.
It has been a wonderful learning experience seeing that you can continue to have your own web site design but get all of the benefits of these sites with relative ease. If you have a publicly facing web site with a local database of photos or where you are coding your own polls or perhaps maintaining stories or other content, it is time to consider using a social media site as your base infrastructure. All it takes is a little creative thinking and you can harness the power of these third party tools while you continue to keep the web presence and end the day with a more vibrant and popular destination for everyone to use. Trust me, if this old web dog can make it work then you can as well.

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Incentives – What Works?

Employers and health plans spend a significant amount of money on incentives designed to improve employee health, but many are disappointed with the results. While employers want their workers to improve productivity and reduce absences, and health plans want individuals to adopt healthier behaviors and reduce their risks of developing chronic conditions, costly incentive-based programs oftentimes fail to achieve these results.
Financial incentives are widely used as a means of motivating individuals to take action to improve their health. Incentive payouts typically take the form of cash or cash equivalents, such as gift cards, reductions in premiums, or co-pays. As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, group health plans will be able to give premium reductions of up to 30% to employees who participate in wellness programs, starting in 2014. Today, payers typically reward actions such as taking a healthcare risk assessment (HRA), signing up for a wellness program, or speaking with a disease management health coach. A few payers have begun rewarding actual behavior change outcomes, such as reaching a normal blood pressure or achieving a body mass index reduction of 10%.
There is increasing evidence that, when applied correctly, incentives can be somewhat effective in driving behavior change. The real problem is that when not designed or applied correctly – as is most often the case – incentives can be a waste of money, deliver a false sense of accomplishment to individuals, and distract employers and health plans from retooling their efforts to create effective programs to improve health and productivity.
In a recent survey by the Healthcare Intelligence Network that captured the latest trends in health and wellness incentives from 139 organizations. Almost two-thirds of survey respondents — 63 percent — offer health and wellness incentives for participation in health promotion programs.
The top five programs that have shown the most positive response to incentives are:

HRA completion: 32 percent

Weight management: 14 percent

Preventive screening: 13 percent

Onsite wellness or exercise: 13 percent

Disease management: 11 percent

As you evaluate implementing incentives to motivate your work force to consciously choose to live a healthier lifestyle, consider the design and application of the incentives and pay close attention to best practices to achieve the desired results. A thoughtful, well designed incentive program can clearly be effective in driving positive behavior.

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