It's Your Turn. Make the Most of It

By: Lorraine Plezia, Risk Strategies Company (RSC) | Posted: 12/7/2021
Originally Published by

Some people grow up when they leave home for the first time, others when they graduate from college. My story is different. I’ve grown up through the insurance business, and my maturation process had little to do with textbooks and everything to do with the power of human connection.

Serving one’s community is a satisfying thing, whether you define community as your hometown or your workplace. I learned that early on when I first attended a local chapter meeting of NetVU, the Network of Vertafore Users. I remember looking around and thinking, “These people know so much. I want to be like them one day.” I was intrigued and maybe just a bit intimidated.

So what did I do? Hide in the back of the room? No, I started raising my hand, serving in various chapter roles, and the more I became involved, I realized I had something to offer. That came as a surprise, because initially I assumed everybody else held all the knowledge and the only thing I could do was learn from them. But in reality, NetVU is built on a model of users helping users. Its tagline is “strength in members.” You may be a newbie, but your observations can help others. Once I got over my reluctance to share what I know, I noticed people were receptive to what I had to say. I also found that if you have a question about something, it’s likely someone else has that same question. Humans seek validation, and that’s what I was getting.

People person?

Friends who are hesitant to volunteer often ask me, “Do I need to be a ‘people person?’” My response is, “It’s not a question of being an introvert or extrovert. It’s about professional pride.” You can be an introvert and thrive as a volunteer if you truly love what you do. Over time, I started relishing the interaction with others in the NetVU community. That’s because we all have those times when we’re looking an open mind and a sympathetic ear. 

When I joined the agency in 1984, I was the person who didn’t speak up unless they knew the answer. I wasn’t a risk taker. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be judged by how much I knew, I became comfortable saying, “I don’t know but I can find out.” Volunteering for a user group gives you permission to ask questions, to seek answers and access a whole universe of peers. Today, when I’m teaching a course, if I don’t know the answer to something I’ll ask the audience, “Does anybody have an answer for that?” Those are the magical moments when the classroom becomes a laboratory for collaboration. I like to think of it as a “whiteboard” experience rather than a textbook experience.

It’s very rewarding when someone says to you, “Oh my gosh, that’s so helpful.” It makes you want to do it more and more. So I eventually went down the path of teaching and consulting, which is something I never dreamed of doing earlier in my career. But then again, if we’re not learning and striving to be more creative and advanced, life would be boring. 

Selfish reasons

One of the first things we do when we join the NetVU advisory board is sign a pledge that says we’re not there for the benefit of our agency, but we’re there for the benefit of the whole. However, I’d be lying if I said we don’t think of our own firms as well. Of course our intentions are selfless, but eventually the benefits of serving others accrue to us and our agencies. Taking the plunge into a workgroup or advisory board gives you access to critical knowledge that’s good for you and for your agency. So why stand on the sidelines? 

In order to appreciate your current situation, I find it’s sometimes useful to imagine the opposite state of things. For me, that would be life without a network of like-minded professionals. Trust me, it’s a lonely feeling. There was a time when I had stepped back from NetVU and felt out of the loop. My manager would ask me for something, and I couldn’t find the answer because I no longer had my go-to people. Now I know so many people that even when I don’t know the answer, I know at least a few people to call. The moral of this story? If you step back, you may lose touch.

Why we do it

So why volunteer? Why get involved in a pursuit that adds hours to your day and doesn’t help you get your work done? I believe that if you spend most of the day working in an agency management system, the extra investment you put into optimizing that system will pay dividends in multiples. It’s not about the product. It’s how you use the product, and the only place you can get that knowledge is from one another. That’s priceless and it’s not something you can get from your vendor. 

Too many people don’t take the time to understand the workings of their system. Maybe it’s because they don’t know where to look for answers, or perhaps they weren’t involved in the initial setup of the system. If you’re trying to make it work, but are stuck, take a step back and look at why the system works the way it does. You can read pages and pages of documentation, or you can ask a friend. Asking a friend sounds more appealing to me, and it’s more effective than staring at a technical paper and going cross-eyed.

As good as they are, the product designers aren’t running agencies. That’s where the volunteers who use the systems every day come into play. Vertafore values the input of its user group and really, one can’t exist without the other. That’s why we volunteer. 

So don’t be shy. Jump in. What you experience on the journey may surprise you. You may become someone you didn’t think you were capable of becoming.

Lorraine Plezia is accounting manager at Risk Strategies Company and an advisory board member of the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU).