ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Paradigm Shifts in Management

Most managers equate the term "Time Management" with prioritizing, schedules and lists. But these list keepers find that they remain under intense pressure and still seem to get little accomplished. Their lists and schedules simply reinforce their feelings of futility and captivity to their environment, their lament - "At least when I didn't have these lists I didn't know how far behind I was. These lists and schedules are more like chains than aids."

Time Management can be a true mechanism for effectiveness and organization. But if Time Management is used as a mechanism ONLY, it can not succeed. Instead it will magnify the insufficient mind set of the manager. How do you know whether Time Management is only used in a mechanical way? If you or the other people employing Time Management methods complain or are resentful over the time it takes to create and manage their priorities, it isn't working. The mechanics of Time Management that you employ may be perfect but if you fail to maintain the engine or put fuel in the tank even a Rolls Royce will fail you.

The mechanical side of Time Management are the lists, priorities, diaries, schedules and other devices, both automated or manual, that keep you organized. But the human side of Time Management is its key to success. That human side of Time Management identifies what is to be accomplished and distinguishes between the important and the urgent.

What is really to be accomplished?

Would you plan a three week vacation a day at a time? Would you feel comfortable planning only to travel 500 miles on day one and making reservations at a hotel? That night at the hotel you would break out the maps, tour guides and books to plan day two. Each day for the next three weeks you would continue to look one day at a time, satisfied that you've reached your destination each day. But your vacation will convert from seeking a three week respite from work to a marathon "travel and plan" grind that will likely leave you exhausted-and may not even bring you home at its conclusion. Planning your multi-week vacation, one week at a time is no better.

Now look at your scheduling priorities at work. If you are like most "fellow travelers" the best we can manage is to identify what needs to be done this week, and trying to manage our time to accomplish those intermediate goals. Sometimes we achieve those weekly goals, but too often the crisis of each day keep us from addressing even these short term efforts. Unfortunately, most of us don't even strive for these mediocre objectives. We manage our time like our lives, one day at a time. At the end of the day-week-month we shake our heads in frustration over what WAS NOT accomplished that needed to be done.

Our problem is that we took our eyes off our targets. Some of us never even identified the targets in the first place. What are those targets? They fall in two categories: Change objectives that require constant attention to accomplish (whether critical on a daily basis or not) all the constant, critical and important goals that must be addressed in order for us to succeed in business.

Change Objectives

Change objectives are the objectives of your tactical plan that are not already a part of your work life. Breaking into a new market is a change objective for an aggressive agency. Since the change objectives are different from your current actions , they must gain constant, high visibility and action in your work life in order to accomplish them. Planning something new doesn't make it successful if you spend every day of the year reacting to crisis and fire-fighting. If you don't DO something on a regular basis toward that goal, it won't happen.

Critical Work Goals

The easiest example of critical work goals in an insurance agency is the renewal process. How many of us first think about the customer's renewal when he calls us a few days before expiration wondering where we stand on his policies? It's great if you've climbed out of the hole-but how many of us have to scurry at the last minute to qualify a risk or to revise rates. Is it always the company's fault? Or do we sometimes lose track of the importance of maintaining a regular relationship with existing clients, making the renewal "cycle" simply blend into our regular customer contacts?

The problem is that we've taken our eyes off the Important in order to address the Urgent.

Importance vs. Urgency

Wheel's "squeak" in our agencies everyday. Every squeaky wheel demands attention. But is every urgent item also important? Probably not. Of course those issues are important to the originators of the issues, but they may not be as important as the goals and objectives of the agency - or not even as important as the renewal of your largest accounts. But we normally attack the urgent - those squeaky wheels - and let the important issues languish. Those important issues, however, are time bombs. If not addressed they will eventually explode-at the most inopportune moment. Other important issues, usually tied to the change objectives of the agency, die quietly and, if they are truly important to you, they hurt you much more severely than many of the squeaky wheels would have.

Changing The Time Management Paradigm

What do you suppose would happen if, instead of PRIORITIZING OUR SCHEDULES, we SCHEDULED OUR PRIORITIES? Your priorities should always be those things that will have the greatest long term impact on you/and or your business. Most of those issues will NOT be urgent because long term value demands long term activity. If we selected five business issues that would profit the agency if pursued on a long term basis and schedule time for each every week - as if they were appointments - wouldn't we better manage those issues? You would rarely break an appointment with a client to address a sudden agency problem. We urge you to treat your important agency objectives as if they were VIP prospects. You will certainly visit them to mature your relationship as often as needed. At the end of each week schedule a block of time for the next week for each objective. For instance, take a one hour time slot to review a weeks worth of renewals who will expire in three months. This gives you a head start on your renewal planning. Keep these "appointments" as if they were with VIP clients or prospects. Never let a crisis interrupt unless you would cancel an appointment with your largest client under other circumstances.

If you change your mind set before executing your Time Management mechanisms, you will find that the Time Management machinery performs much closer to your specifications than they have in the past. Remember, DON'T PRIORITIZE YOUR SCHEDULE, SCHEDULE YOUR PRIORITIES!