Today I'm writing this column in this venue for the last time. Previous columns might have led you to believe I doubt the viability of our industry and our Agency System. I don't. We can be more important in the future than we've been in the past. To do so we must be different. Dale Dauten (innovation expert, columnist and friend) correctly states, "Different isn't always better but better is always different."
I enjoy the financial services and insurance industry (warts and all) and I'm especially enamored with the Independent Agency System and Community Banks. My fascination with these market segments rests not in the word agency (describing the contract with our carriers) or banks (as brick-and-mortar institutions) but rather in the word Independent (describing our obligation to our clients and our entrepreneurial spirit) and Community (describing the people we serve as individuals, groups, tribes and culture).
To many people we are a "necessary evil." I believe we are necessary when evil arrives. We exist not for the good times but to bring good when times aren't. We are the past and can be the future.
What follows is "lagniappe" (Cajun: "for a little something extra"). This is offered to those of you less worried about predicting the future and more committed to creating it (following Peter Drucker's advice, "The best way to predict the future is to create it").
First, "define reality" (says Max Depree). I'm not talking about a SWOT analysis, a budget or a financial statement. I'm talking about defining the culture of your organization. "What it is" not "what you wish it to be." Culture is the house rules. It will be either the limitations of your organization or the possibilities on its horizon. Culture is and it is very difficult (read - near impossible) to change.
Changing culture requires that you "change the people" or "change the people." Work within your culture. If your Vision exceeds that possibility consider creating a "new" organization for the future then utilize your "old" company like a farm club -- a source of some valued, experienced talent.
Next determine the future ideal. What's your end game? What is your Purpose (see YouTube -- Simon Sinek)? What is your Vision? What are the Values that will support your future? What cause will you pursue? (Read Strategic Business Transformation by Mohan Nair).
In terms of "processes" needed for the future. INNOVATE. Don't be driven by your costs -- you'll price yourself out of the market. Instead be driven by price -- the price that the market is willing to pay. Once you know that number then innovate your processes to come in under that price.
If you want a starting point, consider the delivery of commodity offerings -- personal lines in agencies and retail offering in banks. Innovate processes so that you'll be profitable at 50 percent of the revenue you now generate. You'll have to be this efficient in the future anyway.
Become a magnet for the best talent and the best technology. Forget place and time. If you can have the "busy" work done in China more effectively and efficiently than on Main Street, then send it to China. Redirect your talent to customer intimacy. Yesterday, technology forced you to seek efficiency. Today competition requires you to be effective. Tomorrow your survival will require an intimacy with your client -- that will be your differentiation.
Tomorrow there will be more knowledge than any individual can understand and manage (think -- health care reform legislation, accompanying regulation and inevitable litigation). Artificial intelligence and Siri will better deliver the knowledge necessary. Don't concern yourself with more "industry certifications" become client certified. Become an expert in each client and their industry then facilitate the management of the resources they need. (Read On a Consumer Watershed by Marshall Goldsmith).
Manage less risks comfortable to you (perils covered by insurance) -- manage more the risks that threaten the future for you and your client (geo-politics, competition, brand, fiscal, talent, strategic and operational, environmental, knowledge, tomorrow, etc.).
Finally, seek wisdom. You'll find it "at the intersection of knowledge and experimentation. (MGM)"
I have chosen my path for the future. I will follow the advice of Robert Frost. "Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
I will not try to manage change. I will architect it -- I will seek a tomorrow through intelligent design.
I close with, "Happy trails to you!"
January 10, 2013
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