Tonight's the night. You look great and feel better. By midnight you'll be America's Broker of the Year. Before leaving your suite at the Greenbrier you stop at the mirror to straighten your tie. With a confident grin you think, "Mirror, mirror on the wall who's the greatest of them all?"
You remember when grandpa started the business. The only requirement for success was to show up and work hard. Your dad took over in slightly more challenging times; he had to plan and build in wiggle room for contingencies. You envy that simple world.
Your challenges are much greater -- the Internet and now social media, competition from your own carriers, this new hyper-sensitive world of political correctness, diversity, and employment practices. Your carriers are also your competitors and banks have finally stumbled into the business. Obamacare is threatening your benefits unit, a global economy brings foreign competitors into your community, and offering products net of commission will create permanent soft markets.
You moved your agency from the software and technology of yesterday into the cloud world of tomorrow. You hired three high "tech" millennial "nerds" that any agency would love to have. You solved the succession problem by positioning your son and grandson in responsible roles and perpetuated your management team by hiring the daughter of the CFO, your operations guy's nephew and the children of two key producers.
Your book is 22% of the agency volume and it isn't going anywhere because every one of your insureds is in your Country Club. Your producers are the secret and you honor them. Yours is a sales culture.
You've managed the great divide between the "old timers" that have been with you for decades and the new Gen Ys that are the future. In reality, your culture is more divided than the Congress. You just do a better job than does President Obama. You wish the colleagues at the office could see you tonight.
Suddenly the mirror interrupts your fantasy. "Leader, leader from the past, your success will not last. Your words tonight will ring hollow. Your culture is such others will not follow."
You are shocked. "What the heck does that mean? What's wrong with my culture?"
Tomorrow's world is more diverse. For every insured business and individual there are unlimited options. Talented employees are volunteers. The future will be client defined and client driven not product and producer driven as it is today. You must respond to the market; the market won't respond to you. Your existing culture is the limitation of your possibilities.
Max DePree said, "The first role of a leader is to define reality." Consider the family organizations below. Where are you?
On the left side of this scale are the Flintstones, on the far right are the Jetsons. Inside of these two ends are the Andersons (Father Know Best), All in the Family (the Bunkers), and the Huxtables (Cosby Show). As you laugh about the absurdity in this model, you discover the first reality. Everyone in your organization will know some of these benchmarks, few will know all. We're not one world. It's important that everyone understands the culture and embraces their fit in it.
If you can't decide by organization where you are positioned choose the leadership style that mirrors what you do (versus what you say you do).
Maslow explained unmet needs motivate. Most know his hierarchy. Think about it, the Flintstones were about survival; Jim Anderson was about assuring security to the compliant members of the organization that he controlled; Archie was an "angry Jim Anderson" because he was losing control and his "team" wasn't compliant. The family was challenging Archie and demanding acceptance.
Clair and Cliff Huxtable, a leadership team, were about the development of their team members and finally Jane and George Jetson and crew pursued self-fulfillment. Technology provided free time and access to the world's knowledge necessary for anyone and everyone to be whatever they wanted to be.
Think now about the management styles and employee skills necessary then, now, and tomorrow. From left to right, we've evolved from teams that had to DO as they were told, to individuals that had to THINK on their own, and to a future where individuals must CREATE (innovate) for a world yet to be defined.
Your future success is dependent upon establishing and sustaining a culture that assures you the "talent team" necessary to distinguish yourself in the marketplace as it is and as it demands you to be. The most talented individuals and best clients have unlimited options. Their choices determine your future.
Where are you on this continuum? Will the marketplace embrace your culture as it is? What culture assures your future success? Can you get there from here? Really?
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 about 40 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
September 6, 2011
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