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Next Wave
Change Management

Navigating changes in corporate culture requires finesse.
  • Carly Burnham
  • August 2019
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Carly Burnham

Just as process and technology changes take time to be adopted, so do cultural changes implemented by HR.

As insurance companies move toward modernizing their cultures through implementing “Dress for Your Day” policies and “Bring Your Whole Self to Work” mindsets, these changes may present challenges that young professionals may not realize when they first hear the good news. Just as process and technology changes take time to be adopted, so do cultural changes implemented by HR. Navigating these types of changes can be even more difficult as they are often implemented quickly and without a change management process. Here are three suggestions for successfully handling these situations:

• Read the room. A large insurance carrier that I worked for introduced a “Dress for Your Day” policy. It announced on a Friday that the new policy would go into effect the next Monday. I have long believed this type of policy makes sense. However, I had observed that my department head and his direct reports were always relatively formal. He was a strong believer of the “Dress for the Job You Want” mantra. As such, that Monday, I showed up dressed as though there had been no policy change. I played off my manager and only relaxed my dress after she had. And, any time I was going to be in a meeting with our department head, I kicked it up a notch. Casual dress is more comfortable, but I felt it was more important to keep our leadership team's standards if they were not ready to relax them. I wanted to look like a part of their team.

• Be open to hearing other perspectives. For employees who have worked at the same place for years, a sudden cultural change can feel unnatural. Insurance is a relationship business, and relationships thrive on trust and stability in our industry. Particularly, if an employer is moving towards a “Bring Your Whole Self to Work” style, the transition can be uncomfortable if it is not the style that you are used to.

Evidence shows that being able to be open with your coworkers about your life outside of work is a positive for both the employee and the employer, but it is also important to respect your fellow employees' boundaries. They may not be comfortable sharing about their family, or they may find talking about colleagues' private lives to be a distraction. This is an acceptable viewpoint, and for those who are naturally more open, it is important to find a balance.

• Be willing to share your perspective compassionately. Another policy that can be challenging for traditional workplaces is a remote work policy. This is much more common now, but there are employers who still struggle to implement or understand their employees' desire for this flexibility. Presenting research to management teams can help move them toward such a policy, but advocating on a personal level by sharing your own experiences can be more effective. You can also socialize the idea with your teammates and learn about their comfort level with the idea.

With the relationship- and people-focused nature of the insurance industry, changes to cultures and norms at our offices can take their toll. Without the historical perspective, new employees can struggle to understand their fellow employees' frustrations. Using these three tactics and developing emotional intelligence can help you avoid alienating colleagues or management.

In my next few columns, I'll spend some time examining emotional intelligence as a career skill. What is it? How can we develop it? And, how can we encourage others in its pursuit?

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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