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How to Attract Millennials

Posted By Amanda Seidler, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Overcome the Looming Talent Shortage


What do millennials want? This question is critical for the specialty insurance and reinsurance industry. We face a looming talent shortage. Retirement will soon skim off the cream of our industry’s leadership. By the end of this decade, our market will be left with more than 400,000 vacant roles at a time when companies are already struggling to recruit professionals with the diverse expertise needed to meet the challenges posed by technological disruption.

We must fill this talent gap from below. To do so, and to ensure that we attract and retain the very best young people, it is essential that we figure out what millennials want from their careers—and from their lives more generally—and shape our thinking and our workplace attitudes and employment practices to provide it.

At the risk of overgeneralizing the desires of a large and diverse generation, millennials want to make a difference. They want to work somewhere ethical. They want opportunities to experience different challenges in a variety of areas. They want ongoing learning and development opportunities that improve their knowledge and career prospects. They want some control over their own workplace destiny.

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The Building Blocks of Employee Motivation

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 15, 2018



As a company’s success grows, employee motivation can actually begin to suffer. To combat this, a new article from First Round Review advises leaders to focus on four building blocks of employee motivation:

People: Ensure your teams are adequately staffed so employees don’t feel overwhelmed by their workloads, which can sap their energy and their motivation. People also need to like and trust those they work with—or at least respect their skillsets. Leaders should consider trust-building as mission-critical as recruiting, perhaps designing time-bound projects that force teams to work across multiple disciplines.

Ownership: It’s important to make sure every employee understands and takes responsibility for their own piece of the bigger picture. As a leader, your job is to equip people with the right context for decision-making, then help them build the intuition and confidence to act decisively. Communicate what you need and why it’s important, and let the team find the solution instead of imposing one from the outside.

Goals: The best goals are measurable, hard to achieve and impactful to the business. Start by agreeing on a set of target metrics you can use to measure the progress of each project, team or the company as a whole. Ensure the metrics are correctly aligned to each stage of the project’s life cycle, as teams are often prone to undershooting during the scaling phase.

Mission: Ensure employees understand how their work benefits the company as a whole. Communicate the company’s mission clearly and often—at least once a week in email and once a week in person. Give teams the opportunity to share what they’re working on with the rest of the organization so everyone can see they’re working toward the same purpose.

For more information, including how to spot flagging motivation and tips on turning things around, see the full article: “The Simple Tool That Revives Employee Motivation.

Tags:  employees  insurance  motivation 

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Speed Up the Training of New Advisors

Posted By Liana Roberts, Wednesday, August 15, 2018


When we talk to new advisors there is a common theme in what they seek in their career: mentorship.

New advisors are becoming more aware of knowing what they don’t know, and realizing they need to learn from someone before they are ready to manage a client relationship without oversight. This emphasis on mentoring is a sign they desire additional knowledge/wisdom/experience and is a positive step in the transference of the profession’s body of knowledge to the future of the industry.

An advisory firm owner who cringes when hearing “mentoring/mentorship” should remember that the faster you can develop a new hire, the sooner you can do the things you need to do to grow your business, or want to do to balance your work and personal life!
Try incorporating some of these mentoring tips into your management style to better motivate your new advisor and help further their career. Firm owners who make a conscious effort to mentor their new advisors and emphasize their career development are better positioned to attract more top talent and see positive ROI on the human capital investment.

Here are some tips for effective mentoring so you can get the most out of your new advisor:

Give the good, bad and ugly
Open up to new advisors so they know what your career path looked like, mistakes you made, and how difficult it was to get to where you are today. This gives them a good framework for how to, or not to, model their career and a greater understanding, thus respect, for how your career/business/life looks currently.

Take a genuine interest in their career and life
Once a new advisor knows you care about their professional development and their life outside of your organization, they will be more likely to go the extra mile for you. Try asking them from time to time about something non-work related that is important to them. Initially, you might try something as simple as approaching them and asking how they are doing. They might be more open to tell you what is important to them.

Listen to them like you listen to your clients
Most advisors are great at listening to and managing their clients. Take this same approach with your employees. Making a new advisor comfortable so they can openly share their ideas is crucial to a successful long-term relationship.

Strive to create an environment where group think doesn’t rule and all ideas are encouraged and considered equally. Even if you don’t use one of their ideas, tell your new advisor you appreciate their input and thank them for their contributions. In an effort to reward behavior you want to see continued, let them know they are being heard and their ideas considered, and you’ll see creativity flourish.

Keep in mind, new advisors will be much more hesitant to bring ideas to the table if they know they will be immediately thrown out, or their idea is implemented and they receive no recognition for it.

Invest the time
How fast a new advisor progresses up the career ladder depends a lot on them, but it also depends a lot on the people surrounding them. Make spending time with your new hire a priority, and you’ll see most will recognize the investment you are making in them and want to work with you a long time.

Furthermore, word spreads quickly in our tight knit profession about firms that provide excellent mentoring to their employees. This is a powerful recruitment tool that if used correctly will help you attract additional top talent.

For the industry to continue growing we have to have more mentors engage new advisors to help close the gap from student to professional. With proper mentoring, new advisors can quickly learn how to manage themselves, therefore giving you more time to be the boss instead of a financial advisor.

Tags:  employees  insurance management  training 

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Pearls of Wisdom from Agency Owners

Posted By David W. Tralka, Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I suspect if you are the average age of an insurance agency owner (now pushing 60, according to industry reports), you’ve had your share of “lessons learned.”

If you’re still relatively young, you will get your hard knocks soon enough. We all have examples of mistakes we’ve made or things we might have done differently. In project management, reviewing lessons learned is the process managers go through at the end of a project to capture what went right and what went wrong. NASA defines it as, “knowledge or understanding gained by experience.”

But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that not everything in life goes according to plan. It’s the wise man or woman who learns from mistakes and adjusts accordingly — or who listens intently (let’s hope!) to those who have gone before.
The agency principals I’ve spoken with over the years certainly have their stories to tell. Some of them have said they should have managed their expenses better. Others wished they had paid more attention to developing staff, mentoring and work-life balance. Many have regretted not identifying a successor at their agency who could take over when they were ready to retire.

Although it’s different for everyone, I find that agents generally spend their 20s producing, their 30s managing, their 40s becoming owners, and their 50s and early 60s exiting their agency.

Along the way, there can be some bumps and detours, but the road to agency ownership and perpetuation usually follows this 30- to 40-year trajectory. Here’s the distilled wisdom that I’ve heard from agency owners over the course of my career that might help smooth your path forward. Call them my lessons learned.

No. 1: Develop owner mentality

Get yourself in the right frame of mind to be an owner. Early on in your career, start putting yourself in the owner’s shoes. Get a taste of management and the decisions that an owner has to make. Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to becoming a future owner? It might mean saving more money and spending less on a house or a car, forgoing the country club life or expensive vacations so you can invest in your future. It may mean getting the education you need or moving to another agency where there’s more opportunity.

No. 2: Create value

Learn how to create more value in your agency. Understand that not every dollar of revenue is created equally. Some streams of business generate more revenue and are more valuable. You may need to change your behavior to focus more on cash-flow-generating business.

One way to build value is to be more profitable by reducing your expenses. Perhaps you need to invest in more efficient office equipment, a more advanced phone system or newer computer systems.

Make business decisions that can free up more cash. For example, if you write business that requires a full-time customer service representative (CSR), consider writing business that requires half of a CSR. You create the same amount of revenue but at half the cost.

No. 3: Get your house in order

Focus on better management to create greater cash flow, which will result in more value over time. You will earn more money for your agency when it comes time to sell or transfer ownership.

A good analogy is the homeowner who builds value in his house so when it comes time to sell, he can get top dollar.

Over the years, he makes improvements such as upgrading the kitchen or adding a sunroom, and he keeps up with repairs. When the “For Sale” sign goes up, he’ll be able to sell his house faster and at a higher price.

Too often, agency principals haven’t invested in their firms, yet they think their agency should fetch the highest price. It doesn’t work that way. Agencies that are willing to invest in technology, training for their producers and a high-quality staff will be more attractive to a buyer. Those are the agencies that will have more options to grow, increase value and transfer ownership.

No. 4: Grow organically

Organic growth is the value you create when you invest in your agency. Call it sweat equity or old-fashioned growth. Inorganic growth occurs when you purchase another agency or a book of business that someone else has developed. With inorganic growth, you earn a return on your investment, but you carry the expense of the capital to acquire it.

Organic growth has the best return because you’re not borrowing money and tying up your capital. As interest rates rise, organic growth becomes more attractive. Organic growth does takes time and discipline, but it has the highest rewards. Grow organically by investing in marketing and advertising, office automation, your producers and staff.

No. 5: Groom your successor

One of the regrets I hear frequently from retiring principals is that they should have identified and groomed a successor much sooner. They may have had someone in mind, but they failed to communicate that to the person. That person left the agency to find other opportunities. There are many ways to transfer ownership. It can be in stages over time to ease the exit and maximize tax advantages. The important thing is to have a plan and to communicate it to your staff.

One last note about succession planning

A good succession plan can help you create value in your agency, groom a successor and ensure that your legacy lives on long after you’ve left. Here are some tips for successful succession planning:

  • Start early. It takes time to put in place stock plans, earn-outs or seller-assisted agreements — not to mention legal, accounting and tax planning.
  • Invest in your successor. Take steps to prepare them to become the new owner.
  • Eliminate uncertainty. Keep employees, clients and carriers fully informed to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Have a retirement strategy. What will be your role after you step down? Will you have a financial interest in the agency?

Tags:  insurance agency  management 

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Embrace Women & Technology

Posted By Denny Jacob, Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Must for the Insurance Industry


The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) held its annual Women in Insurance Conference at The Pierre Hotel in New York City on June 7. Speaking before hundreds of women — and a number of men — Margaret Regan advocated for women to step out of their comfort zone and embrace change.

One such change is technology. The field continues to rapidly advance — particularly in the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning. With more than 20 years of experience in the world of technology, Regan, the president and CEO of The FutureWork Institute Inc., says her job “is to be 10 years ahead of everyone else.”

Is the insurance industry listening?

The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) of rapidly changing technology can be daunting to the insurance industry, but Regan says that industry can ill afford to be behind in technology much longer. She told the audience that by 2050, a computer will have the capacity of all human brains. If such advancements feel far off, Regan pointed out that similar technology is already in place.

Because such technology is rich with data, “we’re seeing some of the insurance companies being faster adopters than they usually are,” but overall, “it was a message to the insurance industry to stop sitting on the sidelines.”

If this isn’t enough of a wakeup call, those embracing technology and change are looking to disrupt the market. Earlier this year, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. announced a plan to collaborate on a way to offer health-care services to their U.S. employees more transparently and at a lower cost.

The job market is set to evolve as technology changes our way of life, and it’s only a matter of time before the property & casualty insurance sectors notice disruptions on their homefront.

See the future, be the future

To see real change across all industries, companies will need to help advance women in a number of ways. Regan suggests looking at sponsorship programs as a place to start. Senior individuals in a company can sponsor senior women to roles that they might not often be considered for. Conducting pay studies can also help bridge the divide, and gender dialogues are needed so men can promote a fix to the issue and support women.

“I think there are a lot of best practices around, but a multi-prong approach is needed,” says Regan.

Due to conscious and unconscious bias, she says that part of the issue is that women are often not seen as leaders, but emphasized that women need to start taking those next steps, and the insurance industry needs to help them.

Before concluding her presentation, Regan brought out Jibo, her personal robot/companion which is capable of dancing, asking questions and much more, and showcased how forward thinking she is. “I don’t just talk about it, I try to live it,” says Regan.

Tags:  Agency Management  technology  women 

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5 Common Complaints About Meetings

Posted By Paul Axtell, Wednesday, June 27, 2018

And What to Do About Them

from Harvard Business Review

We all complain about meetings. We have too many. They’re a waste of time. Nothing gets done. These complaints often have merit, but they are so broad that they’re difficult to argue with and harder to address.

There are specific complaints that can be tackled, however. When I ask people in the workshops I lead what they most want help with, five issues consistently come up:

  • One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it.
  • My boss doesn’t lead meetings effectively.
  • Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues.
  • No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops.
  • We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.

Fortunately, there are specific solutions for each of these problems. Based on my 25 years of experience consulting with organizations and teams about how to lead effective meetings, here is what I’d suggest.

One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it.

If a meeting is 60 minutes long and you have 10 people, how much time does everyone really get? While the answer depends on the topic, if some people consistently speak more often or longer than others, colleagues will resent them for not being concise and taking up valuable meeting time. With limited time, you can’t expect that everyone will contribute, especially if there are a few people who seem to steal the show. Here are some ways to broaden the participation:

When you open the meeting:

  • Let the group know that you want broad participation and that everyone has a chance to contribute on each topic.
  • Ask for permission to call on people when you want to get more views into the conversation.
  • Tell people that you will not leave a topic if anyone still has something to say or ask.
  • Ask people to set aside technology (see below) and any other work and to focus on each person when they are speaking.

During the meeting:

  • Pay full attention and allow each person to complete their thoughts. If you and everyone else in the meeting does this, people who tend to dominate will likely start to limit themselves. It’s easier to go on and on when no one is listening!
  • When you have the sense that someone is speaking too often, ask them to hold back their thoughts for a moment. You might say, “Andre, let me get some others into this conversation and then I’ll come back to you, OK?”
  • Whenever someone gets cut off or interrupted, always double back and ask them to finish their thoughts: “Sarah, was there something else you wanted to add?”
  • If you’re the person interrupted, speak up. You can say, “Jacques, I wasn’t quite finished. I’d like to complete my comment, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

After the meeting:

  • If you have concerns about some people speaking more often or longer than they should, let them know: “Troy, I would like the participation to be a bit more balanced in our meetings. It would be helpful if you waited until other people have entered the conversation before you add your thoughts. Also, I’d appreciate it if you’d look out to see who hasn’t participated yet and invite them share their thoughts.”

My boss doesn’t lead meetings effectively.

If your boss lacks the skills to effectively facilitate a meeting, you can step up to the plate. You might offer to prepare the agenda for your boss. Solicit topics from the group. Identify outcomes for each topic and get the agenda to people beforehand, if possible. You can also offer to run the meeting if you have the group’s respect and are willing to put in the effort to make it an effective meeting. If you’re not the right person, you can suggest someone else, explaining to your boss that just because they’re the most senior person in the room doesn’t mean they have to run the meeting.

One of the rights all participants have is to ask for whatever they need to participate effectively. Use this permission to help your boss be successful. For example, ask questions that help your boss be clear about what they’re expecting and help others contribute. You might say at the beginning of the meeting, “It’d be helpful to know what kind of input you’re looking for here and how we’ll know if you have what you need.”

Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues.

Spending 10 to 15 minutes of a 90-minute meeting on updates isn’t a big deal. Spending 90 minutes sharing information that could be communicated by other means is a problem. How can you raise this issue to the meeting organizer? Here’s some suggested language:

Brenda, I know you have high expectations for our group. Meetings are the primary way that we tap into the wisdom of the group and make strategy happen. My sense is that you want to respect the time and talent in the room, and it seems to me that we could do that by ensuring that most of our time together is spent on topics that require the thinking and alignment of the group, and that we keep information sharing to a minimum. What do think?

Then offer to canvas the team each week and develop a list of topics from which you can craft an agenda. These questions will help you identify possible topics:

  • What does this group need to talk about?
  • What are our vital initiatives — which are in jeopardy?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • What do we need to develop a mutual understanding about?
  • What are we losing sleep over?

For each topic, suggest desired outcomes and the time needed to achieve them. If you do good work on an issue or two in each meeting, time spent sharing information will be less of a burden.

No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops.

You can tolerate some distractions when they occur irregularly, but if people are regularly typing emails or checking their texts, it can kill meaningful participation. Setting new norms starts at the top. The senior people in the meeting must model attentive verbal and nonverbal behavior. If they have side conversations, bring other work, or constantly check their technology, they’re sending the message that this meeting doesn’t really matter to them. And it creates a dangerous norm that being distracted is OK. Put an agreement in place at the beginning of the meeting to limit technology. That might sound something like this:

I would love your full attention when we are in this meeting, so please check your electronics at the door. I ask this for two reasons: First, they are distracting to me and to others. Second, your attention matters to me, to others in the room, and to the quality of our work together. If you want to put your phone on vibrate, not a problem, unless it vibrates every five minutes. Exceptions are fine; patterns are troublesome. I certainly understand if you need to leave the room at any time to check on your family or critical projects. I realize you may have calls related to projects you are tracking. Do what you need to do to feel that you’re doing your job. Please use your judgment and look out for yourself. And if you want to take notes or use your tablet to refer to background information on our topics, by all means do so. I just ask that you resist the urge to check email or world news. Deal? Thank you.

With that agreement in place, you may want to write “no devices” on the whiteboard so that you can point to it if attendees start to check their phones. If it seems overwhelming to take on the culture around devices in your company, start with yourself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly colleagues will notice that you are completely present and that others are not. And they just might join you.

We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.

To address this problem, make sure you have closure on each topic so that next steps are nailed down. Send out a summary of the meeting within an hour of it’s ending or at least before end of day. Assign someone to follow up with everyone between meetings to see that they are making progress on the action items that were assigned to them. Start keeping track of how many items are completed — aim for an 85% completion rate. When your completion rate slips, stop and have a conversation with your group about what would help you all get back on track.

You may not be able to completely eliminate complaints about meetings, but you can reduce them. And if you’re the one lodging the complaints, remember that you are as responsible as anyone for creating a positive meeting culture. So take action now to make every meeting better.

Tags:  agency management  effectiveness  meetings 

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Manage Yourself

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

25 Tips for Leaders


Insurance executives are bombarded with self-improvement advice—articles pushed to their smartphones and emails flooding their inboxes hyping books and courses that promise to pave the way to stress-free leadership or the silver bullet of work-life balance.

What’s the best advice? Putting down the mobile and shutting down the email clutter in order to find time to think comes up frequently. Recognizing the value in taking a break from the noise, we whittled down the pile into manageable tips—categorized by topic—to use as a starting point to track down needed guidance as you come up against some of your most frustrating daily challenges.

Becoming Emotionally Intelligent

Dealing With Self-Doubt

  • Don’t focus on the wall. In early training, race car drivers learn to focus on the road, not the wall. When CEOs face crises, psychological meltdowns are more common than they admit. Other tips from a leader who has been there: Make some friends. Get it out of your head and onto paper. (“What’s the Toughest CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology,” TechCrunch, March 31, 2011 by Ben Horowitz; “Getting Out of Your Own Head,”, Nov. 28, 2017 by Alisa Cohn)
  • Permit yourself to be where you are. “Sometimes the novel is not ready to be written because you haven’t met the inspiration for your main character yet.” Give yourself permission to be human. Show up in the moment and let that be enough. (“To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind,” The Medium, Feb. 5, 2016 by Jamie Varon)
  • Respect yourself. Would you talk to a child or a stranger in the negative way you talk to yourself? Silence your inner critic by recognizing who or what triggers it and asking whether your thoughts are constructive and factual or just negative interpretations. (“Why self-talk is the most powerful hack in the world?”, June 15, 2016 by LaRae Quy)
  • Make realistic comparisons. If you’re a new writer, comparing yourself to a Pulitzer Prize winning, multi-bestselling author only deflates you. Having a “pace horse” to which you can create a fair comparison serves as a better motivator. (“How to Fight Back Against Self-Doubt,” Forbes, March 19, 2018 by Ron Carucci)

Improving Your Performance

Managing Stress

  • Run at the dog. One way to build resilience is to run toward what makes you uncomfortable. Other tactics: Recall the benefits of past challenges; question the catastrophe; build a challenge mindset; take a behavioral break with exercise or breathing. (“Resilience 101: How to Be a More Resilient Person,” Psychology Today, March 15, 2018 by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.)
  • Help others. Engaging in activities that serve others, such as community service, can offer a release from daily stress. Simply taking time off can also be a stress reliever if strong teams can back up executives while they’re away. (“Managing Executive Stress,” Carrier Management, June 1, 2014 by Kathleen Mahieu and Denise Heybrock)
  • Eat right. To maintain a healthy, balanced mood, avoid sugar and highly refined, processed oils, which include canola, corn and soybean oil. (“How your next meal could help fight depression and stress,” CNN, March 20, 2018 by Max Lugavere)
  • Let your mind wander more. When your mind has wandered to an anxiety-producing threat, purposely allow it to wander more by knitting, gardening or meditating to loosen the mind’s grip on your threat-focused reality. (“Brain science suggests ‘mind wandering’ can help manage anxiety,” Harvard Health Publishing, Nov. 17, 2016 by Srini Pillay)

Finding Work-Life Balance

Managing Your Health

  • Love your work if you’re a workaholic. Engaged workaholics have fewer health risks than non-engaged ones. They also have more resources at home and at work, including social support (e.g., advice, information, appreciation). (“How Being a Workaholic Differs From Working Long Hours and Why That Matters for Your Health,” Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2018 by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard)
  • Walk two minutes every hour. Just standing won’t offset health hazards of sitting for most of the day. (“How to Counteract the Health Risks of Sitting Too Much,” Carrier Management, May 14, 2015; “Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation,” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology)

Tags:  agency management  management 

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7 Principles for Doing Less and Working Better

Posted By Jane Wollman Rusoff, Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Work Smarter!


An ambitious study by one of the world’s most influential management thinkers statistically links superior work performance to seven daily principles that almost anyone can adopt. They lower the risk of burnout too, as Morten T. Hansen, the study’s author and a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, tells us in an interview.

In his new book, “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better and Achieve More” (Simon and Schuster), Hansen, who is on the faculty of Apple University, Apple’s hush-hush in-house training program, presents the most actionable insights of his study of more than 5,000 managers and employees. The research shows that, for one, top performers work smarter by putting in less work-time.

Targeted effort

Hansen, a former professor at Harvard Business School whose academic research has won several prestigious awards, argues that working smarter means maximizing the value of one’s work by focusing on only a few key aspects and applying intense, targeted effort to them. He thus overturns the basic assumption that working more and more hours per week increases performance.

In fact, putting in upwards of an average 50 hours a week impedes performance because it reduces the quality of work as a consequence of error-making, he contends.

About 14% of the managers and employees in Hansen’s study worked in financial services. Between 15% and 20% of the financial industry respondents felt they were contributing to society, a belief that helps make them better performers, Hansen says.

Hansen, 54, is a popular keynote speaker for firms such as AT&T, American Express, Apple and Goldman Sachs. Thinkers50 ranks him one of the most influential management thinkers globally.

Work practices used by top performers

In the interview, the professor, who holds a Ph.D. from Stanford Business School, where he was a Fulbright scholar, discusses each of the seven work practices deployed by top performers in his study and how financial advisors can use them to optimize performance.

We recently chatted with Hansen, on the phone from Berkeley. Born in Oslo, Norway, The New York Times bestselling author of “Great by Choice” (with Jim Collins), who was earlier a manager at Boston Consulting Group, talked about how advisors can retool their efforts to work smarter and why combining passion and purpose leads to exceptional performance.

He also highlighted three caveats related to his findings that are critical to bear in mind — like, don’t take healthy debate in meetings personally.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

PC360: Apart from performing better at work, what’s the big benefit to following your seven work principles?

MORTEN HANSEN: Your chances of burning out go way down. Top performers we interviewed who embraced these practices were less stressed and had a more balanced life.

You write that working more than 50 hours a week can impede performance. Why?

This is a very important finding. The belief that, if you want to be a top performer, you need to put in the most hours is wrong because as you put in more and more hours, for every hour worked your productivity keeps going down. Beyond 65 hours, performance goes down because you’re making more errors and reducing the quality of your work. My golden rule is: Try to put in about 50 hours a week on average and concentrate on performing the work better.

Please discuss the seven principles. A main one is: Do less, then obsess.

Top performers in our study follow this principle, which means having an extreme focus on a few key activities and an obsession to be extremely good in those things. You need to have that combination. You can’t be everything to everybody, so a financial advisor, for example, needs to choose a focus. That’s the first step. The second is to obsess to excel in that area of focus. In my study, the people who did this focused on what they want to bring to clients or the special expertise they have.

Another principle is: Redesign your work.

We're trapped inside webs of convention about how we work: We have a bureaucracy, work from morning to evening [and so on]. Lots of these conventions are not necessarily productive. Top performers question how they work.

How would a financial advisor do that?

If they’re given metrics to perform against, a top performer asks: Are these the right metrics? Does a certain number of cold calls per day, for instance, really drive performance the best?  Maybe there’s a better way. Top performers question those kinds of conventions and can actually make changes that are far better for performance.

Would that work with redesigning a sales pitch?

Yes. A top performer will say, let’s change the pitch I’ve been giving numerous times to keep in mind the best value for the client, not what the client can do for me. Advisors need to step into their clients’ shoes. This is difficult for many people to do. But I would imagine that in financial advisory, the better advisors are able to do it.

Yes, being empathic is a key to understanding clients’ needs.

That will pay off because if you understand the clients from their point of view — not what you’re trying to push onto them — you can better serve them. If you redesign your sales pitch, try it out with a smaller, less important client. You don’t want to try something new on your potentially biggest customer.

Then there’s the principle of: Match passion and purpose.

Top performers have a sense of purpose and also feel passionate about what they do. The first is: I’m here because I help others; the second is: I’m energized by it. Those two things drive performance and motivation.

Why must we have both?

The dictum “follow your passion” is wrong because if you let passion dictate what you do in life, there’s a risk that other considerations won’t be taken into account. So you need a purpose as well.

How does that apply to advisors?

Financial services play an enormously important role for the customer. Advisors are contributing to people’s financial health and well-being. So it’s a profession that can have tremendous purpose. A great financial advisor is someone who really cares both for and about the client. That’s having a purpose: What you do is contributing to your clients and the firm you represent.

In your study, 15%-20% of financial services professionals felt their work was contributing to society.

And that makes them better performers. Here’s the reason: They feel what they do is more meaningful because it’s not only about themselves — it’s about what they contribute. They’re expending more effort per hour worked. They’re more dedicated to their job every hour. They’re paying more attention. They’re more in flow. All that, in turn, lifts their performance.

So, then, having a sense of purpose is really critical.

If your own financial rewards drive you in your career, you should probably rethink that career and reframe it as a career of helping others in a really valuable way. You also need to change the way you work because if you don’t care about the client’s financial health and the only thing you care about is selling a certain product whether the client needs it or not, you’re not thinking about the client.

How does that relate to better performance?

If you put the client first and your own financial rewards second, you’ll have a strong sense of purpose — and I predict that you’ll perform better.  My guess is that clients will trust you more, you’ll get more of their business, and you’ll get more clients.

“Don’t just learn, loop,” you write. How would an advisor use a “learning loop”?

In a Learning Loop, you do something, get feedback on how you did and then modify our behavior. Many people are on autopilot: they’ve reached a certain level of competence and are at a stall point. But to be a top performer, we need to break out of that.

What’s an example?

Say you want to improve your sales pitch; start tweaking it on Monday and get some feedback. Maybe a peer, a coach or a mentor can listen in or sit in at one of your meetings. Get their feedback, and on Tuesday again tweak the pitch and modify your behavior.

Where else can a learning loop be of help?

You can improve the questions you ask the client because if you’re better at asking questions, you can figure out what they really need and tailor your offering to them. But you first have to practice by tweaking and getting feedback.

You write that women who mastered learning loops may have improved because they learn from failures more readily than men. That’s provocative.

Well, if you’re going to improve, you need to learn from failures. People who don’t will just repeat them. Women might be slightly better at learning from failures than men.

Next: Become a forceful champion.

In a big financial services firm, you perhaps need to convince colleagues that they should support you [about certain issues]. But they may be naysayers or might even try to oppose you. So in this scenario, you need to be politically savvy.

What’s the “smart grit” aspect of being a forceful champion?

Maybe people at your firm aren’t buying into your ideas and keep turning them down. Maybe you’re not getting the allies you need — the two or three people who could really be your supporters. So you need to influence them. That’s being savvy and smart.

When else could smart grit come into play?

Let’s say you have a financial product that isn’t [selling] well, but you keep trying and trying. At some point you need to stop and think, “Why am I not succeeding here?” So you need to be smart about it and redirect your efforts.

Then there’s fight and unite.

This is about how we run our meetings. Meetings should be for one thing only: to have a great discussion to reach better decisions. Often meetings are about status updates. This is wrong — we can do that by email. We need meetings with healthy discussion and debate. If you have a meeting with a lousy debate — about a new product, for instance — you may make lousy decisions about it.

Can the “fight and unite” principle apply to client meetings too?

The same thing. You could have a rigorous discussion with your client about appropriate strategies for them. This is not just about asking questions but about having a good dialogue, which becomes a discussion in which, of course, the financial advisor is the expert. But the client is the expert on their life. And a productive dialogue where the client feels they can actually question the assumptions made by the advisor about a certain product they  recommend is healthy debate.

Now discuss disciplined collaboration, please.

If you’re in a large financial services firm with lots of offices across the country, you might need to coordinate work. Many times people commit two sins: One is that they under-collaborate, where each office is operating in a silo — their own island. But if they talk across offices, they probably would learn a lot from each other.

So the other sin is over-collaboration?

Right. I imagine that many financial advisors are frustrated because they go to too many management and product meetings, where they spend too much valuable time. The principle is: disciplined collaboration. Find a few things that matter the most and collaborate on them.

Any caveats about these seven principles?

I have three. Focusing on doing fewer things but doing them better means that you have more time left over. Rather than pouring that time-dividend back into your work, spend it on your private life — or else you’re not getting balance.

What’s the second caveat?

You need to keep your passion in check. You could be so passionate that your work consumes you. So you have to be able to control that.

And the third?

You need to develop a bit of a thick skin with regard to debating in meetings. It’s not about nasty fighting with colleagues, and it’s not about taking things personally. It’s about having good arguments, which you need. But you can’t let it get to you. If you get emotionally wrecked by the debates, you’ll burn out.

And do you practice the seven principles?

I’m trying. I have to improve myself, too.

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3 Things That Can Help Executives Do Their Jobs Better

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 1, 2018

from, March 27, 2018

Here are three tips executives can use to do their jobs better and be more effective leaders:

  • Don’t rely on transparency so much. Back-room, private discussions can actually elicit more honest feedback, according to researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. This link will lead you to more of their insights.
  • Just listen. Sit down with key players at your organization and give them time to talk about what is working and what isn’t. The executive who listens this way can develop greater insight and better problem solving, said Margot Murphy Moore, an executive with Standard Homeopathic Company and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Click here for more of her perspective on the topic.
  • Give employee surveys a try. After all these years, an employee survey still helps determine employee engagement. It can also help build morale, shape behavior and teach the executive who relies on the survey about employee priorities, executives from Facebook and others noted in a recent Harvard Business Review blog posting

Tags:  management 

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The Downside of Transparent Decision Making

Posted By research by Ronen Gradwohl and Timothy Feddersen, Tuesday, May 1, 2018

from KellogInsight, January 4, 2018

It seems logical that you would want to be fully transparent when making a big decision, right? But according to a recent analysis by a pair of Kellogg School researchers, requiring transparency may actually yield less information than allowing deliberations to go on in private.

When Unanimous Is Misleading

You may have experienced an inkling of this phenomenon. Meeting minutes, for example, sometimes say that a particular vote was unanimous.

“Now, was it really unanimous?” Gradwohl asks with skepticism. “It could be that people went into the meeting with differing opinions, but they wanted it to look unanimous because they know that whoever makes the decision is going to try to read into not just what the recommendation was, but also how many people were in favor, and how compelling was the evidence that this was the right decision.”

For example, a group that wishes to open a new branch of a retail chain might consist of four people who believe the new location will be very profitable and one who is unsure. After learning how certain the others are, that unsure person is likely to assume that her information was simply inferior to everyone else’s and become convinced that the new location makes sense.

But if the decision-maker knew that one person started out uncertain about the new location, he might scuttle the project. So to make the most compelling case to the chain’s owner, it is in the best interest of the group to claim that all five people strongly believe the new location will be lucrative.

In other words, knowing that the decision-maker will have full transparency into the recommendation process can actually change  what people recommend. Moreover, knowing this, the decision-maker might be suspicious of a unanimous vote—and rightly so.

Thus, in this case, transparency fails to achieve its goal of revealing better, more accurate information.

A Babbling Committee

The researchers turned to game theory to model these sorts of scenarios. Their model is predicated on the idea that the committee and decision-maker have different incentives: the decision-maker might be more conservative, for instance, because he has more “skin in the game,” while the committee may be more open to taking smart risks. Their model also assumes that the only reason decision-makers turn to a committee is because they do not have all the relevant information themselves.

In the opaque version of the game—when the only information the decision-maker is given is the committee’s final recommendation—the model shows that the committee’s decision ends up accurately representing the group’s aggregate opinion; the rational decision-maker might then find the committee’s recommendation convincing and take action on it. In this case, opacity works well, according to the researchers’ model. Any differences between the committee members and the decision-maker in terms of motivations or tolerance for risk is neutralized.

“Then we show the opposite case,” Gradwohl says, referring to the scenario of full transparency. In this case, the committee members “don’t say anything meaningful.”

This complete breakdown of communication comes about gradually, as each player second-guesses the others.

Misaligned Incentives

Such scenarios—where decision-makers decide whether to demand full transparency when they seek recommendations from parties with differing incentives—are common in other contexts as well.

Consider the case of a manager debating whether to launch a risky new product. To help her decide, she turns to her employees, each of whom has information relevant to the decision. Is she likely to get better information by asking employees for their opinion one by one (analogous to transparency) or by letting the employees confer in private to come up with a joint recommendation (the opaque scenario)?

“Our result suggests that asking each employee separately would lead to less informative advice and would be inferior to letting the employees come up with a joint recommendation,” Gradwohl says.

For example, employees might be more eager than the manager to launch the new product, with less to lose if the product flops. So when the manager approaches employees individually, each employee has an incentive to exaggerate the new product’s odds of success.

But once again, the difference in incentives between the manager and the employees does not pose as much of a problem in the opaque scenario. If employees can have a private group discussion, they can freely share their information with one another before the group makes their joint recommendation.

For example, if all employees think the probability of success is low, the joint recommendation will be to not launch the new product—and the manager has less reason to doubt that the recommendation truly reflects everyone’s information. The same is true if all employees think the probability of success is high: they will recommend the launch, and the manager will accept the recommendation.

Lessons for Decision-Makers

Gradwohl’s main takeaway from the research is straightforward: “Think twice before implementing anything like radical transparency.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, backroom discussions and other private conversations can be more helpful in getting people to share information.

“These sorts of offline conversations might actually be beneficial to everybody—not just to the committee, which is obvious, but also to the eventual decision-maker,” he says.

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