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Foster a Startup Culture

Posted By Mike de Waal, Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Incorporating team building as part of your corporate culture may seem like an obvious step in strengthening your business overall, but it is often neglected. In fast-paced, high-energy environments, such as the insurance and InsurTech industries, investing in your employees through professional development and team-building activities can go a long way in promoting success.

In a competitive market, attracting the right people for your team can be a challenge, so can maintaining a motivated team. Startup tech businesses have become known for their successful ability to attract and maintain talented employees through a culture that prioritizes open communication, collaboration team building and individual growth.

This “startup culture” focuses on nurturing a strong team through tools and activities that allow employees to bond, feel heard and continue learning within their role.

When it comes to attracting talent, “startup culture” is the expectation these days. Prospective employees, especially recent graduates and millennials, place a great deal of importance on a fun, inclusive and social work environment. They seek companies with a “startup culture” — modern vibrant offices, open-plan workspaces, flexible schedules, and most importantly, a collaborative environment.

Organizations of any size can borrow elements of “startup culture” to strengthen their own team. Here are some benefits of creative team building and a startup atmosphere:

Boosting employee morale

Creative team building breaks the monotony of spending the day at the office working on insurance claims or underwriting files. Regular team-building activities provide an opportunity to get out, have fun and relax, while also encouraging collaboration and team bonding. They help eliminate employee burnout, improve productivity and increase retention.

Team-building activities usually revolve around the completion of tasks and problem-solving. (Read on for some creative examples.) Completing these tasks boosts employees’ confidence and trust in their unique abilities. Confidence is a major source of motivation that is transferred to the workplace. Creative team building, therefore, contributes to a positive corporate culture that boosts employee morale.

Improving productivity

Poor performance is often seen as being linked to employees’ incompetence or lack of care, but it could instead be a result of poor communication and lack of confidence. Creative team- building activities present the opportunity to overcome communication barriers and foster interaction and collaboration among staff. Improved communication enhances productivity as it encourages employees to seek second opinions and ask for help.

Employee retention and happiness

All employees want to feel valued and contribute to meaningful work. They also want enjoyable workspaces where they are heard, not spaces they can’t wait to get away from.

One-third of our lives are spent at work. Many people are surrounded by their colleagues more often than their friends and family. A strong corporate culture and positive team dynamic is key to creating a favorable working environment employees want to stay in.

Creative team building can help in retaining top talent, reducing employee turnover and promoting employee happiness.

Creative team-building ideas

There are a number of different team-building activities to choose from, depending on budget, team size and team dynamics. Here are a few activity ideas that my team loved:

  • Escape rooms: Employees in teams collaborate on cracking codes and solving mysteries — this is an excellent way to boost communication, encourage problem-solving and create camaraderie.
  • Seasonal office parties and personal celebrations: What better way to create a sense of family and bring employees and management together? Fun activities provide a lot of needed laughs. For example, we had a Foosball tournament in the office. Bosses and workers alike can don goofy hats and have a good time.
  • Recreational sports and tournaments: Friendly competition and teamwork are a great way to create friendships and lasting bonds among teams. For instance, we had a zipline adventure at a nearby camp.

At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued, challenged and respected. While catered meals and an open office are appealing, it’s open communication, growth potential and strong team dynamics that keep good employees. Fostering a team-oriented environment through regular team-building exercises and activities is one step any organization can take to improving company morale.

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Innovation Not Just For the Young

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Research Shows Creativity Peaks in Mid-50s


If you believe that great scientists are most creative when they’re young, you are missing part of the story.

A new study of winners of the Nobel Prize in economics finds that there are two different life cycles of creativity, one that hits some people early in their career and another that more often strikes later in life.

In this study, the early peak was found for laureates in their mid-20s and the later peak for those in their mid-50s.

The research supports previous work by the authors that found similar patterns in the arts and other sciences.

“We believe what we found in this study isn’t limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally,” said Bruce Weinberg, lead author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University.

“Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you’re talking about.”
Weinberg did the study with David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. Their study appears in a special issue of the journal De Economist.

In the study, the Nobel Prize winners who did their most groundbreaking work early in their career tended to be “conceptual” innovators.

These type of innovators “think outside the box,” challenging conventional wisdom and tend to come up with new ideas suddenly. Conceptual innovators tend to peak early in their careers, before they become immersed in the already accepted theories of the field, Weinberg said.

But there is another kind of creativity, he said, which is found among “experimental” innovators. These innovators accumulate knowledge through their careers and find groundbreaking ways to analyze, interpret and synthesize that information into new ways of understanding.

The long periods of trial and error required for important experimental innovations make them tend to occur late in a Nobel laureate’s career.

“Whether you hit your creative peak early or late in your career depends on whether you have a conceptual or experimental approach,” Weinberg said.

The researchers took a novel, empirical approach to the study, which involved 31 laureates. They arranged the laureates on a list from the most experimental to most conceptual.

This ranking was based on specific, objective characteristics of the laureates’ single most important work that are indicative of a conceptual or experimental approach.

For example, conceptual economists tend to use assumptions, proofs and equations and have a mathematical appendix or introduction to their papers.

Experimental economists rely on direct inference from facts, so their papers tended to have more references to specific items, such as places, time periods and industries or commodities.

After classifying the laureates, the researchers determined the age at which each laureate made his most important contribution to economics and could be considered at his creative peak.

They did this through a convention of how academics rate the value and influence of a research paper. A paper is more influential in the field when other scientists mention—or cite—the paper in their own work. So the more citations a paper accumulates, the more influential it is.

Weinberg and Galenson used two different methods to calculate at which age the laureates were cited most often and thus were at the height of their creativity.

The two methods found that conceptual laureates peaked at about either 29 or 25 years of age. Experimental laureates peaked when they were roughly twice as old—at about 57 in one method or the mid-50s in the other.

Most other research in this area has studied differences in peak ages of creativity between disciplines, such as physics versus medical sciences. These studies generally find small variations across disciplines, with creativity peaking in the mid-30s to early 40s in most scientific fields.

“These studies attribute differences in creative peaks to the nature of the scientific fields themselves, not to the scientists doing the work,” Weinberg said.

“Our research suggests than when you’re most creative is less a product of the scientific field that you’re in and is more about how you approach the work you do.”

The researchers were supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and the Ewing Marion Kauffman and Alfred P. Sloan foundations.

Source: Ohio State University

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What is Insurance Burnout?

Posted By Heidi Samuelsen, Wednesday, September 25, 2019

And How to Quench It


We all know that insurance is certainly not for the weak! In every job or role you have, burn out can happen and, when it does, it can have several negative impacts. You may not be as nice to your team, your family, or yourself. I am a firm believer in “what you know in advance, you can prepare for in advance.” So let’s take a few moments to share the signs of insurance burnout and what we can all do about it. 

Sign #1 Someone Offers You a Snickers
You know those Snickers commercials where the person isn’t acting themselves because they are hangry? Well, burnout and hanger can have many of the same symptoms. It’s a good time to check if you need food or a break. This is when you might be a bit short with the team or when it just seems like everything is frustrating. Trust me, this state of mind is not good for you or your agency. 

Sign #2 You’re Not Focused
This is when you make mistakes or double-check your work. Your brain is in a fog and you are too. The smallest, most basic of tasks takes you longer to complete and you find yourself staring at your screen a lot. You were once sharp and had a strong plan, but now the day is just happening to you and not in a great way.

Sign #3 You Become Apathetic to Time
This is probably one of the biggest warning signs I see. You start feeling like, “Well, it just won’t ever all get done, so why bother?” You believe there is not enough time in the day, so you do a good job, but you just fall short of doing a great job. You become a B- student, which isn’t bad, but let’s face it – it’s not you. 

Sign #4 You Want to Use the Word “No” More
Maybe your agency is working on some cool new projects or you have the opportunity to jump into new responsibilities. In your mind, you just can’t fathom one more thing. Where you were once excited, you’re now barely able to crack a smile. Great news! This is burnout.

If you’re thinking, “Ohhh no. I have all of these.” Well, it’s time to fashion a plan to beat insurance burnout and get back up and on your feet. You and your team deserve better!

This may sound cheesy, but it works: Start with remembering what you are grateful for. It’s super simple to get bogged down with what isn’t working. So, let’s start with what is! If you love your family, you like your desk, or there is a carrier that is strong, let’s refocus on the positive. It’s amazing what a little perspective can do!

Next, determine what is temporary and what is permanent. Remember with temporary strife, the tides will turn and it will pass. With more permanent issues, you may have to spend some time creating a strategy of how to turn some things around in your career. Identifying what bucket something falls into allows you to spend your time on what matters. 

Use your vacation time for relaxation. We see far too often in insurance that we burn our vacation time when we aren’t really sick or on items that don’t help us recharge our batteries. It’s ok to use your time off to rest and recharge. We all need a mental break from time to time. See also our latest podcast on how to better plan for vacations, so that everyone (even those manning their posts while their coworkers are on vacay) can avoid being overwhelmed.

Finally, at work, really focus on having a great attitude and getting through your work. A great deal of burnout happens because we are behind in our work and not able to keep up. We have a saying: “Work like you are about to go on vacation.” This is a great approach! When you go on vacation, your desk is clean and you set yourself up for success. Practice getting caught up, even without a vacation. 

Burnout is a real thing and if you aren’t feeling like yourself, make sure you go see a doctor. Often times, burnout can impact many parts of our lives unintentionally. 


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What To Know Before Joining an Agency Network

Posted By Matt Masiello, Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Today is a great time to be an independent agent, but running an independent agency is not easy. Without an awareness of how the industry is evolving, and having access to ongoing training and education, you may not be adequately preparing for the future. If you are too busy handling day-to-day business so there is no time to work on growth simultaneously, you could lose your current and potential clients in a hurry.

Whether you are a captive or independent agent you need a solid foundation. Ask yourself: Are you a well-known professional in your community? Are you working with carriers that meet your clients' needs? Are you technologically savvy with a fully automated office? How about a year from now? You need to know how you will drive growth and profitable results in the long term and, with the prevalence of innovation and technology impacting the industry, how to evolve as the industry does.

In this context, you may do better as part of a larger team. Many independent agents are joining alliances/networks, clusters and aggregators to generate more revenue, while experienced producers may join to follow their dreams of opening their own independent agency. If you're considering joining one of these organizations, remember the saying, "Only fools rush in." If you don't have the answers before joining, you may regret it in the long run.

That's why it's important to thoroughly research the differences between the options you're considering. Here, I will focus on the questions you should ask to make the best choice and to understand the majority of services available to an agent today.


Networks are valuable in many ways. They can provide a path to building your business, help insurance professionals to own and operate their own independent agency, provide extensive training and education to build personal, commercial and specialty income, and help carriers and independent agents grow, helping the distribution system overall.

When evaluating networks, first, understand where your business is today. Before you sign any contract, get granular and review your agency by examining your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT analysis):

  • Is your book of business solid?
  • Have you built a recognizable local brand?
  • Do you have the technology to interact with clients through multiple channels?
  • Are there weaknesses that stand out and how are you addressing them?
  • What opportunities do you have that you have not yet explored?
  • Are there threats to your agency's survival such as increased competition or high turnover?

Remember, any worthwhile network/alliance will also perform their due diligence on you and your agency. Recruiters of a quality network will examine your history and production to ensure you have the skills, experience, etc., to succeed. If they don't, you should question the potential impact of their other members on the organization as a whole and your agency. They should also work with you to identify areas where their organization can help you meet your needs and goals.

Understanding the Fine Print

The network you join should align with your branding and reflect the quality you seek. Without vetting the network properly, you will bring tension to yourself and your team. Here are questions to ask a network before joining. The answers will bring transparency to the relationship and should remove any unpleasant surprises.

1. Short/Long-Term Goals: How will the network help you obtain your goals in the short and long term? Can they help you become sustainable for the long term? Does the network have a proven track record, service and benefits for the life cycle of your agency? How exactly will you have access to insurance companies? Will you have access to preferred, standard, E&S and specialty markets and at what compensation levels?

2. Other Services: What are the other services offered; how are they delivered? Today, just gaining access to markets or aggregating some premiums is not enough for success. Do they have field representatives to act as a go-to resource for a startup agency or existing agency to continue to grow? Is access to services and benefits available 24/7? Will the network help your business grow through training in new markets such as cyber, commercial and niche markets? Will they show you how to become fully automated so your business runs efficiently and creates a seamless experience for your clients? Get specifics on agency development tools, services and training. Meet the people who will provide these services. Ask them to show you their results.

3. Carrier Access and Commissions: How are carriers accessed and commissions paid? How is new business placed; whose name is on the policies? Do you have the ability to earn direct codes? If you do, are all commissions paid directly to the producing agent by the writing company? How will you qualify for additional profit sharing, bonuses and overrides? How and when are these payments distributed? Does the network measure key performance indicators with you?

4. Contract Details: Does the contract take into account the short and long term, including the ability to leave with clients and carriers? Make sure the contract addresses the beginning, middle and end of the relationship. Understand who owns the business. Make sure that if the affiliation fails, you not only own your clients and accounts, but you also can take your commissions and the ability to represent your insurance companies without restrictions. Some organizations say they don't have any non-compete restrictions, but they prohibit you from representing your carriers in the event of an exit and provide no alternative path. Ask how the business will be transferred in the event you terminate.

5. Financial Performance: How has the network performed financially, with carriers, member agencies and profitability (loss-ratios)? Do they work with successful carriers? How will they help you drive down operating costs and improve your margins? Many new organizations are moving into the market access and insurance distribution business. Make sure you're not joining a flash-in-the-pan option that is not sustainable for the long-term with proven results.

6. Profitability and Benchmarks: How is the profitability (loss-ratio) and experience of other members monitored to assure that you have income and carrier access down the road? What benchmarks are set for new business, loss-ratios and total premium? Does the network give attention to book quality? For profit sharing, incentives and overrides, how is compensation earned and distributed? Ask for complete transparency and examples.

Comparing Other Distribution Models?

Aggregators and clusters may boost profits without providing any ongoing training and education. Make sure you are confident that you have everything you need before choosing an aggregator or cluster vs. a network. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of each before you decide.

With aggregators, agents get access to insurance carriers' contracts. Aggregators provide market access and aggregate premium, sometimes adding compensation but without support services or tools. They tend to be transaction-oriented, based on writing and placing policies, not focused on helping you grow your overall agency.

Clusters can be a formal joint venture or a loose affiliation to combine books in order to receive higher commissions or profit sharing. Members maintain ownership of their accounts and agency and operate individually. Generally, clusters are formed to increase income by combining carrier volumes. If you opt for this route, make sure you understand how premiums with carriers will be replaced, to prevent reductions in contingencies, if members sell or leave.

Whether you want to move from an exclusive agency model and open an independent agency, or you're an independent agent who wants to increase stability long-term, joining a network can ensure you maintain your competitive edge. Quality agency networks offer not only increased carrier access, but also the ongoing training and education, as well as additional support services your agency needs to thrive well into the future.

At the end of your research on a potential network partner, ask yourself: "Through this process, does it seem that my overall agency's success is as important to the alliance as it is to me, or are they just focused on placing business and receiving fees or commissions?" Your response to that speaks volumes about what you really learned.

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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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