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A Coaching Culture Can Help Companies Excel

Posted By Frederic Funck, Tuesday, April 30, 2019

from Center for Creative Leadership

Take a moment and ask yourself these 2 questions:

Do you believe you have more potential than your current performance level? And if yes, what’s the cost of opportunity of not using that potential more often?

If you think like the overwhelming majority of the 200 senior executives I spoke to at a recent conference, then you answered yes to the first question, and a lot of money and time for the second.

This is problematic on a variety of fronts, and coaching has proved to be one of the best means of addressing it. Coaching is a business imperative, not a nice perk. It helps leaders achieve their personal best, swiftly adjust to the demands of their environment, and expand their personal level of impact.

Coaching culture enables radical transformation by fostering certain types of conversations on a daily basis. It creates a climate where people learn how to:

  • Give and receive feedback.
  • Support and stretch someone’s thinking.
  • Challenge people’s performance plateau.
  • Engage in development conversations that are short in length but strong in impact.

Here are 3 steps to consider for deploying this type of coaching culture:

1. Make the case for coaching by allowing key influencers to experience its power.

Don’t assert the value of coaching. Instead, demonstrate its value, particularly in situations that are painful for the business’ leaders. You want the influencer to be able to say something to the effect of: “I’ve been struggling with this for the last 3 weeks. It’s amazing that in only 30 minutes with you, I’ve found alternative ways of handling this. I have new-found confidence!”

2. Integrate coaching as a core element of your talent and leadership development strategy.

Before trying to embed coaching in your culture, start by integrating coaching in your leadership and talent development framework. Embed coaching in some of your leadership programs for targeted populations, like high potentials, senior managers, and senior experts. It’s equivalent to learning how to walk before you run. It also exposes your organization to a critical mass of adopters.

3. Equip HR professionals with coaching skills.

The ideal situation arises when business leaders and HR professionals exhibit coaching skills and a coaching mindset on their own. Contrary to popular belief, coaching isn’t exclusively for development purposes — it’s also for everyday challenges.

The performance of your organization will always be determined by the effectiveness of every single employee. In this context, coaching can address 80% of routine obstacles in less than 20 minutes, as opposed to other forms of management that may force people to do things that feel unnatural or leave them pondering for weeks. The more that your HR department can experience this and exemplify the benefits, the better it will be for the entire organization.


I saw first-hand how one of our clients in the banking sector benefited from deploying some of these 3 phases. The CHRO set out to introduce coaching throughout the organization, particularly responding to feedback in a recent survey that revealed issues around engagement, motivation, and a general malaise in the organization stemming from a transition in leadership.

Some 500 managers spent 2 hours, by increments of 30 minutes over a 3-month period, addressing their particular needs with a coach over the phone: preparing for a big meeting, thinking through a tricky situation, and finding emotional balance in a supportive partnership.

A follow-up survey showed this initiative’s success. The 500 managers reported collectively that simple coaching conversations were worth the equivalent of 3 million euros based on an aggregated value of time spared, decisions made, actions taken, proposals won, and conflicts managed.

This was the lever the CHRO was waiting for to formally present a coaching curriculum that leaders could use with their teams to increase the organization’s overall performance.

Coaching culture delivers a great promise — a high performance environment that holds people accountable for delivering results, while fostering a climate of full engagement, personal development, and mutual support. If you take the steps necessary to make it happen in your organization, the dividends could be exponential.

Tags:  coaching  insurance agency management 

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Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

Posted By Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Tuesday, April 30, 2019


When thinking about how to develop in our careers, most of us tend to focus on promotions, projects, courses, certifications. We seek out expanded roles, more senior titles, extra money. We overlook one very key piece of the learning puzzle:  proactively surrounding ourselves with people who will push us to succeed in unexpected ways and, in so doing, build genuinely rich, purposeful lives of growth, excellence, and impact.

Back in the 1990s, when I was working full-time as a partner in our executive search firm, I pursued one such friend—a leading researcher and writer—and cultivated the relationship for several years. And then, in 1998, during a walk along the Charles River in Cambridge, he surprised me with a challenge. He suggested that, in addition to my client practice and internal leadership roles at Egon Zehnder, I could find even more meaning (and have a larger reach) by using my knowledge of and passion for talent-spotting and development to also become a writer, teacher, and public speaker.  I took his advice, and it has drastically changed my life, both professionally and personally.

We typically spend at least two decades in our formal education and, in developed countries, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We carefully choose our places of employment and invest significant time and effort in training within them.  However, few of us engage in a deliberate, determined search for those wise individuals who, through their inspiration and advice, can literally make us new.

My dynamic circle of advisers and confidantes has included, in addition to my wife María and my Charles River friend, several other academics in the United States, an undergraduate professor in Argentina, a McKinsey director in Spain, and colleagues working in Egon Zehnder offices across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.  They have, throughout my career, successively inspired me into different possibilities I would never had envisioned, from teaching statistics to applying for an MBA, from becoming a strategic consultant to spending three decades and taking on global leadership roles in executive search, from publishing books to teaching executives at Harvard.

They have been companions on my journey, offering honest feedback, helping me to discover new identities and pushing me to become a highly different yet significantly better version of myself.  How can you find a similar group? The following guidelines should help:

Think about the people who inspire you.  These can be teachers of certain disciplines; inventors; entrepreneurs; business, social, or public leaders.  I have always been moved and inspired by specific people, not just abstract professions.  I “met” them originally in many cases by reading their work or about them, but also via social media and at conferences.

Don’t be afraid to chase.  Conferences are a great place to get inspired, approach, and start a relationship with some of the people you’ve identified.  Likewise, contacting even top academics is usually much easier than you think. Other cases may require a much more determined investment. For example, I flew back and forth from Buenos Aires to a little town in Massachusetts just to meet my Charles River friend. While this double red-eye may sound excessive, think how little time commitment it was compared to what we invest in our education, or to the opportunity cost and frustration of a poor career choice or wrong job decision.

Aim for a mix of people inside and outside your organization.  Lots of healthy change can and should ideally happen within your own company.  However, external contacts can potentially have the benefit of greater independence, a broader perspective with radically new horizons, as well as potential connections across both worlds which will benefit everyone.

Be candid about the reason for your interest.  Most truly great people live their lives with genuine passion and want to expand their missions.  Most times, they will be delighted to both inspire you and help you see how to close the gap between dream and reality.

Ask them specifically about how to get started.  After suggesting my new potential persona, my Charles River friend gave me some invaluable advice about what I had to do.  He said to me: “You need three Cs:  capability, which you have; connectivity, which at least initially you can do through the global network of your firm; and credibility, which you don’t have yet.  In order to achieve it, you need to publish a great article in a credible magazine and ideally a book.”  He then put me in touch with a senior editor at HBR, with whom I worked to make that first article happen.

Proactively offer them help.  These great companions who lead us to greater lives deserve our very best.  I have always offered them that, with no strings attached.  That included becoming a pro bono assistant professor, conducting intensive research for a full year for someone’s new book, becoming the critical reader of a best-selling author, and much more.  And whenever I get a message from them, I drop everything I’m doing and respond right away.  I have constantly done this out of gratitude but, as always, I also gained in the form of more learning, opportunities, and deeper friendships.

Have crucial conversations in the right settings.  Meeting face-to-face with no distractions will help you reach a level of intimacy which simply can’t achieve remotely.  I would add that many of my life-changing moments have occurred while walking with my trusted friends in beautiful surroundings – whether by a river, in the countryside, on the beach, along a snow-covered mountain, or across peaceful villages.  One of my Egon Zehnder colleagues and I have done this in more than 30 different parts of the world.  The combination of exercise and nature makes me particularly energetic, enthusiastic and positive – and therefore more willing to consider new possibilities.

Don’t hesitate to ask the truly big questions. What shall I do with my life?  What really motivates me?  What am I doing that I really don’t like to do?  While pondering these questions, in addition to checking my capability, connectivity and credibility, I also engage my friends in conversation about three other Cs:  contemplation (Am I in touch with my inner compass?), compassion (Do I show it for myself and others?), and companions (Who else might inspire me to new growth?)

Proactively seeking out and cultivating those who will help us become better versions of ourselves is, by a wide margin, the key for living a truly happy and meaningful life. I sincerely hope these guidelines help you.

Tags:  career  success 

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Great Leadership Means Ensuring the Company Can Survive Without You

Posted By Ken Downer, Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Are you indispensable? Should you be?

We make the plans, give the orders, follow-up on everybody and everything. Nothing happens without our say-so. The machine is humming and we are at the controls.

It feels like leadership. But is it?

Holding it All Together

Stanley was charismatic and brilliant.  Taking the helm of the household gadget company his father helped to found, he reorganized and re-energized it.  With keen insight and through force of personality, he introduced new products, cut costs, and invested strategically.

Under his direction, his company posted forty consecutive quarters of earnings growth.  After 10 years as the CEO, he stepped down, having quadrupled annual sales.  Under his guidance, the company was an amazing success story.

Stanley’s successor, his “second,” lasted only one year on the job.  Those who followed also struggled, and within a few years, the company was in such bad shape, it was bought out by a competitor.

It might be easy to conclude that since the company fell apart after his departure, it was further evidence of his greatness as a leader.  But as Jim Collins points out in Good to Great, what happened after Stanley Gault left the helm of Rubbermaid, actually demonstrates a critical fault.

It Feels Like Leading

OK, so let’s pause a moment and ask ourselves this question:  Are we the only ones who can do what we’re doing right now on the team?

If our answer is “Yes” it might feel good to think so.  That makes us a valuable asset.  The team needs us.  As a result, our job security probably looks pretty good.  Our sense of self-worth is likely doing well, too.  And so long as we are on the job, it’s “steady as she goes.”

And it feels like leadership: everyone comes to us for our say-so; we make the decisions and give the orders.  If we weren’t there, the roof would likely cave in.  It all depends on us.

But that’s the problem.

Like Stanley Gault, business may be thriving right now under our direction.  But there is more to the job than today’s receipts.

As leaders we are responsible for more than just ourselves – we all know that.  But it’s easy to overlook the idea that this responsibility includes not only the here and now, but also extends into the future.

We aren’t fully doing our jobs as leaders until that future is secure for the team. To do that, we need to be training our “seconds,” the people who will keep that machine humming after we are gone.

Here are six reasons we need to be identifying and training our seconds if we really want to be great leaders.

6 Reasons to Train Your Second

It opens doors for us.  If all we can do is what we are doing, that’s all we’ll be able to do.  Not because we aren’t capable of more, but because we haven’t given ourselves the option.

We’re too busy being the single point of control in our current position. When will we have time to learn to do anything else?  Add to our network?  Broaden our experiential base?

And how can upper management afford to move us up a floor if everything depends on our being right where we are with both hands on the controls?

We become a more attractive prospect if we can show that our team is ready to fill the gap when we step up to the next level.

It opens doors for others.  The best new-hires are those that come from within – there is less that we have to show them, they already understand the culture, and they know many of the players.  They can become effective much more quickly.

Preparing others for the next higher position gives them a sense of future possibility within our organization, which in turn builds loyalty, reduces turnover, and strengthens the culture.

It makes us better leaders.  When we invest more time and effort into the development of our seconds, they become more capable, and they can take on more tasks.  That then opens up our schedules for other things.

We can take that time bonus and reinvest it in important leadership actions we’ve been neglecting like building relationships, visiting our team in the trenches, or devoting even more time to developing others.

It makes us more efficient.  As we train our seconds, more people can get more done; team versatility and adaptablity improve.

Through developmental delegation our teammates can make more decisions faster at their own level, reducing bottlenecks at our level.

It deepens accountability.  Teaching someone else how to do something is a powerful way to help us gain a better grasp of it ourselves.  The very act of explaining what to do and how to do it to someone who is capable also helps us see that task more objectively.

As we talk about what “right” is supposed to look like, we can see where we may be falling short even as we are showing it to our seconds.  Since it’s natural to want to look good in front of others, this is a great spur to our own performance.

It secures the future.  If we’ve done it right, the gears will continue to turn, even if we decide to retire to an island in the South Pacific tomorrow morning.

Those who come after us will know what to do and how to do it, and the organization will survive to produce for another day.  The futures of both are secure.

Who’s Your Second?  The Takeaway

When we became leaders, the focus shifted from the “me” to the “we,” and that responsibility extends from the here and now out into the future.

If the team collapses like a house of cards the day after we leave, that’s not a testament to our leadership; it’s more of an indictment.

There are plenty of other practical reasons we need to be putting energy into identifying our seconds and investing in their development.  All of them make us better, stronger, and more capable individually and collectively.

It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by the tasks of being in charge today that we can lose sight of another of our leadership responsibilities:  tomorrow.

Yet by focusing on the future we can become better leaders today.

Who’s your second?

Lead on!

Tags:  Leadership  succesion 

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How To Know If Your Insurance Agency Team Trusts You

Posted By Kelly Donahue-Piro, Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Trust. It’s a BIG word. In fact for any small business or team it’s the heart of success. How much do you trust your leader, the team and the process? Any distrust can lead to oodles more work, destruction and detraction. We sometimes underestimate the power of trust in the business world.  However when an agency needs to rally together and be stronger than ever it’s a feeling we need to monitor closely to both survive and thrive.

Definition of Trust
Here is how defines trust:

  • reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
  • confident expectation of something; hope.

But more importantly, what does trust mean? First of all, trust is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. When a team member trusts you it means they feel you are reliable, they feel safe with you, and they believe what you say or lay out. Trust is a choice each person makes and it can be one sided.  For example, you can trust a team member but they may not return that emotion.

Where Trust Breaks Down in Insurance Agencies
While there are different levels of trust for many team members they aren’t truly trusting of their leader and vice versa, many agency leaders are not truly trusting of the team. When we lack trust we can exhibit behaviors that can often detract us from loving and serving our clients. We are going to break down signs that a team member doesn’t trust management first.

How to Know If the Team Doesn’t Trust the Leader

  • The team provides one word answers to new thoughts. Yes or No. There is not much discussion dialog or questions. People who trust their leader will engage in healthy discussions and debate and ultimately rally around the decision.
  • Team members use the word I, instead of we. Teams that trust their leader see themselves as a unit rather than an individual.
  • Mistakes are often hidden and addressing team members becomes  personal and uncomfortable. There is not an open environment of being humble and learning from challenges.
  • The team isn’t in tune with company values. The values of the company are often more words on a website than philosophies that are displayed.  A quick tip is you can ask your team what the values of the company are and see if they can even name a few of them.
  • Team members self manage. This means that they police themselves and each other rather than trusting leadership to champion accountability.
  • You often see eyes roll or dismissive body language.
  • You often hear “What you don’t understand is…….”

How to Know If the Leader Doesn’t Trust the Team?

  • As a leader you find yourself constantly checking and double checking people’s work. It seems like you are the agency police not a leader.
  • You have little faith they can handle changes or new initiatives so you stop trying to drive toward success.
  • You, as the leader, dive into finish work, take work off their desk and don’t work to solve the root cause of problems.
  • It’s common for you to listen and overhear what people are saying to try to find gaps in their work
  • You rarely celebrate success and often focus on all the things not going well.

What Does This Mean?
If trust is not present you are all spending way too much time in your agency focused on managing a lack of trust. We just don’t have time for that!

How Your Agency Can Rebuild Trust To Move Forward
Let’s keep in mind that when trust is diminished both parties must be willing to move forward and help build a bridge! Here are some strategies to help refocus your time and energy toward rebuilding trust.

  • Recognize that rebuilding trust takes time and it won’t be a light switch. Both parties must provide open and honest feedback. It will take some give and take on rebuilding bridges.
  • Start with both parties admitting where the relationship got off track. Starting at the beginning and walk through where you are and how you felt. Work to put yourself in their shoes to see their point of view.
  • Build a plan for moving forward. Take some baby steps toward working on the relationships, make a small commitment to work on something together.
  • It’s OK to be vulnerable! When rifts happen, talk through them.
  • Give praise and take blame. The sandwich method is a great opportunity to provide feedback.
  • Start with praise, deliver the feedback and then end with praise.

The True Story Of  Trust
Trust is everything in an agency. As a leader you need your team to trust your vision, leadership and direction. When asking people to trust you on a journey of change and new endeavors people often think of the worst case scenario. We are in insurance after all! If you can calculate all the time we spend massaging and convincing people to trust the process and we can reinvest that time into growth where do you think your agency would be?

Tags:  Leadership  trust 

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5 Important Traits of the Most Admired Leaders

Posted By Lolly Daskal, Tuesday, April 30, 2019


As a leadership coach, I have the privilege of working with some of the best leaders around the world, and I’m able to see firsthand the consistent attributes that make them the kind of leader that people admire.

These traits are surprising in their simplicity. Even so, they’re not easy to cultivate—but if you make the effort you’ll not only earn admiration but also inspire others to work together toward your shared goals.

Here are the five most important attributes shared by admired leaders:

They say what they mean and mean what they say. They encourage confidence and demonstrate consistency to everyone in the organization at all times. This straightforward honesty is among the strongest traits anyone can bring to leadership.

They take ownership of their mistakes and failures. The most admired leaders own their own decisions and actions—good and bad. Many people are quick to hold others  to account, but admired leaders hold themselves accountable above all. They don’t blame anyone else or downplay the consequences of their failures and mistakes. Whatever the situations, they hold themselves to high standards.

They develop solutions and solve problems collaboratively. For those who lead from ownership, the next step is seeking solutions to organizational problems. That doesn’t mean micromanagement but collaboration, a system in which everyone is included in developing a solution. And because everyone has a voice, people better understand the proposed solutions and everyone can move forward together to execute the desired outcome.

They leverage assets, relationships and resources to get the job done. The most admired leaders know that solving problems and creating solutions require that they make use of their most important assets, relationships and resources to get the job done. Because they have worked to maintain a store of goodwill at every level, they are able to bring together people and resources to accomplish extraordinary things. It takes a compelling person to rally an organization to work together toward a common goal.

They check their ego at the door. The last trait, and maybe the most important, is that of leading with humility. These leaders have built a culture of trust—one in which they know they can depend on their people, and their people know they can depend on their leader, as they work together to accomplish the needed results and support the organization’s mission. 

These traits may sound like things that are easy to develop, but they are not—they take commitment, drive, and the will to forge strong connections with the members of your team.

Working to build the attributes of admired leadership is challenging, but if you put in the effort you and your organization will benefit—no matter what kind of industry or organization you’re working in, whatever your leadership position or title. When you lead with these traits your outcomes will be consistently successful—and you will be consistently admired.

Lead from within: An admired leader is the thread that ties people together and aligns everyone to succeed as a unit.

Tags:  Leadership 

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Regular and Frequent Communication

Posted By Deanna Hotham, Thursday, April 25, 2019


Getting your team rowing together in sync and in the right direction requires regular and frequent communication. So where is the best place and when is the best time to communicate your plans and goals with your team? You might be thinking, at a meeting of course! But isn’t it true that we often have an aversion to meetings? They can often seem unproductive or in the worst case, counterproductive. Why is this true?

Well, meetings are really about communication—communication that has a purpose of getting everyone on the same page and getting things accomplished. Meetings should be about planning as a team to pursue strategies together that lead to results that align with your agency’s vision and mission. They should also be a place to review your progress toward your goals.

Have you ever experienced this scenario in a meeting? You prepare a new idea carefully, email an agenda in advance to your team, and arrive to the meeting to share your big idea. Looking around you see some in the room with crossed arms, vacant stares, and a detractor or two with questions challenging every aspect of your presentation. Why the indifference, negativity, and resistance? After all, your intentions were to share plans to take positive steps together toward the future growth and improvement of your agency. Your momentum stalls, you feel deflated, and you experience a lack of buy-in or even an outright rejection of your strategies. In some cases, if your presentation was to agency leadership, you may have felt that they had already made up their minds in advance to quash your plans.

Perhaps you were in the wrong meeting?

John Maxwell shares that the secret to a good meeting is found in “the meeting before the meeting.” This is because when you share your goals and plans in a scheduled meeting, not everyone instantly understands or is immediately open to your new ideas. Dropping it on them like a bomb in a meeting might not be the most effective way of achieving the reaction you desire and the support you’re looking for. Communicating informally with your team and especially the key influencers in your organization prior to regular meetings is most likely the solution to your dilemma.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll find when you invest in carving out more pre-meeting time for these vital interactions:

You will clarify obscurity — Some people might have a glazed look in their eyes or get defensive in a meeting, because the ideas you are presenting are unclear or present obstacles that don’t seem surmountable. By addressing these challenges informally in advance with individuals, you’ll have the opportunity to explain and overcome some of the perceived difficulties or misunderstandings that can exist. In the end, you may succeed by giving them a new perspective different from their own and win them over.

You will sharpen your ideas — Presenting your ideas to a variety of people with different personalities, gifts, perspectives, and even objections will help you to sharpen and strengthen your plans with their input. Ask questions, listen to answers, and work to integrate their feedback beforehand. Your greatest opponents might actually become the key to your success if you overcome their concerns in advance, win some of them over to your position, make modifications when needed to improve your proposal, or even at the very least, know where they stand prior to your team meeting. While you may not always earn everyone’s support, pushback and criticism can be a valuable part of shoring up the weak points in your plans as you listen to others.

You will develop deeper trust — When people realize that you want to include them in the process of goal setting and strategizing by discussing plans in advance, answering questions, clarifying confusion, and even sharing your motives for change, they will have more appreciation for your leadership and respect for your attempt to build consensus. Sharing your motives might even be the biggest part of cultivating deeper trust. Ask yourself, how will this new idea benefit our clients? How will it benefit our team? How will it benefit the agency overall? If you can find a win-win-win for everyone, people will learn that your focus in on pursuing goals with a big and holistic picture in mind.

You will receive stronger buy-in — The back-and-forth of idea sharing in a more informal setting gives people time to process change through discussion in a less threatening environment. Coupling this with one-on-one time that values opinions and seeks additional input can lead to deeper buy-in where people can feel they have more of a stake in your goals. After building toward this together, ask people specifically, “do I have your support?” It will give you a direct and clear answer while also possibly revealing additional challenges to overcome. People will typically appreciate being asked to personally support your plans.

You will increase your influence — People grow to respect others who prove through words and actions that they view the whole as the sum of its valuable parts. What better way is there to build consensus than with pre-meeting planning that seeks to clarify confusion, sharpen ideas with the input of others, and build trust for stronger buy-in? With a pre-meeting approach to your larger scheduled meetings, you’ll see a measurable increase in your influence through stronger relationships and a respect for your inclusive approach.

In our experience at Agency Performance Partners, the majority of agencies share with us through our Agency Assessments that they meet with their teams monthly, annually, or “as needed.” The translation of “as needed” typically means, “whenever there’s a problem.” If you’re only communicating infrequently or when problems arise, you’ll never be able to clarify your agency vision, goals, and strategies effectively with your team. One of the major secrets to achieving your goals is found in regular and frequent communication. Use the “meeting before the meeting” to make time for the informal contact needed to gather helpful feedback, build relationships, deepen trust, sharpen your position, and test your strategies with those who you’ll need to help execute the plan. This way, when the team meeting happens, you have the best chance of presenting a well thought out idea while receiving the most support.

Tags:  agency  management  team 

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Perpetuation or Succession?

Posted By Al Diamond, Wednesday, April 17, 2019


A number of years ago we visited a family-owned agency in which both mother and father were involved. When we asked them of their perpetuation plan, they proudly pointed to their two daughters who were freshly involved in the family business. They planned the succession of their daughters into ownership. As with many such businesses, the owners presume and assume that their desires and expectations will become the reality of the future. As such, they simply do not consider other perpetuation possibilities, even to weigh their potential against the ‘plan’ that they consider most obvious.

This denial often results in opportunities lost that could have benefited the owners, their  families, the agency, and its customers more than the original ‘plan’. In this case, over the years we had the opportunity to speak to the agency owners several times when mergers, sales potential, and association with financial institutions were available to them. Each time, the parents, from an emotional standpoint, resolved to pass the agency to their daughters – to provide them a good living as it did to the parents. There is no way of knowing how the other offers would have played out since they were dismissed out-of-hand.

We recently received a call from one of the daughters. It seems that the parents are ready to retire and want to pass the agency to the two daughters equally. We had not been involved in the agency operations and had never had the opportunity to know the daughters. The story that the daughter told us was as follows:

“Neither my sister nor I had any desire to get into the agency business, but my parents insisted that they needed us when we graduated from college and the pay they offered us was good. My sister especially enjoyed the freedom she got from the position in the family business. She still has no particular love for the insurance business or for dealing with clients, but has developed a good grasp of automation in the office. Meanwhile, I was a CSR, producer, and backed up my mom and dad in the management of personnel and company relationships. I have achieved my CIC, CPCU and will have my CLU this year. I have been active in the Association and know a lot of other agents. I have ideas about how to change the agency along with the times, but neither my parents nor sister want to hear about them. The fact that we still have few local competitors have kept us profitable, and our loss ratio is always good, so we seem to financially do better each year. My sister calls me a workaholic, but that is because she likes coming in late and leaving early.

Now my parents want to give us the business equally. I love my sister and my parents, but I have done much more to assure the success of the business than my sister has and I feel that, without my parents as arbiters, my sister will take advantage of me and the situation, leaving me with the majority of the workload and taking half of the proceeds. I do not know what to do. My parents will not accept my idea of buying out my sister. They think that I’m being greedy. They think my sister does more than she actually does and she feels that she should have half the agency because she has put in as much time as I have.”

The sister called me because she felt that I had her parents trust and she wanted to know if she had any other way out besides leaving and going to another agency or starting her own agency.

I won’t tell you the end of this story. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, time I have been contacted with similar situations. This type of agency succession problem resolves itself in a variety of ways, none of which satisfies all of the parties involved.

Can you, for a moment, imagine your trusted family doctor bringing his child on to take over his practice in the future? What would happen if the child were found to have little or no interest or talent in the practice of medicine? Dad can put a great deal of pressure on offspring to follow in his footsteps. A college curriculum may point out this deficiency – or it may not. I would not want to become the patient of one of these Succession Plans.

The point is that your agency is a means of earning a living for you and is also an asset that should provide you a return when you retire or decide to sell. There is a big difference between treating a business as a way of supporting your family and lifestyle and becoming so emotionally involved that the business becomes the reason for living rather than as a good way of supporting your lifestyle. The parents in this example invested a revenue generating business with their dreams of the future for their children. They never considered the possibility that the children might not want to be in this business or that they might not be good in a service career. They could not accept that the equality that they had in the business might not fit their daughters’ situation and they were certainly not objective in their view of their daughters’ performance.

The key to succession of a family business is to set and monitor objective, realistic and  measurable goals for the next generation every year. Measure, note and discuss whether or not the goals have been accomplished and why or why not. If the next generation’s goals were being missed every year, why would you think that they could independently become more successful once they had control of the business? Setting, monitoring and discussing the goals and results every year will indicate the ability of the successors to manage objectives within the organization. Hopefully, this will prove that they are capable of managing when the parents are out of the picture. However, owners and the next generation must learn to accept the fact that not all agents’ children are cut out to become insurance professionals. Of course, this “Goal Setting and Goal Getting” process is perfectly suited to any agency employees who expect to become owners. Not only will they prove their skills and successes to the owners and to themselves, but also any agency with annual objectives will naturally become more successful than the “seat-of-the-pants” agencies that still abound in our industry.

The most difficult time in a ‘Succession vs. (outside) Perpetuation’ issue involves the regular investigation and analysis of alternatives to the generational succession plan.


  1. Under certain circumstances an agency sale will bring more and more secure funds to the retiring owners than they may get from turning the agency over to a generation that may deteriorate, rather than grow the agency.
  2. Regardless of asset value, many agents’ children would make very reasonable
    employees, but lousy owners. A merger or sale could accomplish the objective of cashing out the asset while still gainfully employing the children if those circumstances prevail.
  3. Merger for Perpetuation – We have been involved in many mergers in which former competitors come together because one of the owners is the likely successor to the other, whether or not other offspring of either participant is involved.
  4. Hiring your Successor – If you have no successors – or if you recognize that your
    expected successors (family or not) will not be able to maintain the agency’s integrity. Acquiring a talented producer, manager or even a smaller agency that has talented owners makes sense to strengthen your perpetuation plan.
  5. Investigate any and all Acquisition and Association opportunities – Even if you and your successors agree on the future of the agency, look at every deal offered. You always have the right to say no, but you can’t evaluate your situation and value if your head is firmly buried in the sand whenever an offer passes by.

Planning for succession can be very rewarding IF you have the right people behind  you. It can be downright dangerous if you don’t. The emotional rewards of passing your agency to your next generation is very satisfying as long as that generation desires and shows talents to do the job. If not, you are committing an egregious blunder that will affect your children for their entire (hated) career.

Be warned – turning your agency over to successors, children or not, can and has damaged the value of the asset (to the point where the expected value could never be attained), the customers who have grown to trust you, and the successors, themselves, when they realize that they cannot handle the load. It is our experience that these “new” owners who do not have the sales personality of their predecessors, do not have the management and personnel skills to handle a business become embittered as their business deteriorates and end up blaming everyone and everything else for their dismal results. Whenever you see agency owners pointing out in different directions (companies, disloyal customers, direct writers, banks, the economy, etc.) as the cause of their problems, look further into their management styles, capabilities, and history. You will likely find that the true cause of their problems lies in the mirror of their own failures.

Tags:  insurance agency  perpetuation  succession 

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Employee Satisfaction Key to Agencies' Success

Posted By Ginger Szala, Wednesday, March 13, 2019


To build a successful independent advisory business, it’s essential to have a very clear understanding of what “success” means to you — the owner.

  • Is success about generating a large amount of revenues (as many owners today seem to believe)?
  • Being able to spend a significant amount of time with your family?
  • Increasing your personal income?
  • Or having control over your working environment and how you serve the client?

These are all worthy goals. And over the years, owning an independent firm has proven to be a good way to attain them.

What ‘success’ means to employees

However, there is another essential element in attaining business success that’s often overlooked by many business owners: what “success” means to employees. If an advisor-owner has more than a few employees, they may not spend much time thinking about what the employees hope to get out of their affiliation with the firm. This is a mistake.

The problem throughout the growth cycle is that most business owners don’t like to think that the success of their businesses depends on anyone but themselves.

The reality is that as a business grows, its success depends increasingly more on employees and partners, than on the owner. For instance, in many larger firms, most of the clients never come into contact with the owner.

The takeaway is that the success of a business depends upon employees’ happiness with their jobs: that is, their definitions of success.

How many owners have actually asked their employees how they define “success”? For owners to get what they want, they’ll need to make sure employees are getting what they want.

Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to what employees want. Like business owners, each one is different. Discovering the answer is hard work, since it means getting to know employees and taking the time to talk to them.

What makes employees happy?

There are some basics that can make the job easier. Most owners think what employees really want is more money. As it turns out, even employees who seem focused on their compensation, usually aren’t any happier within a couple months after a raise.

Study after study has shown that people usually are happier for a short while after a pay raise, but then as they adjust their lifestyles, they realize that not much has really changed. Instead, employee job satisfaction (read: happiness) depends on a number of factors — none of which has much to do with money, but a lot to do with the firm’s owner.

In our consulting work with human capital issues, here’s what employees value most today:

Advancement. This probably applies most to professional employees, but not as much as you would think. Most employees want to feel that their jobs are leading to better jobs. That could mean anything from advancement to more responsibility.

Everyone wants to feel they are making progress — growing — and that efforts are both recognized and appreciated. Knowing employees’ aspirations and helping them get there is a huge moral builder.

Respect. Most job recruiters have said that the number one factor in turnover is respect — or lack thereof. Many firm owners make the mistake of assuming that they know more about their employees’ wants than the employees do.

While that might have been true back in the day when you started out doing everything, chances are your firm has changed, and so have the people in it.

Seek out your employees’ feedback about their job needs, as well as about other areas of your firm. Listen to their responses. Not only is that motivational, it’s also possible that they know more about what’s going on in your business today than you do.

Trust. Trust is the key element to any functional and healthy relationship. For people to trust, an owner must trust themselves. When employees trust an owner’s decisions, they more easily live up to that owner’s confidence.

Owners also need to be more focused on doing their own job. Why should an owner care if employees come in late and go home early as long as they get their jobs done, and done well.

The bottom line is that it can’t be all about the owner. For an owner to get what they want from the business, they need to make sure their employees and partners are getting what they want, too. It’s a true win/win for everyone.

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7 Tips to Becoming a Better Leader

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Whether you are a first-time manager or a seasoned Super Manager, you have the ability to make employees’ jobs engaging and fulfilling, or just plain terrible. Assuming it’s not your goal to make people miserable, here are some pointers to help you be a better leader. 

Know yourself.  Be honest about your strengths AND your weaknesses. 

Capitalize on strengths. If you are a great motivator, find more ways to incorporate that into your daily plans. An awesome strategist? Expand your strategies to other areas.  

Outsmart your weaknesses. Don’t like conflict? A little too overbearing? Acknowledging your challenge areas can keep them from becoming unruly. 

Keep your word. Trust is HUGE. If you make a promise, keep it. If you don’t think you can follow through, don’t make the promise in the first place. 

Commit to your team. It’s hard being between your team and upper management. The folks on top have budgets and deadlines. Your team lives the realities of getting the work done. Occasionally, you need to push for more time or resources.  

Ask for feedback. Check in to see how people feel. Be prepared to hear what they have to say without being offended, and expect some sugar-coating. 

Set an example. Make sure your actions reflect the values, attitude, adaptability and willingness to learn needed for success. Everyone is taking their cues from you. 

Want more? Join us for How to Succeed as a First-Time Manager, a PIA exclusive webinar on Tuesday, March 20 at 2 PM ET.


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Double Up On Your Renewals

Posted By Kevin Trokey, Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Would you believe me if I told you next renewal season would be easier if you did two renewals for each client as opposed to one? Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true.

Stop for a moment and reflect on what you’re renewing. Obviously, you are renewing their insurance policy. You are helping them make a decision about their carrier relationships.

No doubt, this is an incredibly important renewal, but what does it really have to do with you and your role? Well, if this is the only renewal conversation you have with a client, the answer is “way too much.”

More can be less (stress)

Sure, the insurance advice and results you give to clients are critically important. But your clients also need your advice and results in so many other areas: compliance, technology, communication, attraction/retention, employee engagement, the list goes on.

But given the level of anxiety your clients feel in facing their renewal, I’m guessing you are having zero conversations about these other non-insurance areas.

Admit it, I’m right.

Renew your relationship with the client

This is where the second renewal comes in, the one focused on your relationship with the client, not the carrier. You need to add a mid-year stewardship meeting where the purpose is to renew your relationship with the client.

When you compete for a client, you are looking to earn the opportunity to be their advisor. This shouldn’t be tied to the carrier decision. Admittedly, sometimes an employer is with the right carrier but the wrong broker/advisor.

When you tie your ability to earn a new client to the quoting process, you diminish your opportunity to stand out as a superior advisor. Similarly, when you tie the continuation of your relationship with a client to the insurance renewal, you leave yourself unduly exposed.

We don’t do need no stinkin’ stewardship!

Oh yes you do, my friend, but I know you’re probably not delivering.

I am constantly surprised when I stand in front of a room of producers during sales training and mention stewardship reports. Often, many in the room don’t even know what one is. I’m even more surprised at the others who do know but still don’t use them. At best, I will have a couple who say, “We try to do them on our larger accounts.”

In case you fall into that camp of not knowing what a stewardship report is, it is simply a summary/conversation about the significant ways in which you brought value to a client over the previous 12 months. In other words, it puts the focus on you and the value you delivered.

Isn’t this better than having your continued client relationship on the line as they face one more double digit increase from the carrier? It ties you to the carrier in ways the client may not be able separate.

Basic responsibility

Seems to me that in an industry where you win business by making promises to deliver better results than your competition, it is a basic responsibility to hold yourself accountable and report on your delivery of those promises.

According to Zywave, your clients agree as well. In their recent Broker Services Survey, they identified that 88% of employers want/expect a stewardship report from their broker, but only 36% are receiving anything that comes even close. And, based on the conversations I have with advisors, the 36% seems surprisingly high.

I know that what keeps most agencies and advisors from delivering such a report is the belief that the assembly would be overwhelming. And sure, there are templated reports where that’s the case, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming at all.

Honestly, it can be as simple as a list of bullet points. During the course of the year, keep a simple Word document to track your significant accomplishments for each client. By sitting down with each client mid-year and spending five minutes in discussion on each item, you could have one of the most productive conversations of the year with that client.

And, if you use this conversation to intentionally renew your relationship and lay out a strategy for the upcoming insurance renewal, you will find next 4th quarter to be more manageable.

The power of the 80/20 rule

Don’t let the number of accounts you have paralyze you into inaction on this idea. If your book of business looks like most, the top 20% of your clients are producing close to 80% of your revenue. Even more critical are your top 5% of clients that may generate as much as 30% of your revenue. Get started by focusing your stewardship conversations with groups of top clients.

How much more relaxed would 4th quarter 2019 be if you had already renewed your relationships with clients who made up 80% of your revenue?

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