ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

The Secret of Success

When I was young I was taught that the key to success was to work harder. But hard work alone didn't suffice. I saw some hard working people fail.

I was then told to work faster - productivity was the key to success. So we automated and worked faster. But there was always more work to be done than could be done and speed didn't coincide with success either. A number of businesses sped their way to the poor house!

Finally, I was taught to work smarter in order to succeed. So I bought planners and time management software and read countless books on the subject in order to make me feel successful. I ended up using the time managers for a while, switching from one tool to another and continuing to frustrate myself. Many of my friends, also touted as time managers, were continuing to fail in business. They went through the motions and seemed to get a lot done - but the important things in their businesses and lives continued to go undone until crises occurred.

I realized that EFFICIANCY IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO SUCCESS - in business or in life.

It appears that the failures in life come from three causes:

a) Failing to do the right thing when your instinct tells you what it is,

b) Failing to do what is most IMPORTANT (not most urgent) at any time, and

c) Failing to depend on others and work interactively

DOING THE RIGHT THING

We live by "rights" and "wrongs"-whether we want to or not. Principles are immutable. You can live outside of principles, but the principles, themselves, never change. Fulfilling a promise is a "right". Breaking a promise is a "wrong". How do we know the difference? For most of us raised in the Judaeo/Christian society, your conscience will always tell you! If you feel a twang of conscience or need to rationalize a decision it is wrong. Most things that are rationalized are usually a "wrong". And "right" and "wrong" don't coincide with easy and hard. Sometimes doing the right thing is both rational and easy. Other times it is difficult and doesn't seem to make sense, but it is right nonetheless and you instinctively know it. For instance, firing an employee can be a "right" or a "wrong" decision. This is an action that no one enjoys. But if you know that both you, your organization, your customers and, eventually, the employee will be better off through a termination, it is a "right" decision. If, on the other hand, you find yourself looking for excuses to terminate even though the employee makes a positive impact on the customers and organization, you may still carry out the termination, but you simply won't feel good about it. You have done something wrong. Obviously, it is very hard to do the "right" thing all of the time. Humans have prejudices and self-interest. Sometimes the "right" thing is expensive and you can save time and/or money by short-cutting or doing something different. Sometimes you will do something that you know is not right in order to please yourself or others (i.e. playing a round of golf because you "deserve it" instead of completing a project that you promised a client). You will certainly enjoy the rewards you give yourself, whether deserved or not. But you will still know that what you did was not "right". The more you yield to your conscience and do the "right" thing, the better you will feel about yourself and the more successful you will become.

DOING WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT - ALL OF THE TIME

Stephen Covey calls this Quadrant II thinking where Quadrant I represents crises and urgent matters that are important, Quadrant III is non-urgent, but important items, and Quadrant IV is the truly trivial, neither important nor urgent. Quadrant II represents the truly important things in our lives that are the keys to our success even though they are not necessarily pressing us to accomplish them quickly.

Obviously, those items that are critically important must be handled and handled quickly. But how did they get to be crises? A few things arise as crises and will always have to be reacted to quickly. But many of our crises get that way because we don't pay attention to important issues long enough for them to become "wild-fires". Why don't we pay attention to them before they flare up into major problems? Because we don't have the time!! And why don't we have the time? We would all like to think that our priorities become crises because we have to much to do. In reality, our crises occur because we pay attention to urgent matters (the Squeaky Wheel Syndrome) even though most are not the most important things that we have to do at the time.

Can you disregard every so-called "urgent" item that demands your time? Probably not. But we must be honest with ourselves and evaluate our efforts on the basis of their long term importance instead of in terms of their urgency, ease of completion or our desire to do what we like instead of what we must.

One of the keys to this measure of success is the discernment of the difference between urgency and importance. When a customer "demands" a service immediately, is he always right? Is that demand always the most important thing on your CSR's desk? What should the response be?

No, the customer is not always right. Many customers have become educated in the Squeaky Wheel Syndrome (you know, the squeaky wheel always gets greased first!). So, they feel that in order to get anything done, they must demand immediate action. The customer can also never identify the priorities on your CSR's desk (nor should they). The customer feels that he is important and that his insurance need should be addressed immediately.

Only you and your staff can properly identify and address the "Importance Rating" of the customers' requests. It starts with the agency owner and managers. You must identify the prioritization of the agency with respect to normal workflow transactions. An example of agency prioritization is:

"A" Priorities "B" Priorities "C" Priorities

New Business Quotes Money endorsements All Else

Renewals under 30 days away Renewals under 60 days away

Audits "C" Priorities over 2 weeks old

Claims

Certificates

"B" Priorities over 1 week old

While the agency owners and managers determine the general priorities, the staff, themselves, must assume the responsibility for exercising their judgment to determine the IMPORTANCE of the work they have on their desks and the incoming work. They will always have more than one "A" priority available to them at any time. They must determine which item is most IMPORTANT (not necessarily the most urgent) in the long run and should work on the important items first.

This transition from crisis to importance-related work effort is a major change for most employees. Crisis management has become a norm, instead of an exception in recent years. Facing a long, difficult project, however important is daunting and many of us will do anything to avoid it. Crises that can be attacked and handled to completion are actually comforting. They make us feel that we get a lot done. Yet whenever we feel tired at the end of the day, saying to ourselves, "I worked hard all day, but haven't gotten anything done," it is an indication that we spent our time on inconsequential busy-work. In retrospect, we all understand that some items are much more important than others. The IMPORTANCE factor transcends the ease or difficulty of work and the short or long time requirement of projects. Some important items are hard to do and take a long time to accomplish. Yet, in the long run, they are much more important than working on immediate crises of questionable priority or working on easy transactions that take little time but are trivial compared to the high priority, important items that await us.

DEPENDING ON OTHERS - WORKING INTERDEPENDENTLY

"I know it's not my job, but if I want it done right, I have to do it myself."

"It would take me longer to explain how to do it than it would to do it myself."

How many times have we used these and other expressions that, for all practical purposes, have made us agents, raters, marketers, csrs, clerks, file clerks, receptionists, and maintenance people? You know that you resent the fact that you end up performing tasks that are properly the jobs of other employees. But you also know that you are your own worst enemy. Rather than give authority, responsibility and trust to your employees, you assume the martyr's robe and do it all yourself. One of the reasons that this happens is that you do know how to accomplish all of the tasks that need to be done better than you know how to manage others to accomplish these tasks. Rather than negotiating, managing, and controlling the actions of others, we feel more comfortable, just doing it ourselves.

When your employees see you adopting their functions as well as your own, they may feel relieved of the workload or frustrated that you don't trust them enough to do their jobs. Either way, they won't try to stop you more than once or twice before "permitting" you to do their jobs - after all, it is your business. Unfortunately, most times, they are better at their jobs than you. So, not only do you multiply your efforts, but you don't accomplish the tasks as well as they could.

The key to this level of success is to transition yourself from an individual performer to a successful manager. Most of us understand that we can accomplish much more by leveraging our efforts through our employees, but relatively few of us are comfortable enough that we control the projects and jobs that we delegate to use that leverage.

1. Give your employees the RESPONSIBILITY to accomplish the tasks and projects in their job description. Make sure that they realize that their success depends on their accomplishment of those functions and projects.

2. Give your employees the AUTHORITY that goes along with the responsibility to get the job done. Nothing is more frustrating than being told to do something, but having to go to the boss with every detail before they can be implemented.

3. TRUST your employees - that's why they work for you. If you feel you have the best employees available, trust them to do their jobs. If you don't have the best that you need, retrain them. If employees either can't be retrained, of if you simply don't trust them, replace them. Otherwise you perpetuate your problem and theirs.

Whether employees or co-workers, no one can be a "Lone Ranger" and do all of the tasks necessary to become and remain a successful insurance agent. We must work through others. Those who view this as a benefit and positive part of the job will be able to work interdependently. Those who view this as a drawback and a negative part of growing larger will not be able to grow profitably. They will find that the larger they become, the more overwhelming the workload on themselves.

What is the secret of success? Doing the right things, working on the important things at all times and working with and through others defines the term SELF-MANAGEMENT. Those of us who can sublimate our egos, maintain the integrity to perform our jobs with integrity and treat others as we would like to be treated will find that success will come easier. Certainly, there will still be failures, but there will be much less self-doubt associated with the occasional failure. You will feel comfortable that you are doing the best you can at all times. That attitude will overcome any failures and will result in the kind of success that many of us see but few manage to achieve.