ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

THE PROBLEM WITH STRATEGIC PLANNING

Below is a conversation between Al Diamond and a consenting client when Strategic Planning was recommended:

“Don’t get me wrong, Al, I would love to do a strategic plan. I know that we have the staff and capability of being at least twice our size, more productive and more profitable. I’ve always wanted to add producers and grow through acquisition. And I’d love to earn more money and have a bigger asset value when I retire.

But, Al, I can’t even figure out what I’m doing tomorrow let alone in five years. I’m under stress every day. I seem to be doing nothing but firefighting. I have to make all the decisions and whenever I try to delegate, my staff seems to always come back to me with problems. Now you want me to take time off to plan FIVE YEARS into the future! I’m lucky if I can figure out what to have for lunch!”

This is the conversation we have had with hundreds of insurance agency owners when we’ve recommended Strategic Planning as the vehicle for their agencies’ development.

Folks, WE GET IT! You are the epitome of the saying, “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp.”

You all know that we are strong proponents of Strategic Business Planning. We spend a great deal of time each year helping agents create and implement Strategic and Tactical Plans because we have seen the results of Planning over a 45 year period. BUT AGENCIES THAT PLAN - SUCCEED. Zig Zieglar said, “You must plan to win.” With all due respect to Zig, I’d like to tweak his quote a little to, “To win, you must plan.”

This doesn’t imply that agencies that don’t plan, necessarily fail. Some agents don’t plan but succeed – sometimes. However those agents succeed because of their own personal strengths while planning agencies succeed because of the combined strength of all of the participants driving the agency. When non-planning agencies fail to achieve their goals, the reasons are usually because of outside influences and the agency’s inability to react to them quickly enough. Those agencies that plan set markers and frequently measure themselves changing directions or fine tune their process to flex changing conditions.

But there must be one or more reasons that so many agencies DON’T plan regularly. A lack of knowledge of the process could be one reason. Strategic Planning requires a degree of discipline with a set process going from long term goals to near-term (annual) objectives. And those business that stop there are not really planning to succeed, they are forecasting their desired results. Planning agencies take their Tactical Plans to quarterly action plans and monthly benchmarks, using these tools to manage the business on a daily basis.

Agencies that try to plan loosely and without a set process often get frustrated and become stuck in the details. They fail to conclude the plan at all or fail to create the detail necessary to make the Plan a working guide to agency operations on a daily basis for all employees. However, we will gladly share the methods and procedures of planning with any agency, whether or not they use us to help facilitate their planning. So that is probably not one of the principal reasons for the relatively few agencies that create Strategic Plans.

Setting the process aside, a reason that agency owners don’t pursue a course that would guarantee their success is either a Fear of Failure or a Fear of Success. Both of these syndromes are real. Agents understand that if they lay out what needs to be done and don’t implement the needed courses of action causing business failure, they can only point to themselves as the cause of the failure. Wayne Gretsky once clearly stated the obvious and wrote himself into the business quote books. “100% of the shots not taken don’t go into the net.”

Insurance agency owners could be great insurance professionals and still be unable to grow and profit as business managers and builders. Many small business owners would prefer to lumber along as their inertia permits rather than risk the magnifying glass represented by a structured plan.

We have also encountered agency owners who confide that they could grow and prosper with the human assets available to them but would not want to face the issues of an agency twice or three times the size of their current agency. Many actually fear the results of success. Some try to define their own personal limitations. They are comfortable in their current status and fear the level of management, personal involvement and personal effort needed to become even more successful than they have achieved to date.

I firmly believe that we must continue to move forward through our lives or stagnate. We may consider ourselves wealthy (or not), successful (or not), happy (or unfulfilled). But you only get to your end point, in business and in life, by putting one step in front of the other until your time is over. Strategic Planning helps put markers in front of ourselves that are both reasonable and achievable considering our personal and business assets. Most agents who fear the results of success are less willing to accept that those limitations are personal, not professional. Dennis Waitley, a great motivator, once said, “Procrastination is the fear of success.”

But I’ve found that Fear of Failure, Fear of Success, or lack of knowledge about planning is not the primary reason they don’t plan.

Forty-five years of experience and several thousand agency analyses have proven to us that the primary reason that insurance agents don’t create Strategic Plans is because they require an agent to know his/her long term goals. We generally have no idea of our own long term goals. This problem is not unusual to insurance agents. Most of us have no concept of long term goals besides wanting enough money to live comfortably. But if we ask what we want to be in five years, personally or professionally, we simply haven’t considered the question.

We live in “today.” Too many of us also live in “yesterday.” Few of us will take the time, effort and energy to consider ‘tomorrow.” “Too many things could change,” is one of the excuses we hear often. But all of the changes in our lives (besides our own demise) is necessarily dealt with in one fashion or another when those changes occur. In most cases, it doesn’t change our long term direction, only the roadmap to getting there. However, even if our plans change as the result of changing conditions, that change can be managed – if we understand where we were directed initially and how the conditions change our direction.

If you were driving a vehicle, you put fuel into the vehicle, you direct it down the road and you put ‘pedal to the metal.’ Imagine that the vehicle is either your life or your business; the fuel is your partner in life and your family and friends or your employees. You can direct your vehicle either down the road that is open and available to you – or you can steer by a goal and a roadmap.

Most of us will use all of our energy while we’re young (pedal to the metal), temper it in our middle age (manage what we have) and lower our energy levels in our declining years (coast as we perpetuate). But only the smartest of us will actually have the goal for either life or business and the roadmap, the Strategic Plan, for either.

Just because a road is open to you and less congested doesn’t mean it will take you in the direction that is most appropriate for you. Those of us who neither know where we’re going nor which path is the best one available to us tend to leave our course – and our end-point—to fate. If we always choose the easiest path, we’re just following Yogi Berra’s (usually questionable) advice, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it!”

I urge you to spend a few moments deciding where you want to be in five years and what you need to do to get there. You will have begun the Strategic Planning process with or without counsel and facilitation. And it really doesn’t matter whether you get precisely to your goal or have to change it as conditions change in your life and business. THE PROCESS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. “Planning is everything...plans are nothing.” -- Dwight David Eisenhower. The process of planning reality tests our goals and means of reaching them. If we find that there is no acceptable method of achieving our goals, we can change them to levels that can more reasonably be achieved with the level of effort that we are willing to expend.

Goals should meet the ROAM requirements (Realistic, Objective, Achievable and Measureable). If your goals are over-stated, you may work hard and be as successful as you can possible be but still feel as if you failed to achieve that which you targeted.

If you would like to begin the Strategic Planning process, call us (800 779 2430). If you’d like to try it alone, call us and we’ll send you the documentation needed to do-it-yourself.