Mike called. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew, like Austin Powers, he had his "mojo" back. He was on fire with enthusiasm, success, promise and life.
"I owe you a steak," he said. "Our conversation about the possibilities for insurance agencies in the future made me shake off the funk that I've been in for awhile and realize how good this business is and the possibilities that can be mine."
He continued to ramble or, maybe more correctly, race through his past quarter's production, the new accounts written and the commission earned. His numbers would qualify him in the 90th percentile of any "best practices" guide for producers.
Success wasn't new to Mike and Mike wasn't new to success, but he, like so many other agency owners and producers, had become "dumb, fat and happy" with the status quo. He had transitioned from a hungry producer to an owner that wanted to protect his past success instead of searching for the next opportunity. Products and process had become his focus in lieu of clients, their pain and needs.
His summary was simple: "Mike, I was a B and C student. Now I do well--real well. The secret to my success is simple. My daddy taught be a long time ago that I could have anything I wanted as long as I was willing to help enough other folks get what they wanted. Man, was he ever right."
He took a short breath and continued his monologue.
"I had a new client give me $800,000 last week. His existing agent had started to take him and the soft market for granted. He thought a savings of 8 percent on the expiring premium would guarantee renewal. The problem was the discount was on the wrong coverage and priced against the wrong codes. He had been taking the account, the customer and the relationship for granted.
"If somebody gives me a check for $800,000, I take it personally. I will fight for that guy or gal. My job is to solve the client's problems, not the insurance carriers. The insurance companies have underwriters, actuaries and lawyers on staff--they don't need me. The client is my responsibility."
Mike had discovered the obvious: His future and the future of his agency were simply to be client defined and client driven, not the product, carrier and producer defined and focused model that drives too many "successful" agencies today.
For the next few minutes, we "debriefed" his conversion and more importantly that of his agency team. Mike and his consultant had stripped the operation bare in search of reality. The agency in recent years had become overmanaged and underled. Agencies at their simplest are merely the aggregation of products, processes, people and passion.
Products and process require management. People--especially the best talent--demand leadership. Passion is energy that ensures the best result from the talent assembled. Passion is the domain of the leader. Passion is the end--not the means. Passion is the result of a "purpose" that carries the organization into the future. Passion is a shared vision and values. These are guiding principles that are the X Commandments and the Constitution of the agency. Passion inoculates your agency from bureaucracy, BS and backbiting.
In combination, these collective concepts above become the concrete foundation upon which your future is built. Brought to life, these are the culture--the house rules that all team members must celebrate, honor and adhere to. Your culture will create your brand, and your brand will be the measure of your success.
Margaret Mead, the world-famous cultural anthropologist, said, "What people say, what people do and what they say they do are entirely different things."
I believe marketing is what you say, operations are what you say you do and your culture is what you do.
Mike is different. He's a cowboy. Some carriers, underwriters and competitors don't like him. Most of his clients do. Why? He takes it personally. Their problems are his problems, and they pay him well to take care of them.
What are your priorities and focus? Are you dumb, fat and happy, or do you wake up hungry and scared each day? Is management more of a concern than leadership?
From Theodore Levitt (author and Harvard professor) we learn that "no organization can achieve greatness without a vigorous leader who is driven onward by his own pulsating will to succeed. He has to have a vision of grandeur, a vision that can produce eager followers in vast numbers. In business, the followers are the customers. To produce these customers, the entire organization must be viewed as a customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism."
Do you need to get your agency's mojo back?
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
June 20, 2011
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