In 1927 a gospel jazz singer, Blind Willy Johnson, got it right. He changed the words of an old gospel song and turned it into ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine.’ Yes, it’s the same title (but different words) as the Led Zeppelin song over 50 years later. But the point is that he was singing about taking responsibility for all the things that happened to him, good and bad.
Last week we visited yet another new client agency whose mantra seemed to be, “It’s everyone’s fault —-but mine.” The agency was seeking the ‘Silver Bullet,’ a single, quick and easy solution to several difficult and complex problems. Of course, the Silver Bullet only exists in the Lone Ranger’s belt and in vampire adventure tails — it exists nowhere in real life.
Most readers know that Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has evolved many innovative programs designed to advance the growth and profitability of insurance agencies. We employ them as parts of our recommendations for the improvement of our client agencies after our agency analysis, the GPP Analysis (Growth, Productivity and Profitability Analysis) that leads in all of our consulting with our clients. When we design a Producer Compensation Program, an Incentive Compensation Program, an agency marketing program, or even our Strategic Planning process, we pull down one or more of our programs and then we tear it apart and reconstruct it to fit the agency in question.
So when agents call and ask to purchase one of our programs, they are surprised when we respectfully decline because it would be like selling a custom sports car shell designed for a 250 lb 6 foot 5 inch football player to a 5 foot, 98 pound ballerina. It may be exactly what they asked for, but it simply won’t fit. Similarly, calling us with ill-defined problems, erroneous assumptions of causes and responsibility, and pre-determined expectations of solutions will neither solve the problems nor satisfy the agency owner.
Many agents could use a fresh, third-party view of the issues surrounding their agencies. Most agencies have issues that plague them and keep them from attaining their potential. Agents go to our seminars trying to match their problems with our solutions. But if they don’t see the right problem, they can’t possibly identify the correct solutions.
The primary problem associated with agencies almost always lies in the ego of the owner. High ego, successful agents often can’t accept that they bear most or all of the responsibility for both the agency’s success and for its failures. Are there exceptions? Of course, but the exceptions are rare.
Many agents feel that assuming responsibility is akin to accepting blame. It never is. Blame is the single characteristic that is universally destructive, while assumption of responsibility clears the air and permits the acceptance of change to yield different business results. We need not stretch our imaginations to understand how many wars have begun and how many millions of people have been killed because of the laying of blame. And if ignorance blamed some poor soul for diseases during the Middle Ages, the tendency was to kill the person blamed. It did nothing for curing the disease. However, during the Enlightenment and beyond, every disease that has been stopped and cured began with the identification of the basis of responsibility for the disease in order to reach common ground in its solution.
If we can get an agent out of the ‘blame game’ and into the reasons and responsibility for the agency’s problems and woes, we have taken our first step toward finding solutions. In Transactional Analysis terms, we have brought the owners into their ‘adult’ stage from their ‘child’ state. In the ‘adult’ state, they seek to understand the source of the problem and to identify it properly instead of seeking retribution against someone for the issues that plague the business. The process begins with the problem as viewed by the owner and then continues to drill down to the source of the problems. Every time a ‘blame’ is made, it must be reworded to further drill down to the problem. At some point there will be an “Aha!” moment when the owner realizes that he has identified the real issue to be addressed.
Once the problem is properly identified, you must answer the question, “Whose responsibility is this issue?” This may take some time, but the owner will eventually realize that the responsibility belongs squarely on the shoulders of the principal decision-maker. She or he could have made different decisions somewhere down the road. Taking responsibility for the problem is the first step to its solution. Until this happens, all efforts toward solution are only actions, not the solution itself.
During the problem identification and the responsibility assignment stages, you MUST joust with and defeat every blame created – they are all diversions from the real issues.
At this point we are finally ready to identify causes, potential solutions, costs and priorities – the mechanics of CHANGE.
Remember you are only concerned with WHAT caused the problem, never WHO caused it. A WHAT can be changed and monitored to different results. A WHO can only be terminated and replaced and most likely, it will not solve the problem at hand.
Once you identify the causes, list all potential solutions, regardless of the scope and cost. You are trying to determine the range of solutions. Once you have the solutions lists, you will begin to eliminate one after another because of the human or financial cost associated with that method.
Even when you limit your list of solutions to those for whom you have sufficient people and for whose cost is manageable, the real solution is still limited to what the owner is willing to do. There may be a potential of an owner returning to active production or client relationship management, but if the owner is near retirement and enjoying his free time, that solution may not be acceptable.
Most agents will realize that there is not a single problem in evidence, but a series of connected issues that require different solutions. Once the solutions are identified they must be prioritized and only the top priority should be done until it is successful. Then, one after another, lower priority solutions must be implemented. Each of the solutions must be monitored carefully to make sure it is practiced consistently and that they continue to address the problems to their solution.
We strongly recommend the creation of a Strategic Plan to surround and encompass the solutions that you are implementing to strengthen your business. That business plan will allow you and your successors to continue your progress and to avoid similar crises in the future.
Here is the list of how to address the problems in your agency, with or without our help.
1. Identify the REAL problem.
2. Take responsibility for the results of your business.
3. Clear the air of all blame. It is a useless exercise and cannot be a part of the solution.
4. Determine the causes of the problems in your agency and address the potential solutions for each one.
5. Ascertain the human and financial cost of the solutions and determine whether you have the human assets, are willing to spend your valuable time in the solution and can afford the financial cost to solving the problems.
6. Prioritize the highest impact solution first and don’t pursue a secondary solution until the first is working as expected.
7. Monitor the results of each of the solutions implemented for a long enough period to assure you that they have worked to the degree you expected.
8. Create a Strategic Plan around the solutions to permit you to exercise your new strengths in the progression of your business.