FOXCast: Cultivating a Stellar Company Culture from Within

Date: Aug 05 2019

Author: 
KC Forsythe, FOX, and Mark Galante, President, Field Operations, PURE Insurance

In this episode, guest Mark Galante describes a successful approach to company culture at PURE Insurance. PURE (Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange), a policyholder-owned insurer, is known for having a stellar internal culture. Here, Mark discusses some of the guiding principals that help attract young talent and retain strong performers and engaged employees.

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Below is a transcript from the conversation:

KC: How would you describe the company culture at PURE?

Mark Galante: Wow, I don’t think I've been asked to answer that exact question before. So, at PURE, from day-one when an employee walks in the door, we want to ensure that they understand why it is we come to work every day—why it is we exist. And certainly, everybody gets that we provide property and casualty insurance for successful, high net worth families. But, why do we come to work every day? And in our case, our purpose is to enable our membership—that's our group of policyholders. But, it's to enable our membership to live their lives to the fullest and to pursue their passions with confidence. Risks should never get in the way of that, right? And so, we go to great lengths to help people understand how it is, whatever role they’re in, contributes to that. And we go to great lengths to help share some stories of our members so that we can humanize who it is we're trying to serve, rather than just talk about the services that were offering to them, or the commitments we need to fulfill for them. So that purpose is really important because it influences so many of the decisions that we’re being asked to make every day.

"Purpose is really important because it influences so many of the decisions that we’re being asked to make every day."

I sit on the Executive Committee and we’ll have lots of conversations in the board room about whether we should invest in new product enhancements, or new a service enhancement, or make a change in staffing—whatever the case may be. At the root of every one of those answers is—is this something that's going to help me fulfill that purpose? And we want every employee, whether they're on the Executive Committee or Director of First Impressions, to be kind of thinking the same way.

KC: How do you measure the success of that company culture?

MG: You know, there's a variety of different things that we look at. Some are internal measures and some are more external—or at least benchmarks against external measures. And one important measurement for us is an annual employee engagement survey, that is conducted anonymously. But we do know profile information about each of the respondents that enables us to get things like scores by-departments, or scores by-regional-teams, and things of that nature. So, we can see if there's a trend in a given area with regard to employee engagement. And naturally, when employee engagement is strong—and we're proud that it is exceptionally strong here at PURE—it's a reflection of a very healthy culture.

"Do I have a best friend at work?"

There's a number of questions that we tease out of it and an important one is, “Do I know what's expected of me?” Meaning, “Do I have clear goals and do I understand exactly what the organization wants me to accomplish?” And what we found is where there is a little bit of ambiguity, or where an employee feels as if maybe there's disconnect between what different people in the organization feel they should be producing for the organization, that obviously hinders engagement.

Similarly, “Do I have the tools needed to be successful?” Well, that's obviously important to us and to the employee. There's a funny question—it says, “Do I have a best friend at work?” And I think that’s simply just intended to reflect on whether or not this is an environment where they feel like they've got a confidant and somebody that they can engage about—whether it's business challenge, but also have just a human connection with. So within that employee engagement survey, we can learn a ton and it's been great.

KC: And do you feel like that environment of having a best friend at work comes about naturally with hiring the right people, or is it something that needs to be fostered a little bit?

MG: It's a really good question. I think it's probably a combination of both. We do look for common character traits of the people that we hire, and so I think that helps to support the cause and then we try to create an environment that not only helps people thrive successfully, but it is also one that enables some of those human connections that were describing in a healthy, appropriate way. So, that's been been an important one for us.

KC: What have been some of the most successful culture-focused initiatives that have been implemented at PURE?

MG: I’ve got a couple that come to mind. And one was the creation of a group that we call the Employee Engagement Committee, which is a group of cross-functional employees—different parts of the organization, different tenures with their time at PURE, different ranks within the organization. So it's intended to be a diverse group of folks that can provide candid advice and counsel on issues to help us create a better culture, and a better work environment for the company.

"If you're happier outside of the office and in life, we know that you're going to be more fulfilled and a better contributor inside the office."

And one of the observations that the group had was that there seemed to be a pretty significant passion among our ranks for giving back in lots of different ways. And we wanted to enable that and afford  people with numerous opportunities to give back in ways that they felt appropriate, and know that their company was behind it. So, we created this concept of VTO (volunteer time off) and we encourage employees to take VTO more than once a year. And they can do it as an individual, and go out and spend a day supporting an organization that they care a lot about. Or, as is becoming more and more common, there might be a team of people within PURE that decides to go out and support an organization on a day of their choice as a team. I just got a note from one of our teams in New York who just did a team event supporting the New York Common Pantry, as an example. And so it's such a win-win because we're giving back to our communities, but in the process our people feel really great about it. And that's just so good for the culture. And so now, we're trying to track the number of VTOs that were contributing as a company each year, and trying to grow that number each year. And that just started with, again, a qualitative insight from employees. They said, “gosh, it feels really good to give back.” And we decided should we should support our folks and do more of that.

Another example is, we introduced something called Passion Course Funding, which basically says employees have the ability to use some of the company's money to help them develop a passion that is important to them and makes them happy outside of the office. And so, we've got examples of people have used that money to advance their yoga teaching certifications, we have people that have used that money to become better race car drivers, we’ve got people that have used this for all sorts of things. And ultimately, it just goes back to that simple premise that says if you're happier outside of the office and in life, we know that you're going to be more fulfilled and a better contributor inside the office.

KC: What's really interesting about the approach, I think, is that it's grounded in what employees truly want—which is clarity and clarity in what their purpose is, and opportunity for creativity especially at the younger generation, it sounds like.

MG: Absolutely. And opportunity, I think, to have voice and a seat at the table.

The talent landscape out there is quite competitive, particularly when you're going after the best people, right? I mean, I would tell you it's pretty easy to attract those that others want to take a pass on. And we want the people that many others want, right? And so, how do we stand out in a crowd? And as you can imagine, if we are at Princeton or some other highly competitive academic organization, and we put up a sign that says, “Hi, we’re an insurance company, we’re recruiting,” it probably isn't the most compelling offer.

“We want to focus on the opportunities that are created by joining a high-growth company that is still being built from the ground up.”

Instead, we try to focus on a couple of things. Number one, we want to focus on the opportunities that are created by joining a high-growth company that is still being built from the ground up. We're only about a dozen years old. And so naturally, the opportunities that are afforded in an environment like that are much different than when you're talking about it an older, more stable, sort of stagnant-type organization. There are roles that don't exist right now that we will need a year from now that we probably haven't contemplated yet—that creates great opportunity for people. And so, we try to showcase success stories that are real manifestations of that.

The second thing is, we want to make sure that people understand we are committed to creating an environment where the best people not only get to flourish, but can really enjoy coming to work everyday. That environment we're creating is going to be valuable to everybody, no matter what generation they’re in, no matter where they're from, or their background. But, you know, if they're the best folks for the job, we want to create an environment that they want to be in. And then a big part of that is ensuring that we've got the right people in the organization.

KC: Another thing that's unique-sounding, to me, about your approach is you're not trying to create an environment in order to attract the people, you are placing the right people in the environment and kind of building it from within.

MG: Yeah, that's certainly the goal. And for many of our roles, for example, we will do very comprehensive emotional intelligence screening before they get an offer. And if we see red flags, they ultimately won't get the offer. And I've seen several instances in my time here when the candidate looked perfect on paper, and their references checked out. And yet when we got to the EQ screening, there were major red flags about, whether it was empathy or self-awareness, or self-management, and all the attributes of EQ, and so we take a pass.

KC: Another thing that PURE has done really successfully is attract and retain young talent. I know that's a challenge for a lot of firms. What do you think is behind that?

MG: Here’s fun fact for you: So, we've got about 750 employees and that number grew pretty significantly just this past Monday when we welcomed our latest crop of analysts—our latest class of analysts. So our analysts are our professional level trainees, most of whom are just brand new college graduates. There's a handful in there that are switching careers after a year or two somewhere else. But the vast majority are brand new college graduates. So as of this past Monday, to your point KC, the most common age at PURE is 22. And the median age, I believe, is in the low 30s. So yeah, this is a young environment. And a lot of times people say, "well geez, how do you manage a business that successfully caters to Millennials?" And I think we try to think about it differently, which is how do you create an environment in which successful people and great people of any generation wants to be.

“The most common age at PURE is 22. And the median age, I believe, is in the low 30s. So yeah, this is a young environment.”

KC: Definitely. Well, we are out of time, but thank you so much for joining me. If anybody listening is interested in learning more about PURE or working at PURE, you can find PURE on the FOX Website and I'll include the link, and how could somebody reach you, Mark?

MG: Easiest way would be to email me at mgalante@pureinsurance.com. Would love to hear from you.