Hi, my name is Mark Pew and a member co-founder of the Transitions. I’m really excited to be able to interview Michael Stack with Amaxx. I’ve known Michael for many, many years.He has kind of single handedly created a lot of educational resources for work comp or that’d be real interesting for transitions to really talk about how to inform and empower people that are coming into the industry or the need to have a better understanding of the industry on how to do that. So, Michael welcome. And for those people, the three or four people in the United States that don’t know you already you can do an introduction.
Sure, Yeah. Happy to be here Mark. Of course, love the opportunity to speak with you at any chance. I get so happy to be here and thankful for the opportunity. So, you know, a lot of what I do and really, you know, when you think about even the whole goal of the transitions program is really all about education. It’s all about how do we bring on the new people to replace the experience and the knowledge that’s going to be transitioning out of the industry. So when you think about actually what I do, it’s really all about education. Not only for new people, but it’s for existing people as well. And just the foundation of the fundamentals of work comp can be very complex in what we do. And it’s just trying to make it simple, you know, make it a step-by-step process. You know, we know how to do it. We know the proven steps to do it, and we know how to make it easier. And then it has to be in some of the more complex claims. So that’s really what my whole focus is. It’s really about workup, education work, best practices. How do you create better injured worker outcomes while at the same time reducing work comp costs.
Transition of institutional knowledge
For those of y’all that haven’t seen any of his programs, this is his background. He writes illegibly on a whiteboard session. So you can read that looks like my writing actually. So Michael, you know, as we talked about the transitions, you know, it has been in some ways focused a lot on the exiting generation and the transition of institutional knowledge and all of this experience and expertise, and kind of been there, done that. That’s increasingly walking out the door, but we’ve got college graduates that are coming into the industry. We’ve got people that don’t have access to the claims college that a lot of times, you know, 20, 30 years ago, claims adjusters would have two or three, four weeks of in-depth training before they even adjudicated the first claim. And now they kind of get in and they get their desk and they go, you know, here’s the 200 claims, here’s the step that you got to go through and stuff. So how, how do you inform, how do you get people up to speed on something, as you said, is so complex and complicated, and especially for people who are dealing with multiple jurisdictions, how do you even break down something that complex into something simple that people can understand?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And obviously it’s a, it’s a problem in our industry. It’s a big, it’s a big issue in our industry, which is obviously why we’re having this discussion. I think work comp can be very, very complex. It can be extremely complex when you look at 50 jurisdictions and you look at all kinds of state laws and you’ve got all kinds of stakeholders and you’ve got a whole bunch of people involved in this process. And so it can be very complex and where I think we get tripped up a lot of times is that a lot of times we stay there. You know, we, we stay getting overwhelmed by the complexity of what our industry actually is in what we do. When I think about how do you bring new people in, you know, where do you start? You know, what is the kind of the foundation of where you start, it’s understanding some of the roots of what work comp actually is, you know, going back to the grand bargain and understanding what that is.
How do you create a better outcome for the injured worker?
And, you know, we talk about, you know, kind of how that started. And it kind of a funny story about that is when they first created it, they’re like, oh, this is, uh, you know, this is, should be pretty simple deal. Like there’s, there’s not that much to it. You know, the employees get wage loss and, um, they get their medical and the employees get the employers get to have the ability to budget and have some risk transfer and all that kinda stuff. This shouldn’t be that complicated, but obviously we’ve made it very complicated. So when I think about how do you bring people in, it’s looking at some of the simplicity, the simplistic aspects of what we talk about in our industry of what we’re trying to do, and we know marketing, we’ve talked about this so often it’s thinking about how do you actually create a better outcome for the injured worker? You know, if, if I was hurt or my spouse was hurt, or my kids were hurt, or my friend was hurt, how do I want them to be treated? And now you’re, you’re setting yourself up kind of from a mindset standpoint to go in. And I think that gets so easily lost in so much of what we do because so much of it is complex but the the real core concepts, I think it gets lost very quickly and very easily.
Yeah Well, I had the opportunity to use your foundations of work comp recently and went through that and that re-encouragement of addressing the humanity. Not claimants, they’re not, they are injured workers, but ultimately they’re human beings. I like the concept of the whole, not trying to eat the whole elephant at once. So if you were to start eating the toenail, the portion of the tail, and then the different, what are maybe three or four or five foundational, simplistic kind of things beyond kind of the ground bargain? What are the things that you would gravitate to that grabs people’s attention that kind of distills things down into something that they can then build on?
Yeah. So you mentioned the foundations courses, It’s a great course to kind of get people started. And I found that it’s very beneficial for people that are not only just new, but people that have been in the industry for a while that want to understand how all the puzzle pieces come together. But then you talk about how do you start to build on these things? And so I look and talk with employers and adjusters and people involved in the industry, where do you make the most impact? And WCRB has done a lot of studies on this as well, as far as worker outcome studies and what actually makes the difference in the claim. And so that’s where you start, you know, what is the biggest things that impact our outcome?
All right, we know that it’s the amount of trust in the employer and employee relationship. We know that it’s how they’re communicated with, you know, it’s how their expectations are set. If we know these things, one of those work outcomes studies, in other words, English language proficiency, which again comes down to understanding. And so it’s a lot about expectations, understanding the amount of trust in that relationship. So if we know those things, let’s start there. If we know that’s what makes a difference at the end, let’s begin with the end in mind, let’s start at the beginning. So that’s what it comes down to communication. How are we communicating with people? How are the supervisors responding to those injuries at the time of injury? It’s such a massive impact on the claim, just how that supervisor says those. Have you come to me and I’m your supervisor.
And I tell you, you’re going to get in trouble for firing, for hiring this, for filing this claim, or I’m going to fire you, or you’re not going to get a promotion or don’t file the claim. You know, things like that. Of course, I’m not going to feel good about that. And so when you start to think about what makes a difference at the end now, let’s think about these systems at the beginning. So it’s communication, it’s supervisor training, and then it’s really setting people up for our main goal and work comp, which is getting them back to work and getting them back to function.Gotcha, So what I heard you say is it’s less about the technical competencies and filing this form, but it’s more about guiding principles that then you can build upon the techniques and the tactics and then compliance and stuff like that, that here you’re right.
Responding with care at the time of injury
Absolutely. And that’s when we toughed our open our conversation, it’s like, there’s so much complexity in the forms and the filings and the 50 state laws and not, you know, all this stuff and you can just get way overwhelmed with it. And you’re getting lost in a lot of that kind of minutiae. A lot of times, not that it’s not important, we do need to do those things correctly. We need a file and file. They stay up to date with the regulations and all that, all those elements, but what matters is super simple, it’s the stuff, that’s the simplest things that make the most impact when it comes down to communication, setting expectations, you know, responding with care at the time of injury. You know, I think about, you know, I’ve got four kids and so the kids get hurt a lot. You know, they hurt themselves all the time. And I think about this story, one of my safety program, oh, right here.
It was a funny story that I remember because I remember writing a blog about it. One of my daughters, when she was younger, she fell out of her bed during the night. And so of course she’s crying and thinks then that same response as, you know, a three-year-old needs at that time. What does she want? All she wants is to give you a hug, give her a hug and tell her that it’s going to be okay. And we’re going to, you know, she’s going to be fine and, you know, sit with her for a minute. And now she’s, she goes back to sleep right away. Same thing. He is a human being as a three-year-old old versus a 30 year old versus a 15 year old. Obviously you’re not going to give him a hug and put them back in bed, but that same idea of we’re going to care for you. We have a plan here that just sets up that level of trust. And then you’re off to the races with managing the rest of that claim.
I think that’s, that’s a great concept and that’s not typically what we think about. Cause we typically think about diving into the deep end and explaining the forms and the statutory differences and stuff. But if you take a step back and think about the guiding principles, which is something that, that is really interesting and important to the next generation. So I know you haven’t been in work comp all 104 years it’s been available, but it just kind of seems like it. But what kind of trends have you seen in regards to education in regards to properly equipping? Let’s just leave it at kind of claims adjuster. I mean, there’s 1,000,000,001 OBS and work comp from HR to risk management to, you know, let’s just think about claims. What have you seen as far as trends? Have we gotten better if we gotten worse, if we just gotten different in how we, um, encourage and empower these people to actually be successful on day one.
Yeah. And, and the unfortunate reality again, and we’ve talked about this Mark, it hasn’t gotten better. It has gotten worse in the sense of, you know, a lot of people in the industry will talk about, oh, you remember the good old days. And we would use to go, we would spend weeks at a time when we do all this training. And today the world is just gets, has gotten faster. You know, it’s just a faster world in general. And I, and you see that in so many aspects of what we do, you know, we’re asked to do a lot more with a lot less, and then that’s, that’s true in so many different aspects of our world today, but unfortunately that’s negatively impacts are the claims adjusting, you know, world. And because the claims adjuster is a hugely important job and a hugely important piece of this puzzle here and there kind of a lot of times thrown into the fire and dealing with all the regulatory issues in the 50 states and the jurisdictions and all kinds of stuff. And then we’re asking them to do some of the care piece and coordinate them with employers and educate the employer because the employer doesn’t know what to do either. And it’s a really big job that they’re doing and we’re oftentimes not equipping them, unfortunately, as well as, as well as I think we probably could.
Foundational Building Blocks of Workers comp
So if you were a supervisor and you’ve got a claims adjuster, let’s say that they are a recent college graduate, this is their first white collar job. Maybe they’ve done some interns, maybe they worked at fast food or whatever, but this is really like their first legit come to an office. They don’t really know anything at work complex say that they didn’t have risk management. They didn’t, you know, as happens with most people in work comp, they didn’t decide to join work comp were selected them. You know, let’s say someone comes in kind of a blank slate and you’re their supervisor. What on day one, what net first hour of that first day up until lunchtime, what is going to be the things that you would want to impart upon them? And you kind of broke this up to a guiding principles, but what are those card foundational building block kind of things that you’re going to spend that first first moments of work comp with them on?
It’s a great question. And, you know, it leads me back and we’ve, we’ve kind of talked about it already. I mean, what I would talk with them about first, before I got into any of the laws before I get into any regulations, any forms, any of the 50 states, I would talk with them about what work comp actually is, you know, kind of the, the foundation of it. You know, what is this thing actually built on? There is it’s so much about human behavior management. It is really what makes the biggest difference in the world for that claim. If you’re going to make it either really easy on yourself, or you’re going to make it really hard on yourself, depending on how this thing goes really right at the beginning of the claim. And so I would talk with them about that.
I would, I would talk with them about everything that we’ve talked about already, you know, the communication elements, the what are the predictors of injured worker outcomes. And I would review those studies. I would, would talk about those different elements of what matters in workers’ compensation. What are we actually trying to do and take them back to the grand bargain of what it actually means that it’s here to be able to compensate someone for when they get hurt, replaced their wages and help them get back to work, get back to function. And that’s really the foundation of what we’re doing. And if we can do that with care, and I would impart this on them, you know, with a big sledgehammer over their head, that when you do this thing, when you really do this, right, when you care for the injured workers, when you really look out for them as if they were your family or a friend, you’re going to keep your costs really low. And so it’s a huge win-win. And if they can understand that philosophically, that means that, Hey, you’re going to go into this job. And it’s an awesome job because where else do you get to really both drive down costs and care for people. It’s like a huge win-win situation. So If you do your job really well, you’re going to get to be able to help people. And you’re going to keep costs really low. And so everyone really went, so I would really philosophically have them buy into that. And if they can buy into that, then they can get really excited about what they’re doing, because now they’re changing, you’re impacting people’s lives. And that’s to me, kind of fires me up you’re impacting people’s lives or helping them when they need help. And that can really now start to drive then the why behind what they’re doing. Cause before they get wrapped up and bogged down and all the legislation and the forums and all this stuff, you know, remembering the why and the humanity of what we’re doing and the purpose behind it, I think is super motivating. And so that’s where I would spend a ton of time, right out of the gates to have them buy into that and get excited about it. Cause if you can get excited about that, then you’re now you’re really set up for success.
Claim investigation Program
I wholeheartedly agree with you start with the why, and then start building the how on top of that. So let’s change gears a little bit. Let’s talk about someone who’s been in the industry for five or six or eight or 10 years, um, and has naturally developed a cynicism. I’ve been around a long time. You have you’ve run across those people that they just assume all injured workers and were lingers. They just assume all applicants attorneys are just chasing the money. They just assume that doctors are after a fee for service and we’ll do stuff, whatever we’ll help pay their mortgage. You know, they just seen, and what they don’t understand is that maybe 1%, 2%, 5% of the overall, but those are such deep scars that they just kind of come in, walk into it and assume that’s the case. How do you break that from an educational standpoint? How do you break those bad habits? How do you break that perceived that, that bias, those perceptions that are kind of baked in. So the first time they see a claim, they just kind of assume, um, you know, how do you break that down? Um, you know, that they have already gone kind of down the path of, well, here, here we go again.
Yeah. And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it a bunch. I know you’ve seen it a bunch. Anyone that’s been in the industry, it just it’s it’s becomes prevalent. And you, you know, you think about, you start thinking about, so we were talking to this about this before this call is you start thinking about people as claim numbers. You think about it as, you know, XYZ one, two, three, you know, 95 is the claim number. And rather than the person. And I think that’s when you really start to get off the tracks. And I think how do you break that? It’s, you know, it’s a great question. And the only way you do that is with education. And then I think also with experience and also with stories, because we’re, we’re so motivated by stories of an oftentimes, just like the news.
You turn on the nightly news, you’re going to hear the bad stories all the time. They’re so prevalent. If this is the same thing that tends to happen in our minds, you know, humans are, we’re just conditioned oftentimes to pay more attention to the bad stuff. And so, even though it’s 1%, 2%, 5% you’ve talked about, the numbers are really low of, of those of those really bad stories. And it’s not to say that they don’t exist because they do, there are bad injured workers. There are bad applicant attorneys. There are bad employers that aren’t doing their part. They’re not holding up their end of the grand bargain here. So, you know, it’s naive to think that those things aren’t true, that they don’t actually happen because they do. You know, to me, it’s more about trying to focus on what are the things that we know work.
And the more that you do, those things that you work. And the way that I like to pitch this to employers is you have to kind of have both things. So you kind of have to be warmhearted. So you have to understand this idea that it’s empathy and care and trust and all these different elements that you need to go in with the expectation that everyone is going to be a good person. So if you come, you can come in warm hearted, you’re going to be setting yourself up for success, but you also have to be tough minded at the same time. And I think that’s where it comes within work comp. You need to really have both of those because there are a time when you need to have a very strong work comp defense program. You need to have a very good investigation program.
You need to have very good programs because not everybody is going to hold up their end of the deal. You know, there are going to be people that are, they’re doing things poorly. And so from a system standpoint, if you set up your systems, well, you can have both, you can communicate care, you can have your supervisors respond appropriately. You can do all these things really well, you know, out of the gates and really set that claim up for success. Assuming there the employee is going to hold up their end, but if they don’t hold up there and you have systems for that as well, you’ve got a very good defense system. You’re taking a good recorded statement. You know, you’re doing all these things well. And the nice thing about that again, I think the most beautiful thing about our industry is that if you do things right, if you do care, if you do investigation, if you do all these things, right, it actually sets you up well for the tough minded piece, because now you’ve got good information. And now, you know that the person actually hurt their knee. They didn’t hurt their shoulder, or they didn’t twist their back. Cause you have the mechanism of injury very properly documented. And so you have all these systems in place. And so I think, you know, going into the mindset of warmhearted and tough-minded, and the fact that if you have good systems in place, you can really do both and, and really create a good outcome.
I love the hearted tough-minded it reminds me of a trust, but verify. Yeah. But absolutely it’s a little bit different. I think you’re absolutely right. If you start with the warmhearted, sorry, on the assumption that everybody is after the right thing, is doing the right thing, has the right motivations in part, but you also have the structured process. So if things, as soon as you identify things that aren’t being done, that you identify those bad apples, whether it be the employer Ms. Kuala misclassifying, the employees, or the doctors, or the whatever, you know, just name them certain fighters. I mean, everybody has, you know, once you identify that, then you’ve got a process in place that makes that joining easy. So it sounds like you’ve got a plan for new people coming in brand new, starting now the guiding principles you got to plan for those, who’ve developed a cynicism over time and that warm-hearted and tough minded approach.
Be Intentional about the process
What about the old folks like me, I’m going to be riding off into the sunset and the institutional knowledge. How would you recommend divesting them of that, um, and codifying it in passing that knowledge on. So all of that, you can’t obviously take their gut experience. You can’t take their instincts away that they’ve done over 20 or 30, 40 years, but there’s a lot of stuff that you can’t, how do you get that out of them, and then in co-located that in your culture or in mentees or other people in their organization. So that expertise doesn’t walk out the door and now you don’t have any, you don’t have that anymore.
Yeah, it’s a great question. And it’s, you know, to me, it’s about being intentional about it. You know, obviously that’s what we’re doing here together as being intentional about the process. Because if you put some thought into it, if you have a clear goal of what you’re trying to accomplish, then, you know, start with the why and the how oftentimes reveals itself. That’s, you know, kind of step one is, okay, that’s our goal. We want to win. We want to pass on this knowledge. So that to me is kind of step one. Let’s be intentional about it. And then two, it’s about setting up again, a process or a system for that, you know, what does that look like at your organization? If you’re an organization and, you know, you know, it’s not a surprise that someone’s going to be retiring in X amount of time.
And so, you know, we, we have a lot of time to plan for that. You know, is it a, Tuesday lunch meeting that you’re having with, with new people coming in and, you know, is it a Friday zoom call? You know is it some sort of systematic structured way within your organization to carve out some of that time? Because it doesn’t have to be 40 hours a week that we’re, we’re doing this, it needs to be, here’s your particular. If someone’s been in the industry for a long time, they know what works, they’ve cut through the weeds. They’re like, okay, let me save you a lunch bunch of time. And here’s the things that work. And so let me show those to you and tell those to you in part those upon you and answer your questions. And so it’s just a structured time I think is one of the way to make it happen, because if you’re not, if you don’t put it in your calendar, if you don’t structure something around it, then the wheels keep turning. The world keeps running and the world’s running faster and faster and faster and faster. And then all of a sudden the retirement day is there and you, oh, I meant to get to that, but I just didn’t have the time to do it. Shoot, and it doesn’t happen. So it’s just, I think about being intentional instruction to them.
Sharpen the sock, make sure that saw is sharp.
That’s great points. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about as a legit educator that you just, it just burning you and, you know, you’ve done videos all over. There’s probably not any unspent words, in the Stack household, is there anything burning that you want to kind of get off your chest as far as the importance of education and equipping people to be successful?
I think the big piece there and the, I think the main takeaway, and I see this so often is that, you know, work comp is very complex. There’s a lot to it, but we also know how to do it. You know, this is not a brand new program. This program has been around for over a hundred years. We know how to do it, and we know what works, and we know what systems work, you know, where I find the biggest challenge is what we were just talking about. You know, the, how do you impart knowledge is that there’s so much going on in people’s lives and business lives and professional lives, all kinds of stuff going on in the world, the news cycle, as fast as could possibly be. And there’s things hitting us all the time.
And so we know how this is done, but often times we don’t take the time to think about it. Like you get a little bit above the weeds and you’re like, oh yeah, I could see, I could see what’s going on here. You know, we get so lost in it and we’re just overwhelmed by it. And we’re overwhelmed by claims and, you know, drama and jurisdictional stuff. And we’re overwhelmed by all this stuff. But if we take a couple of minutes, just like we were talking about with the, with the imparting the knowledge, if we’re intentional about taking some time to look at the way we’re doing it. And if we say from a systems or a structure, a strategy standpoint, we can avoid a lot of problems if we did this, you know, kind of right up front, and that would cut off a whole bunch of challenges that we’re facing and just make ourselves more efficient. So, you know, the, the thing that I see the most is just taking some of that time for strategy, uh, taking some of that time to actually, you know, as Stephen Covey said “Sharpen the sock, making sure that saw is sharp. So you could chop down that tree just a lot more efficiently”. And I see it’s just so bogged down in the industry that we don’t take the time to sharpen the saw, but if we do, then we’re safe. We save ourselves a huge amount of time,
Slow down, Take a breath and Strategize
I think from that. And what you’ve also already shared. It’s, it’s really about intentionality. This stuff doesn’t just happen by chance. Yes, it could. I mean, there are people that are lucky and not good, right. The right place at the right time. But the vast majority of good stuff that happens is, is done because it was strategically thought through, it was intentional. NFL quarterbacks always talk about how in other sports as well, where the sports slows down it’s that the players are moving slower. It’s just that they’re able to process things because they’ve seen so much that see stuff there. They’re not rushed. They, they they’ve been equipped. They’ve done the book study. They’ve been out on the field so long that they understand and things slow down. And when they slow down, they make better decisions. Absolutely. I think that’s really, what you’re trying to do is, is to impart, is this slow down, maybe literally slow down, take a breath, strict strategize about how to educate and empower your people.
Yeah, it really is. It’s such a great, it’s a great analogy because as you said, you know, they’ve seen the formation before. We know this is not the first time the defensive play at this formation, but you’ve got to be able to recognize it quickly and know what to do, you know, at that time. And the more you’re trained up on that. So it’s like that, that offensive strategy has already been defined, you know how to beat it by whatever players supposed to do. And that’s kind of the same idea. It’s a great analogy because we know exactly what to do. You know, this is not a new program work on. It is not new. We’ve been working with employers, you know, implementing systems successfully for years and decades. You know, it’s, the strategy is not new, but the ability to implement it, the ability to execute it, um, is the biggest challenge.
It’s, you know, as you said, it’s about being intentional and about understanding that strategy is what we have to do, but also you can’t do it all at once. It’s buying it one at a time, it’s about prioritizing that too. You know, it’s a, it’s a major, that’s a major piece of, of when with this dude’s, you’ve got to be able to take it step by step, because if you try to do it all at once, you will fail a hundred percent guarantee and you won’t keep going, but if you get a little win and you get a little win and you get a little win, you know, all of a sudden, after a period of time school by you’ve had a lot of wins and now you’re, you really had some big success. Absolutely.
Reframe the mindset
Well, I knew this would be a very great conversation because you’ve got so much experience in educating people. And I’m pretty confident that the industry doesn’t do a good job of strategizing in regards to education. There are certainly a lot of people that do, but I think we put claims adjusters really at a disadvantage in throwing them into the deep end and not even with floaties, right. We just, we just kind of throw them in there after they’ve eaten a really big meal, right. And then that they’re going to be able to float. So I think if we slow down and intentionally strategically figure out how to encourage, empower new people coming in, how to kind of take the cynicism out of those that have been here for a while also to extract the institutional knowledge from those, there’ll be walking away. The industry is going to be a whole lot better as a whole. Yeah. And I, I think that the nice thing, you know, the, the benefit, obviously there’s a lot of challenges with, with the people transitioning out. But the benefit is, is that you can maybe start to reframe the mindset of the people that do come in and really get rid of some of that cynicism, you know, really dive into this. Um, the advocacy model obviously has taken hold here in the last several years that general philosophy and mindset and strategy and approach to claims. So if you can really impart that on the new incoming generation, that’s a beautiful thing that they can really now start to make and change the overall culture and dynamic of the entire industry. You know, now you’re really making a major, major impact. And I think it’s a good opportunity for, for the new people coming in.
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Michael. I really appreciate you joining me in imparting your knowledge and can you give everybody your contact information in case they want to want to talk with you more about kind of your strategies and tactics?
Yeah. Easy way to contact me is by email. So it’s M as in Michael Stack, which is S T A C K at reduce your workers’ comp.com. It’s probably the longest email I think that anybody has, but that’s our website address as well, reduce workers’ comp.com. So all kinds of stuff. I read a blog and do video blogs. I do trainings. I’ve got the foundation course. We have the certification program. We got all kinds of stuff on there. If anyone’s interested in learning more.
Well, it’s a very self-explanatory website. It from the name is concerned. So great. Thanks, Michael. Really appreciate it, dude. Thank you. Happy to talk with you. All right. Take care
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center, which offers the Certified Master of Workers’ Compensation national designation.
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