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July 2006 HR Magazine: 'A Safe Environment'

By Ann Pomeroy   7/1/2006
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HR Magazine, July 2006 
Vol. 51, No. 7

Great Communicators, Great Communication

Pinnacol Assurance in Denver is big on communication, says Michael Erickson, SPHR, vice president of corporate services for this workers' compensation insurance firm. "I think we are more bottom up than your average company," he says.

For example, last June, when the CEO announced his retirement after 20 years with the company, Erickson headed recruitment efforts to find a replacement. He says the Pinnacol board insisted on getting feedback on the candidates from Pinnacol employees.

An employee hotline was set up, and employees also had the opportunity to provide written feedback. When the candidate who was eventually hired-Ken Ross-was identified, he was brought in to meet with groups of 70 to 75 employees at a time and answer their questions.

Ross was a bit surprised, he says, but thinks the meetings were a good idea. "Communication should be a two-way street," he says. "Management needs to hear from staff, and staff needs to hear from management."

Ross, a lifelong New Yorker, says the Pinnacol employees asked him about everything from his management style to his accent: One employee wanted to know, "What about that New York accent? Will that work here?"

After Ross was hired, an employee asked him, "How do you feel about your vice presidents? Do you plan on keeping them?"

Erickson says Pinnacol is "a safe environment." Employees know they can ask questions of management without fear of reprisal, he says.

Employees also sit alongside managers on Pinnacol's standards advisory councils, where they have full voting rights on council decisions. The councils, which focus on four major business areas, make decisions and implement those decisions, so they have a lot of responsibility. "And my vote counts just as much as a vice president's vote," says Stephanie Brady, a policy underwriter who has been with the company for three years.

When the company was reorganized in 1997, it became a very flat organization. As a result, communication at the company is "very quick and not filtered or distorted," says Lisa Mason, a claims specialist who has been with Pinnacol for 15 years. "I'm empowered to meet my customers' needs," Mason says. "We can make decisions on the spot" without going through layers of red tape.

Ann Pomeroy is senior writer for HR Magazine .

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