This article is part of Carrier Management’s Cultural Q&A series featured in the Nov/Dec 2018 print edition.

Q: There is a famous saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Do you agree? Do you spend more time on culture or strategy? How does your culture support your strategy and vice versa?

Keith Moore, CEO and Chair, CoverHound and Founder and CEO, CyberPolicy

CoverHound, an online insurance agency, has been around since 2010, well before descriptive mashups like “InsurTech” and “fintech” were in vogue, initially allowing customers to compare and purchase personal auto insurance online at CoverHound.com. In September 2016, CoverHound added commercial insurance lines like workers compensation, business owners packages and commercial auto to the mix, making policies from Chubb, Liberty Mutual, Berkshire Hathaway Direct, Hiscox, Progressive and Employers available to businesses with 20 or fewer employees. Pushing the envelope further, CEO Keith Moore led his CoverHound team of innovators to a new first—direct sales of cyber insurance bundled with cybersecurity products online—with the launch of a separate CyberPolicy.com site in October 2016.

Moore first told Carrier Management about CoverHound’s cultural values in November 2016. “We try to hire people who are willing to work with each other and also serve the customers—serve their needs first,” he said. “That is one of our company cultural values: Is somebody able to put the ‘we’—the greater good—before the me? And are they looking to deliver a great experience? Are they always looking to go that extra mile for someone else? Are they always looking to make the customer smile?” (carriermag.com/wy36u)

Joining CoverHound in 2011, Moore’s personal career accomplishments include building the first online homeowners insurance instant quote and direct purchase engine in the state of California and working for Internet sites like LendingTree.com. He applied what he learned in those prior roles to building CoverHound. Among the key learnings: Customers want help in narrowing down provider choices, and they don’t want final prices to be different from online quotes, he said, explaining why Coverhound operates as “a trusted adviser for curated choice”—an agency that offers bindable insurance rates from a limited selection of carriers. (carriermag.com/vfset)

In an update last year, CoverHound announced 2017 growth through new marketing and carrier partnerships, including Metromile, PolicyGenius, Trusted Choice, biBerk, QBE and The Hanover, among others.

In late September this year, Clearsurance, an online publisher of consumer data, announced a partnership with CoverHound.

Keith Moore, CEO, CoverHound and CyberPolicy: Yes, culture takes priority at both CoverHound and CyberPolicy over strategy because one of the most vital aspects of our strategy is to be highly innovative to drive positive change in a large, established industry: insurance.

Being innovative brings together two key aspects of our culture: putting the “we” before the “me” and the importance of teamwork. Meaningful innovation can only occur through numerous failures, and numerous failures as an individual can be extremely stressful and are not sustainable (especially when the company culture is weak). We have found that innovation comes more frequently from diverse and culturally aligned teams that are smart, hungry and humble. Stronger teams can withstand failures together over longer periods of time, which is a must in achieving innovative breakthroughs, like we have at CoverHound and CyberPolicy.

Your strategy can shift as you learn new markets and develop new products that gain traction, but cultural shifts are far more difficult, so the priority to get your culture right early on and maintain it has been more important for us.

Q: How would you describe your company’s culture today? Has the culture changed since the early startup days?

Moore: CoverHound has always been a customer- and service-oriented culture. When we hire employees, we look for a key set of values, and these values impact everything down to the experience with the customer. After all, happy employees equal happy customers.

Some of these values include putting the “we” before the “me”; not passing the buck; and most importantly, being service-oriented. Serving is leadership.

This service-oriented nature of our internal culture has a direct influence on our external behavior to exceed expectations. This contributes to our most important company metric as well—Net Promoter Score (NPS). CoverHound has a Net Promoter Score of 80, making us a leader in the insurance and financial services industry in exceeding customer expectations. (The average NPS among insurance companies is 46.)

Q: How does the structure of your organization support the current culture?

Moore: The CoverHound culture promotes growth and development and is one of constant improvement. “Good, better, best,…never settle until your good is better than their best.” To that end, we empower individuals and teams to participate in growth opportunities such as technology, training, professional development, technical writing and achievement recognition programs.

We hire based on the applicant’s alignment with our values and mission—not simply technical skill. This decision stems from a belief that a person’s previous shortcomings can indicate a willingness to improve and an understanding of how to overcome adversity. Employees are encouraged to develop a self-guided professional development plan. This is directly linked to our desire to hire people with a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset.”

Within the organization we also promote leadership and decision-making, encouraging our employees to take ownership of their work and be accountable. Our leadership team believes the people we hire are professionals with all the tools they need to do their jobs well. We don’t need to micromanage our employees, yet there is a sense of an “open door policy” for problem-solving, brainstorming and strategy development.

Q: Describe your role in shaping and perpetuating the culture.

Moore: Within CoverHound, we are focused on communication to drive culture, and this comes in a few forms. As the CEO, I host quarterly all-hands meetings where I share the state of the company and make sure all employees understand how their contributions are generating success. Also, various teams get to present their accomplishments for the previous quarter and goals for the upcoming quarter. It’s a good opportunity for employees—especially those that don’t have daily interactions with me—to see my commitment to the culture and success of the company. Plus, they are excited to share about their hard work as well.

As mentioned above, we have an open-door policy where our team members feel comfortable collaborating with others. Building that fabric across teams and seniority levels creates a culture for problem-solving and encourages a common goal approach.

“We hire based on the applicant’s alignment with our values and mission—not simply technical skill…A person’s previous shortcomings can indicate a willingness to improve and an understanding of how to overcome adversity.”

Finally, it is important for us to provide venues where employees can build friendships and camaraderie. That can be as simple as company-sponsored lunches to team bowling nights and happy hours. I think we can all agree it is easier to get through a challenging situation with a friend. And work will always have challenges, so the friendships are important.

Q: Does the company have a chief culture officer, or are you considering adding that role to the C-suite? What other leaders help to shape the culture of your company, and how?

Moore: Previously we had a position within the company dedicated to building and maintaining culture; however, we do not have that today. We’ve found having ownership of company culture across the entire leadership team and their reports has been more effective. Our employees are ambassadors of the culture, and we encourage them to hold their peers accountable when it comes to our cultural values. Generally, I have been impressed when I see how our teams interact and perform while upholding the values—especially constant improvement and service. I witness teams challenging each other or asking the question, “Are we exceeding expectations?”

Of course, there is always work to be done. I do believe that culture is driven from the top, and when that happens, it is easier for those values to percolate through all the levels of the organization. As I stay committed, I am fortunate to have a leadership team that embraces these values as we continue to innovate and drive change.