ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

Acquired Priority Deficiency (APD)

Some agents are very busy. Other agents are very productive. A few are both. Many are neither.

We live in a reactive society.

That’s a wonderful thing for proactive people because it gives us such an edge over everyone else.

My role is often as a Change Agent – few agencies use a consulting firm like Agency Consulting Group, Inc. to confirm that what they are doing is adequate to achieve their objectives. If that were the case, they would already know that and wouldn’t need an objective third party to confirm it. As a Change Agent, I am expected to confirm what the agency owner(s) is (or are) already feeling – an uneasiness about their core business or about their direction and success rate (or lack thereof). I am also expected to offer recommendations that would change the course of the agency to more adhere to the owner’s desire for the future of the business.

One of my frustrations is that agents are either very tight with their money and would like change to take place – as long as they don’t have to alter anything that they are doing to achieve it – or they consider themselves liberal and committed to change simply because they are willing to spend money to make changes.

Change is a FRAME OF MIND. Change is a commitment to altered activities. Change is openness to trying new things. If you would like to get into a “CHANGE” frame of mind, go to work along a different route every day until no other way is available. That day you will be in a CHANGE FRAME OF MIND. Remove the chairs from your office and do what you need to do on your feet – you will still get everything done—but in a much shorter time period – freeing yourself from the feeling that you’re tied to your office all day.

So if change is a frame of mind – if spending money is an ingredient, not the key, to some improvement (most don’t require a dollar of investment) – and if change is necessary in order to alter the results that have bogged down your business, how should you go about it??

First and foremost – PLAN. That means that you need to develop a formal, written plan supported by Action Plans or steps (see, the “Action” word!). If you can’t even bring yourself to create a plan that would change your agency for the better, you are truly living a reactive life. Save yourself some time and stop reading this – there are better things to read that won’t frustrate you and make you feel inadequate.

Your best plans are made in public with your staff or managers. Why? Because if you plan in public, you become more committed to the result! You are less likely to be a ‘Flash-In-The-Pan’ or to be a member of the ‘Good Idea of the Month Club’. Ask your staff. They are all acquainted with that club. That’s the one where the boss goes to a seminar or reads a book and determines that we ‘Ought To’ do something that has struck his fancy. He is hot on the change for a few days or a few weeks until either something happens that requires his attention elsewhere or the idea runs out of steam. Then everyone waits for the next Idea of the Month.

So you gather your management or staff and ask them to help you evolve your Plan. Your objectives should be statements of the expected results. Your Action Plans should be the activities that, if properly executed, will permit the Objectives to be realized. Your Benchmarks are the measurements of the Action Plans that will tell you on a monthly basis whether the Action Plans are working (or need to be changed).

Even Planning can be a trap because EXECUTION is the key to change, not planning.

I cannot count the number of Plans in which I have participated or facilitated that resulted in beautiful, creative and exciting Action Plans – Actions that would have certainly either achieved the desired results or that could have been further molded into actions that worked. Yet when I checked on the status of the implementation, I found that for a variety of reasons (or for none at all), the Action Plans had not even been implemented! The equipment was purchased and the people were hired. That was the easy part because it made the agent feel as though he was committed and was proactive. But the most difficult part of the Action Plan – real implementation – never got started.

The excuses range from “we’re still studying that” to “we got busy and didn’t have time” and as many others in between as there are grains of sand on the beach. But the villain was really that dread disease, inertia. Sameness is comfortable, even if it leads to failure. Familiarity is much more comfortable than the unknown and change means taking steps into the unknown. Yes, you study the activities and are relatively certain that they won’t lead to disaster. Following the same methods, the same procedures, and talking to the same people is much easier than altering your methods, changing procedures and finding new people to talk to (like prospects instead of clients).

The worst-case scenario is when the dollars are spent and the activity never takes place. Failure (i.e. losing money) becomes inevitable and the agent will usually blame the loss on the fact that he “tried” something new and it didn’t work. He didn’t “try” anything! He spent money on the change, but didn’t implement it!

So my advice is to study a problem and identify a number of creative solutions. But most of all DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING – different from what you’ve done in the past. If you are not satisfied with your results you MUST change.

Why? That’s best described by re-stating the Chinese definition of insanity – DOING THE SAME THINGS THAT FAILED IN THE PAST AND EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS IN THE FUTURE. Something – Anything – is preferable to the sameness of a failed project, a declining book of business, a frustrating internal organization. More often than not the process that you implement for change will work better than the process you left.

I don’t recommend head-long charges into oblivion. Nor do I suggest that you read a book or an article (or visit with a consultant) and blindly follow their leads because they are excited about the process of change. You must first understand your problem. Then you must analyze your situation and derive potential solutions. Finally, you must select the solution most likely to succeed. THEN – JUST DO IT (and track the results). If the solution does not work just right, change it! But give a solution enough time to work before altering it (usually three months) and don’t even consider changing the process or solution if you didn’t implement it in the first place. Go back to your starting point and implement the solution that you analyzed and found to be the best alternative for your problem.

We at Agency Consulting Group, Inc. are Change Agents. We are happy to help any insurance agent change an organization to maximize its success. But we do not wish to participate in the change process if the results are changes that never occur and good ideas that are laid to rest simply dying from the dread disease, Inertia.