She said she wanted to listen more, talk less, and understand better. Here’s how she did it while helping Health Underwriters navigate membership decline, COVID-19, and a series of new initiatives.
The National Association of Health Underwriters performs its duties with formalism some might find rigid or downright uncomfortable. Every Convention opens with its own theme and ceremony. Awards are administered. A Chair opens and closes meetings. Task forces are sometimes converted to Committees or back again, a difference most people could be forgiven for struggling to define. Even when small groups meet, at least some Robert’s Rules of Order are used to maintain discussion, pace, and minutes. And the NAHU staff, of which there are only twenty situated partly in Washington, nurture a time-critical solemnity about their work. To everyone involved, this is serious business.
Around May 11 of this year, Hoosier native Pat Griffey began to feel the formality of change. Griffey, a member of NAHU’s Board of Directors in some position or another since 2013, says she felt her term come to a close in planning the upcoming year. “So much changes as you start to move and plan your teams for the upcoming year. So many of the choices belong to the President, and then the future President,” she says.
Formally, her last act as President was at the NAHU Convention held virtually this past June. “It was in the House of Delegates,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek. “But I’m still very involved with Vision 2025. It’s my baby and I’ll continue to carry that over into the next year. It’s hard for me to put a line between the presidency and the Immediate Past President,” she says.
A new tradition at NAHU, Vision 2025 is one of a few recent five-year plans. The first wrapped up in 2015, then another in 2020. Vision 2025, which happened to fall under Griffey’s tenure, started being planned slightly early in June of 2019. Anyone who works in corporate offices knows many mission, vision, and planning processes sometimes come and go as quickly as the seasons. But to hear Griffey talk about it, Vision 2025 wasn’t just an integral component of their work—it might literally have saved a lot of hides during this year’s ongoing pandemic.
“The timing of Vision 2025 was very fortuitous, which is weird to say in a pandemic,” she notes. “But I’ve been using that word a lot lately. We started planning Vision 2025 in San Diego in June 2019. By the end of 2019, we established seven goals.” They included changing consumer expectations, mergers and acquisitions, changes to member compensation, employer market issues, technology, major health policy, and organizational recommendations. Each had sub-goals, measurable outcomes, and built-in accountability for the teams working on them. “A first for us,” says Griffey.
We were able to pivot quickly, ask the sub-group for a plan, and prepare for what-ifs.
As the pandemic shut down events in March, the notion of an in-person NAHU Convention in June seemed possible to some, impossible to others, and presented a hard choice for everyone. “We were hearing that everyone hoped to be back up and running by April 12, but we looked at it and said, ‘Well, but what if?'”
“If we wait too long, pulling this off will be a nightmare. But if we roll the dice and make the decision and do it, we’ve got plenty of time to plan. So that’s what we did,” says Griffey. The Chicago convention took a turn to the Internet, thanks in part to Goal 5: Technology under Vision 2025. “We already had a team in place. We were able to pivot quickly, ask the sub-group for a plan, and prepare for what-ifs.”
As the pandemic surged into the spring and summer, Griffey and the NAHU Board began meeting bi-weekly instead of monthly. Groups that had begun to present plans for Vision 2025, particularly in the Technology goal, were speeding up upgrades, website updates, and procuring equipment and plans faster than expected. A new NAHU 365 app launched (available on the App Store and Google Play) that promises to be more than just an event app. The Broker to Broker forum—reviewed by NAHU staff and leadership regularly for member suggestions, feedback, and opinion—was re-launched this month.
As things began to jump up like the devil in the night, I could look at a problem and say ‘Where does that fit?’
Like a master tactician, Griffey navigated numerous changes and processes quickly with the help of her team. “I can tell you as President: If I’m proud of anything, it’s that we put as much work into Vision 2025 in 2019 as we did. As things began to jump up like the devil in the night, I could look at a problem and say ‘Where does that fit?'”
Griffey appreciates the support of those around her. “Major kudos go out to members of the Board of Directors for their faith in our staff abilities and to the NAHU staff for their dedication and diligence.”
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Griffey was the first NAHU President from Indiana in 30 years, and one of only a few women to hold the post in NAHU’s 90-year history. A self-described worrywort, you can tell Griffey’s grown professionally since her work with NAHU began. Speaking under a chuckle, she adds, “I don’t take life as seriously as I used to. I used to worry about the little things.”
You learn as you move through the chairs that there are multiple sides to every story. You learn to listen more.
Speaking at a women’s leadership event—also virtually—earlier this year, Griffey told the audience of professional women, “I think the thing I’ve learned as I moved through the chairs to the presidency is this: I’m not always right. I’m talking to people in those chairs now seeing the same thing. That might sound dumb. But as leaders, we’re invested in our opinions. You learn as you move through the chairs that there are multiple sides to every story. You learn to listen more. Even though I thought I did that well, I’m doing a heck of a lot better now.”
After one in-person NAHU board meeting last year, someone privately told Griffey, “We never know what you’re thinking.” She hasn’t forgotten that passing comment. “I like that because I think my job is to run the board, not dictate what it’s going to do. But it also told me I was accomplishing my end result, which was to listen more, talk less, and understand better.” As professional development and personal growth go, Griffey is a walking testament to the value and power of being involved with local professional associations, whether in South Bend, Indianapolis, or Washington, D.C.
Still, much work is left to do. A new Medicare Certification, similar to the Association of Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Certification, was mistimed to get into most carriers’ views this year but is ready to go for CY2021. The new program will finally give agents and brokers a choice in how they get certified by insurance carriers to sell their products, with a certification program written by agents, for agents.
“I wish I could say we had it this year, but it is done. We’re working with carriers for next year. And we’ve already received many commitments from leading companies to look at it,” says Griffey.
Her voice changes when she describes the course. “I’m most proud that it’s a teaching course. You’ll learn from it. You’ll learn things from that course that maybe you would otherwise have to figure out on your own. It’s not just a prerequisite to get past Point A. This is something we’ll teach that people can use every day.”
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“Now I go back to life as it was,” says Griffey with her tongue firmly planted in her other cheek. Despite working past Medicare and retirement age, she shows no signs of slowing down or retiring.
“My daughter was telling someone the other day, ‘I think mom likes where she’s at.’ And I do. I love what I do.” COVID-19 has helped nudge Griffey into a more comfortable work-from-home, telephone, and virtually based work environment. She specializes in Medicare with her husband, Don, near South Bend. Together the Griffeys maintain a business and customers like so many other Health Underwriter members. “We have this rule: We both can’t have a bad day at the same time.” Of so many people she recognizes as integral to her time as President, she credits her husband the most for taking over much of the local business while she was handling NAHU affairs.
It’s also clear Griffey recognizes time is of the essence. She will continue on several technology goals for NAHU, as well as work on Agency Membership and the Communications teams within NAHU. The Futures Task Force, which was set up three years ago, is sticking around as a formalized committee. Griffey will chair, lead, or sit on all of them in some fashion.
If I could wave a magic wand, it’d be to get members to understand that this is a member-driven organization.
Her position may be changing, but the problems and situations facing the insurance industry aren’t. The pandemic stubbornly rages on. Membership growth will still keep many recruiters and staff awake at night. And industry trends may take some turns after the November election.
For members and non-members alike, the idea of NAHU as a large D.C.-based organization with glitzy offices and swanky steak dinners with an army of lobbyists is an easy image to conjure but is wholly untrue.
“If I could wave a magic wand, it’d be to get members to understand that this is a member-driven organization. It’s extremely important to the board and staff that our members voice their opinions, share with us where they’re coming from—right now more than ever.” The best mechanism is through local Regional Vice President representatives. In Region 3, which covers Indiana, that’s Mike Deagle. The Broker to Broker forum, local and state Presidents, and even email to teams at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, are equally acceptable paths.
“As an example, when COVID first hit, I said to Janet [Trautwein]—because I work in the senior market,—This is when we need to help with Telehealth’. We started to turn toward that and started to do a lot with Telehealth long before the carriers were. If your market is such that you’re seeing some wave, something you think is coming, share it up so we can be more proactive, because we don’t have time to be reactive anymore.”
As she said, it’s hard for her to draw a line between the presidency and the immediate past presidency.