Improve your insurance technical writing by removing passive voice

meetingWhat is passive voice and why should you avoid it in your insurance writing? No matter what you’re writing for the insurance industry, a blog, a technical report or a white paper designed for marketing your business, passive voice weakens your writing. Once you understand a little about passive voice, it becomes much easier to find and eliminate it in your own writing.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice sentence construction occurs when the subject of a sentence becomes the object of an action. I know, it’s a grammar thing, something we disliked in school. Here’s an example of passive voice.

Our underwriting team was defeated by the western region.

Passive sentence construction weakens your writer because, in a nutshell, no one takes responsibility for the action. Written actively, this sentence would read like this:

The western underwriting region defeated our sales team.

Ouch! That wording smarts a bit more, doesn’t it?

In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.

The applicant was rejected by Tom due to his negative loss history.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence (Tom the underwriter) performs the action.

Tom rejected the applicant due to his recent negative loss history.

One easy way to fix this and many passive sentences is to put the actor, Tom, ahead of the verb, “rejected” in the sentence.

Tips to find passive voice

To find passive voice, look for verb forms like “to be,” like “is,” “are,” “were,” followed by what is known as a past particle, a verb typically ending in “ed.” To make things harder, not all forms of “to be” are passive, but it’s a good red flag.

Here are a few more examples.

The claims department’s closing ratio was reduced last month by a high number of flu-ridden adjusters.

Rewritten actively you might say something like this:

Absenteeism in the claims department from the flu reduced last month’s closing ratios.

Here’s another passive construction.

The marketing team’s attendance at RIMS was delayed by one day due to bad weather in Atlanta.

Rewritten actively, the sentence might read like this:

Due to bad weather in Atlanta, the marketing team arrived at RIMS one day late.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is too hard! It’s grammar! I have a solution for you, or rather Microsoft Office does. While grammar check in MS Word won’t catch every instance of passive voice, it does a darn good job.

Here’s the plan

First, ensure you turn on grammar check in Word. If you aren’t sure how, read this link. Just be sure when you click your Review tab on Word and you click the Spelling & Grammar tab, the box at the bottom marked “Check grammar” has a check mark in it. (Now, if I’d said “is clicked,” I would be using a passive construction and Word would not catch it.)

Next, run the Spelling & Grammar check on your entire document. If you are new at writing active voice (the opposite of passive voice and what we strive for), you will probably have a high percentage of passive voice in your document. You will find the percentage of passive voice instances on the final grammar check tab under Readability, Passive Sentences.

Finally, to narrow down the location of your passive writing, go paragraph by paragraph with Spelling and Grammar. Do this by highlighting one paragraph at a time. If necessary, highlight sentence by sentence. Find the offending sentence and reword it. As you move to active voice in all your documents, you’ll find your writing comes alive and your audience, whether or not they understand grammar mechanics, will appreciate your writing style much more.

I’m a technical person – Give me a number

What percentage of writing should be passive? Professional writers argue percentages, but I strive for no passive writing in my work. If you’re new to this concept, shoot for five percent passive, and then aim even lower as you learn.

But we write about insurance,” you may argue. “It’s technical and somewhat boring!” Experts argue that even highly technical writing should avoid the use of passive voice. Even though we’re writing about insurance, we should never bore our readers. Our writing should be clear, crisp, concise and active. This writing style engages the reader and helps to ensure he or she will tag along to the end of your writing, whether it’s a claim report, an underwriting manual or a insurance white paper designed to educate clients or consumers.

In conclusion

One of the problems of passive voice is that we may attempt to distance ourselves from our decisions with the use of passive voice. I recommend you step up and say it like it is – take responsibility by using active voice. After all, that’s what we do in the insurance industry – we make decisions.

Active voice bolsters your writing, helping to engage your reader every step of the sometimes technical way. With the help of Microsoft and a few simple tips, you can actively improve your writing.

Squirrel! ADHD Officially Hits Training

squirrel - nutkinOhio has become the first state to officially allow continuing education for accountants in ten-minute increments. I don’t know whether to yell “Squirrel” or applaud them for understanding the way most people seem to learn today.

What do you think? Would you want your accountant doing his or her continuing education in ten-minute increments?

How to Manage Today’s Insurance Professionals

Balancing-woman

I recently spoke with risk management consultant and former insurance agent Dan Weedin, author of Insuring Success. Weedin and I share something in common: A passion for the insurance industry and a concern that today’s top insurance talent is disappearing. We talked about some of the challenges facing agencies and insurers as they try to align staffing needs with retiring talent.

As millions of Baby Boomers retire within this decade, the industry’s talent crisis is real. An added area of concern for insurance organizations is that many of those “Boomers” are deciding whether they should take that last chance and change careers. “Burnout, disgust, and unhappiness in one’s job will lead to change, especially at an age when timing is of the essence,” Weedin says. As these long-tenured and valuable employees leave, so do all their “smarts” that organizations accumulated over the span of their working career. That is how an organization can lose its memory and suffer from what Weedin refers to as “institutional amnesia.”

Can the insurance industry solve this problem? Yes, according to Weedin, but organizations must begin immediately to develop a solid strategy and execute a talent management plan. Here are several changes he suggests organizations can make.

  • People are tired of “working for the man” and are seeking new opportunities. “Companies have done this to themselves,” Weedin believes. “Command and control leadership tactics won’t work any longer. Collaborative cultures are much better. Business guru Peter Drucker once said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ It’s about the culture and how people contribute that makes a difference. The rewards go far beyond the financial. Employees must be challenged and continue learning to stay with an organization for the long-term.”
  • Pay special attention to Boomers between the ages of 50 and 60. Later Bloomers are making employment changes, according to Weedin. “They’ll either start their own companies or look for employers that offer value-added employment for them. You don’t engage employees through command and control. To attract these employees with the technical knowledge so desperately needed in the insurance industry today, a more collaborative and flexible workplace is imperative.”
  • Insurers are slow to react to market changes and slow to react to make changes in their culture. The result in the industry is the merging and acquisition of companies, which can be problematic. This paradigm shift needs to occur quickly, or insurers will find themselves in constant “catch up” mode, losing valuable ground.
  • Create an environment of collaboration. Develop areas where employees from different departments can converge and communicate. There is plenty of research that shows that happy, more connected employees are better workers that stay longer and improve the company and its bottom line.
  • It is difficult yet imperative to find and keep good talent. The most profitable companies tie compensation to underwriting success, which can only be achieved with help from the claims department. Accurate data input by claims personnel allows cleaner underwriting profit analysis by insurers.

Innovative insurance companies are making major changes to cope with the tidal wave of retirement. Consider moving away from cubicle seating and into more open workspaces. Question the traditional departmental seating in favor of more open and collaborative workspaces. It’s working in high tech, and it would work wonders in the insurance industry. Consider placing rows of adjusters between underwriters and sandwich in other departments to encourage cross-pollination. Underwriters see the results of their work in action and claims people can discuss coverage intent and coverage language. Open seating increases a company’s intellectual capital. By nature, most humans want connection in the workplace, especially the new pack of millennials entering the workforce who grew up with coaches, mentors and social media. Allow them to fulfill these needs by creating a culture of collaboration and affiliation.

In today’s competitive environment, a one-shot leadership event will not deliver the changes your organization needs to remain competitive. Moving forward in this century’s business climate, insurance organizations must develop an intentional strategy to develop intellectual organizational capital, invest and empower employees and create a culture that rewards all employees. The results, according to Weedin, are fewer headaches, happier employees who stick around, and ultimately, increased profitability. Companies that fail to find that balance between empowered employees and profits will ultimately fail.

Is Enterprise Risk Management Still Important to Today’s Organizations?

Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC) framework can provide strong benefits to organizations, helping to integrate and manage regulated operations. In this survey sponsored by Corporate Governance Consultancy Services, 33% of respondents shown in this infographic state that enterprise risk management is the most important. 27% of the respondents say that enterprise risk management continues to be important. For more details please visit  http://www.care-web.co.uk/blog/grc-software-guide-to-organizations/

 

 

GRC Software | ERM Software
Courtesy of: CAREWeb

Expressing Professional Gratitude

Today, though, I urge you to take a moment to contact a person in your career for whom you are grateful, either past or present, and say, “Thank you.”

This year my women’s group, which has been meeting once a month for our third year, is reading and discussing a book by Amanda Gore, The Gospel of Joy. I heard Ms. Gore speak at a teleconference last year and her highly personal presentation really hit my core beliefs.

Her book is perfect for a study group since there are twelve chapters in the book, one for each month. Each chapter explores a different spiritual principle, for example, listening, laughter, hope and gratitude. Gratitude has always been my struggle. I sometimes say, “My glass isn’t only half empty; it has a hole in it.” In other words, I have to work to stay grateful.

One of the questions in her gratitude chapter hit home with me. It asked, “Did your parents’ behavior model gratitude?” I can easily say that, “Yes,” their behavior did. Both my parents were independent insurance agents and both people of strong faith. My father, a Lutheran, served in his church as a council member and all-around fix-it guy. My mother, a more reserved Catholic, quietly put her faith into action by volunteering for years at the Westside Food Bank. Their motto in business was “Service before self” and while they were very successful insurance agents, they never let profit interfere with doing the right thing.

I grew up with three older brothers and one of us, usually me or my brother, Ted, was always wrecking a car. (I was quite sure my father owned an interest in the local body shop he insured.) After our accidents, my father would assess the damage then quietly say, “Everything happens for the best.” Frankly, at the time I thought he was slightly mental.

“Dad,” I finally asked when my brother ran his Mustang into a ditch at the end of our street, “How can a car accident ‘be for the best’?”

“Perhaps this minor accident where no one was hurt saved him from a major collision. After all, cars we can fix. You and the boys are irreplaceable.” Dad could always put things into perspective for me. I am so grateful for the wonderful lessons my parents taught me.

This story leads me to my topic – professional gratitude. There are so many insurance gurus who have mentored me over the years, from one of my first bosses at Commercial Union – who predicted, “Ms. Germond, in five years you will be a claim manager,” and I was – to the many risk managers who helped me when I was a fledgling risk manager, never an easy job.

Over the years I have trained and mentored my share of risk and claims professionals. Rarely do they thank me. I’m not dismayed by this; I rarely think of it because at some level, I am sure they are grateful but unaccustomed to expressing gratitude verbally. Today, though, I urge you to take a moment to contact a person in your career for whom you are grateful, either past or present, and say, “Thank you.” I guarantee you: This will mean a great deal to him or her. 

As many of you know, for years I have alternated between running Insurance Writer full time and working more directly in the insurance industry. I just couldn’t stay away from a challenge. But I also know there is more to life than a paycheck. This year, I’m putting it all on the line to branch out, utilizing my God-given gifts to provide specialized services to the insurance industry.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ms. Gore, here is a link to her YouTube channel. If I can help you, these are some of my areas of specialty:

  • Copywriting, including White Papers, advertising copy, articles, ghostwriting and blog entries
  • Consulting with small-to-medium sized businesses to reduce losses and improve workers’ compensation programs
  • Curriculum development and on-site training, including:
    • Customer service training
    • Workers’ compensation claims management training
    • CGL coverage training
    • Business auto training
    • On-site Associate in Claims training
    • Miscellaneous management training

Please feel free to contact me at (602) 870.3230.

 

Take the New and Improved Associate in Claims 37 Class

In conjunction with Prepademy, I’ll be teaching the revised curriculum for The Institutes Associate in Claims Class, AIC 37, Managing Bodily Injury Claims, beginning August 28, 2013. For more information about this exciting web-based training opportunity, click this link.

We’re just winding up the Workers Compensation portion of the AIC. Prepademy is a convenient and easy way to study for your Associate in Claims designation.

 

The AIC 44 Workers Compensation Claims Practices Class Begins May 23

I’m teaching the new and improved Associate in Claims class, AIC 44 Workers Compensation Claims Practices, on-line at Prepademy. This class begins Thursday, May 23 at 5 p.m. Pacific time.

Register with Prepademy for a great preparation for the AIC 44 class. Visit this link for more information.

As a former workers compensation claims manager, I love teaching this class, especially in its new, streamlined format. And if you miss the live presentation, Sandy Masters, the owner of Prepademy, makes the classes readily available on line so you can view them at your convenience.

We hope you can join us!

What is the Best Day to Blog or Update Facebook?

When social media is queen, it pays to understand when you should post. We know that posting twice a week will keep your blog rising to the top in SEO optimization. This short, graphical link outlines the best days to post to your blog. Click here

Whether you consider your business part of finance or consulting, it looks like leaning toward weekend publishing may get you more bang for your blog buck.

We provide blog content for some of the nation’s most respected regional and national insurance carriers, agencies and consultancies. We can help you succeed in your SEO or other marketing efforts. Contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Teaching the AIC 33 Class Virtually

Beginning May 17 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, I’ll be teaching the AIC 33 Claims Handling Principles class for Prepademy. Here is the link to the class.

If you’re a newer claims adjuster or wringing your hands over providing in-house claims training, I think you’ll be delighted with this solution.

Prepademy offers a unique, 24-hour access to attendees so if you miss a class you can log in at your convenience and access the full class and discussion.

We hope to see you there!

Develop a Style Guide to Build Your Brand

What is a style guide? It is a multi-page document that standardizes your employees’ use of grammar and style.

If you have many people sending emails, writing letters or developing proposals, it may be time for your company to develop a style guide. What is a style guide? It is a multi-page document that standardizes your employees’ use of grammar and style. It helps a company ensure their documents look professional and conform to your company’s “brand.” Why pay someone all that money to develop a logo, a theme and your website then not link your written communications to that brand? 

The first few pages of a style guide are normally devoted to standard punctuation, grammar and capitalization styles. Then in-depth information follows to address style and presentation matters. For example, how often do your employees use a hyphenated term like “workers’ compensation”? Or is it “worker’s compensation”? Heaven forbid, they use “workman’s compensation.” Or what about hyphenated words, like “Call our toll-free number”? If you consider all the words and phrases normally used in your business communications, you can see that a style guide helps you develop consistency in your communications.

How do you develop a style guide? First, ask your insurance carriers if they have one developed that you can adopt for your agency. That may make the most sense. If not, put together a committee of a few good writers in your organization and let them do the work. There are many style-guide recommendations on the web found easily with a web search. Then look at some of your most frequently developed documents, both internal and external, to determine the phrases you use most frequently.

Alternatively, you can hire an editor to develop one for you. You can always ask them to provide their best recommendations and tweak them for your organization. If you would like to discuss this or other copywriting issues, don’t hesitate to contact me.

My Allbusiness Blog Continues to Gather Readers

My Allbusiness blog, Risk Management for the 21st Century, is going strong.

My Allbusiness blog, Risk Management for the 21st Century, continues to gather readers. Some are agents and other risk management types, but many readers are business managers seeking better ways to manage risk. I post a new entry, usually about 500 to 600 words in length, about every ten days. Here is the link. Take a look.

What I Do For Fun

What do you do for fun? My dog and I chase bad guys in our spare time.

I spent an amazing weekend with my German shepherd, Asland, training with the famous Jiri Novotny, the principle trainer and breeder of the famed Czech Republic border patrol dogs. The seminar was hosted by my good friend, Hans, who owns Alpine K9. I have been raising and training German shepherds for many years and find these imports undoubtedly the finest. The top photo is of my dog, Asland, biting “the bad guy.” The bottom photo is of Jiri and yours truly.

I wonder what other insurance professionals do for fun? Let me know!

Happy New Year

Community service should be as much as part of life as is getting up and going to work.

2010 has been an interesting year. I’ve been blessed with a variety of projects including one that I think most agents will find very interesting. I know from talking to agents throughout the country how hard they struggle to stay in contact with their clients. Now, there is a solution, and I am happy to be a part of it. It is called Easy Insurance Newsletters and it allows agents to stay in touch with their clients in just a few minutes per month without “spamming” them. Visit the Easy Insurance Newsletter website or more information, or call me or email me for more details. I was pleased to be selected as the principal copywriter and would love feedback from agents who join up about articles they need for future issues.

Additionally this year, I developed a customer service training for CSRs in agencies, which has been well received. Contact me for more details if you are interested. I grew up in this industry and understand how difficult it is to provide the level of service we need to provide as we continue to lose business to the geckos of the world. I believe that the only way to compete in this era of instant communication is to outcommunicate. That means we treat our customers so well with exemplary customer service that they will not consider going elsewhere. However, we also have to have the markets available to price shop and move clients where needed. How often are we reviewing our clients business and trying to 1) place them more competitively with comparable or better coverage and 2) mining their needs to ensure they have all the coverage they need, whether they know they need the coverage or not?

In 2011, I will emphasize increased training offerings. While I know that many agencies and carriers now utilize mainly online training (and I am an Insurance Journal Academy trainer), I believe there is nothing like a trainer completing an on-site needs assessment and delivering training tailored to the problems your organization faces.

Finally, this year I continue to be active in my community. At least one night a month, I go into our County jail system and spend time with women who are struggling with many challenging life issues, to put it mildly. Several days a month I focus on providing public relations support to a non-profit and work individually with several women facing challenges. This is what really keeps me in touch with how much I have to be grateful for. My parents, two fine agents, and my brother, also an agent, set the example for me that community service should be as much as part of life as is getting up and going to work. There are always needs to fill in a world that is increasingly disenfranchised from friends, relatives and the larger community.

2010 has been a great year. I know that 2011 will be that much better. I hope to get to know you in the near future.

I Am Grateful For …

I recently realized just how passionate I am about this industry.

Recently I presented a customer service training for CSRs at a large agency. What I realized as I began the presentation is just how passionate about this industry I am. It has provided me with a decent living, an ability to buy a home, time and the resources to travel to several countries, a career that constantly challenges me, and an ability to obtain an education without significant debt. Mainly, though, the insurance industry has provided me with a host of colleagues and friends I can turn to for support both professionally and personally.

I get up each day eager to begin work. In fact, often at midnight I find myself lying in bed with my phone checking tweets and email. Am I a workaholic? No, I’m simply someone who has found her niche and incorporated that niche into her life. This doesn’t mean that all I do is work, because I have balance in my life. I have friends I spent time with, animals I cherish, family members who mean much to me, and a family legacy with wonderful (now deceased) parents who brought me, albeit reluctantly on my part, into this industry.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. My turkey is roasting in its bag and my dog is lying near me. In an hour, I will gather with some of my closest friends (family this year is somewhat occupied) and celebrate the most important part of life to me: gratitude.

I hope your day is blessed and if you have found your career niche and have gratitude for an industry that has provided for you and your family, you are truly blessed.

Germond earns the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) Designation

Germond earns the Senior Professional in Human Resources

Nancy Germond, MA, SPHR, ARM, AIC, ITP,
EARNS CERTIFICATION AS A
SENIOR PROFESSIONAL IN HUMAN RESOURCES

Phoenix, AZ, July 9, 2010.

Nancy Germond, President of Insurance Writer, recently earned certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).

The certification, awarded by the HR Certification Institute, signifies that Germond possesses the theoretical knowledge and practical experience in human resource management necessary to pass a rigorous examination demonstrating a mastery of the field.

“Certification as a human resource professional clearly demonstrates a commitment to personal excellence and to the human resource profession,” said Mary Power, CAE, Executive Director of the HR Certification Institute.

To become certified, an applicant must pass a comprehensive examination and demonstrate a strong background of professional human resource experience. “I find that in today’s difficult financial climate, employment issues top the list of risk exposures insurance organizations face,” Germond said. “The SPHR simply assures seniors managers of my dedication to the employment arena.”

The HR Certification Institute is the credentialing body for human resource professionals and is affiliated with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to the human resource profession. The Institute’s purpose is to promote the establishment of professional standards and to recognize professionals who meet those standards.

Get Ahead of the Market Madness

This has been a busy new year for me. While I don’t think the recession is over yet as the financial pundits trumpet, since the first of 2010, I have received more agent and carrier phone calls and emails asking about advertising collateral and training.

As the recession lifts, put your organization in the public eye now and get ahead of the competition. I would love to help.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve either completed or have in process right now.

  1. Website rewrite for a large Midwest independent agency.
  2. Website rewrite for a California insurance agent who sells to a highly technical market.
  3. Helped an agent craft his biography, which he loved. We found an awesome “hook” that makes his prospective clients say, “I need to meet this guy!” Boring biographies are, well, boring. Most professionals need at least one and perhaps two bios. I would love to chat with you about building a strong bio.
  4. Completed three seminars for Insurance Journal Academy on agency/carrier human relations management. My next seminar on April 28 is on the Agent/Carrier claims relationship. I promise, if you attend, you’ll never look at claims management and service expectations again!
  5. Writing curriculum for CPCU education.
  6. Presented to the Arizona Claims Association about the importance of diversity in the workforce.
  7. Assisted a large MGA with marketing collateral.

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to advertise? If I can help, please contact me at 602.870.3230.