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How State Farm's CEO is navigating the insurance titan and its 77,000 employees through a 'fundamental societal reset'

Michael Tipsord Headshot (1)
  • It can be lonely at the top, particularly as CEOs are now forced to make swift, often devastating, decisions about the future of their companies amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • But it's not all doom and gloom. The pandemic is also bringing about countless tales of innovation and resilience. 
  • The full scope of the crisis, however, remains unclear. That makes it difficult for CEOs, who are used to planning well into the future, to parse out even what the next few months will look like. 
  • "We're going to have a fundamental societal reset and that's going to impact what our customers' expectations are," State Farm CEO Michael Tipsord told Business Insider.
  • "The magnitude of that and the permanency of that are questions I do not know the answers to," he added. 
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It's a challenging time to be a CEO.
The cratering economy and ongoing pandemic is forcing companies to make tough decisions on operations — from pay cuts to mass layoffs.
And as uncertainty continues to swirl around when exactly people can return to the office — or even confidently leave their homes — many are finding it difficult to plan even a few months ahead.
"We're going to have a fundamental societal reset and that's going to impact what our customers' expectations are," State Farm CEO Michael Tipsord told Business Insider. "The magnitude of that and the permanency of that are questions I do not know the answers to."
That's a major change for chief executives that are used to following detailed road maps as far out as five years.
But it's not all doom and gloom.
The perch at the top of the organization gives CEOs an unmatched view into the often-cited American resilience — like the efforts to mobilize thousands of individuals to remote work nearly overnight.
And as companies step up to fill in the gaps to the response from state and federal governments, top executives have visibility like never before to embody the cultural values they often tout.
Many are also privy to countless stories of innovation from within the ranks. Over the past couple of weeks, CEO have recounted tales of employees going the extra mile to help first responders, those impacted with the virus, and their own coworkers mitigate the outbreak.
That's the case at State Farm, where Tipsord oversaw efforts to pivot about 59,000 employees and 19,000 agents across the enterprise to work from home.
"We went from 90% of people working in an office to 90% working outside of the office. And we did it in under two weeks," he said. "We did it without missing a beat in terms of serving our customers."

Increased expectations post-pandemic 

State Farm was already in the midst of a transformation.
The company was rapidly adopting new digital tools. And its innovation center was rushing to develop the latest tech offerings for its customers — like an Alexa-enabled application to help families take care of their elderly relatives.
"We were already under way in that regard and thank goodness we were," said Tipsord. "We would not have been able to pull off what we did had we not already been undertaking that transformation."
Now, the outbreak is quickening the pace of innovation and deepening the level of investment in digital for State Farm.
The pandemic "increased my expectations in terms of where we might need to take this organization going forward," Tipsord said. "All of those things that were under way are now being accelerated and reinforced by virtue of the experience we had."
State Farm's claims department, for example, had to employ new tech tools to minimize the typically large amount of face-to-face interactions involved in the process.
The company also bolstered its IT networks to support the quick pivot to remote work. And Tipsord is expecting to maintain that investment post-pandemic, indicating that more employees may continue to work from home in the future.
"At a high level, what we're doing is creating means by which our agent can have more seamless, trusted, connected experiences with our customers any time, any place," Tipsord said.

Managing through the crisis 

The position of CEO can be a lonely one.
With no direct peers to turn to within the firm, many look outwards and tap advice from other chief executives.
Tipsord is no different.
Despite serving as a top executive at State Farm for over a decade — including helping to manage the insurer through the Great Recession as chief financial officer — he still seeks out guidance.
"You never will know all the right answers," Tipsord said. "Be humble and actively seek the input of others."
The advocacy group Business Roundtable, which Tipsord is a part of, convened a COVID-related task force early on that has proved critical in both helping CEOs plot a return to operations and assist communities across the US with their own recovery efforts.
"It's helpful to draw upon that experience of others in real time, because we have no roadmap to look back upon to help guide us," he said.
Tipsord advised others to break down the very wide-ranging and complex problems into manageable components. Those can then be prioritized based on need.
CEOs, he added, also have to be aware when to "light the fire and when to tamper it down a bit."
Part of knowing when to apply more pressure on subordinates is maintaining a steadfast commitment to one's own principles.
"There's going to be all kinds of pressure to compromise," Tipsord said. "Just don't."
SEE ALSO: Here are the 3 ways the co-CEOs of the world's largest architecture firm see offices changing post-coronavirus
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* This article was originally published here Press Release Distribution

Source - https://www.businessinsider.com/prime?module=article&area=summary

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