The company began changes at the campus level and vertically integrated them throughout the organization. On the surface, it was about recruiting practices and training, but deeper than that, it was about employee retention, morale, happiness and people wanting to be at National Interstate, being proud of who they work for and work with. And that started with where they work.
Much of the company’s B building took shape around attracting future generations of National Interstate employees — today’s high-schoolers, tomorrow’s college grads. The building was created not just to facilitate work but also to accommodate the nonwork needs of National Interstate employees. It embedded social components in the building, including collaboration areas, a game room, fitness centers, the aforementioned coffee shop and a company-subsidized cafeteria.
“It’s really not about being better at selling insurance or marketing insurance or being better underwriters or claims people. It’s being healthier people, having a positive state of mind and giving them the opportunity to have outlets at work,” he says.
Moving up the ladder
The floor-to-ceiling changes were about more than providing a foosball table for employees to tamp down stress. The company created programs designed to build a better workforce, an initiative that would benefit both employees and the company.
Facilitating the inflow of candidates is its internship program, which the company shifted from traditional intern grunt work to more of a long-term interview process that gives National Interstate a chance to get to know interns and interns to learn about National Interstate. Internships culminate in a project in which interns present to senior managers a solution to a problem they were given at the beginning of the summer.
“It’s a much more formal approach, with a lot more senior management interaction,” Mercurio says. “The idea is that we’re recruiting these young people so that when they have to make a decision when they come off campus, hopefully they’re choosing us. And we hope that we make good decisions during the intern interview process so that we want to choose them as well.”
Post-college, the company’s Ignition Training Program works to onboard candidates. It transitions well-rounded, hard-working college graduates into the ranks of National Interstate by first putting them though insurance 101 — a literal classroom with rigorous coursework, weekly tests on property and casualty insurance principles and National Interstate-specific presentations and lessons from outside speakers on general professional development and complementary services such as reinsurance.
“The expectation for the employees that have gone through there is that the retention will be higher, the morale will be higher, the promotion speed will be faster,” Mercurio says. “The average promotion time for Ignition candidates is a little over one year, which is pretty fast. Way more important than that, though, for me, is that I know every one of them. I’ve spent time with each one. I know we have some future officers that have come through the Ignition Training Program.”
Also promoting growth is National Interstate’s performance management system, which replaced year-end reviews with more frequent performance evaluations and employee manager check-ins, addressing employees’ capabilities and career trajectories. Employees commit to their own personal objectives and work with their direct reports to guide their progression, which Mercurio says engenders greater empowerment and accountability. More frequent check-ins — at least every other month — also mean objectives can better align with the changing needs of the business. Mercurio emphasizes that aspect of the program during the onboarding process and any time he speaks to new hires.
“I tell them, ‘Please don’t expect us to own your career. You have to own your career,’” he says.
That means employees looking to take hold of the next rung on the career ladder need to look for opportunities to do more than what is in their job description and affect the organization in a positive way. It’s also about what employees can do outside of National Interstate’s newly erected walls to improve their lot, such as earning an MBA, ARM or CPCU designation.
“Once you get them to start thinking that way, you can’t slow them down. That’s the beauty of this place, that people are chomping at the bit,” he says.
For those further up the proverbial ladder, National Interstate’s Leadership Academy and extraordinary leadership programs help further hone skills. The Leadership Academy’s five-month program identifies potential officers of the organization who need formal development to take the next step. Should an employee move up to the rank of senior manager or officer, National Interstate’s Extraordinary Leadership program at Great American, National Interstate’s parent company in Cincinnati, helps further their development.