The coronavirus containment measures of the past year or so have made communication much more difficult, notes Ron Tsang – how can we improve that, and why is it important?
For many actuaries, it takes deliberate effort to communicate and network regularly, especially when working from home. However, whether working remotely or in the office, effective communication techniques can lead to further career success.
While emails, texts and instant messages are commonly used for routine communications, phone, video or in-person meetings are best for difficult conversations, lengthy or involved discussions, and relationship building.
Jason Machtinger, senior vice president at Aon Reinsurance Solutions, suggests picking up the phone or making a video call to stay in contact with stakeholders and clients. “Having cameras on these calls is important,” he says.
New hires, in particular, benefit from being in the office. “Take advantage of being in-person as much as you can, while remaining safe and comfortable,” says Machtinger. “That’s the only way to build those relationships and learn the new skills you need in a new position.”
Know your audience
Whether in-person or online, take the time to understand your audience and make sure your message is appropriate for them. Other departments and senior management will not expect the same level of complexity that other actuaries will, for example.
“Find a way to make complex topics more relatable and understandable,” says Brent Simmons, head of DB Solutions at Sun Life Financial. “Tailor your communication to make sure it’s going to be relevant to that audience.” Consider what your audience wants, their objectives, their motivations and what questions they will have.
“Making our work relevant to either protecting a business, or helping a business grow in a way that is relevant to all stakeholders, is what keeps us as a trusted adviser,” adds Machtinger.
Don’t begin with the maths
For most presentations, emails and reports, share the key facts, findings and conclusions upfront. “Don’t hit them with the maths,” says Alison Rose, partner, Life and Pensions Actuarial Practice at KPMG. “That is not a good opening line.”
Executives will want you to begin with the executive summary. “They need to know: do I have a problem? If so, how bad is it? And what are we doing about it?” says Rose. “It’s not a mystery novel. Nobody wants to have to read 50 pages to figure out what the key findings are. You are supposed to give away the plot.”
“You can have a successful career without being a good communicator, but it’s a lot harder”
“Communication is an optimisation exercise,” says Michael Correa, senior vice president at Munich Re. He cites the work of Finnish academic Osmo Antero Wiio, who observed that communication usually fails.
When it comes to expressing your thoughts, no one can read your mind. “There’s going to be imperfection and it’s your role to minimise that imperfection,” says Correa. “The pain of taking more time to work on something makes sense so that you minimise that failure gap.”
“If I’m writing a report, I will do a first draft, then come back to it and reread it,” says Rose. “And I’m usually doing substantial editing on the next pass. And then I read it again.”
It’s common to underestimate the time needed for a well-written report. “I’ve often provided feedback that initial effort estimates for writing a report needed to be multiplied by at least two,” says Rose.
“No matter how we’re doing, there’s always room for improvement,” Simmons adds, recalling an early manager who spent five to 10 minutes after every important meeting debriefing, alone or with others from the meeting. “Don’t forget to take the time to reflect and think about what we might be able to do differently next time.”
What got you here won’t get you there
“You can have a successful career without being a good communicator, but it’s a lot harder,”says Correa.
For actuaries, the technical skills that were crucial early in your career may not be as important later. Whether working in the office or remotely, effective communication and other ‘soft’ skills will play an even bigger role in the next level of your success.
Ron Tsang is a professor of business communication at Toronto’s Centennial College School of Business, and author of From Presentation to Standing Ovation
Image credit | Ikon