ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

WHITE NOISE

If you are like most people in the United States, you suffer from White Noise without even knowing it. We simply are presented much more information every day than we could possible absorb. The smartest of us are unconsciously organized enough to sort out the e-mails, calls, faxes, television commercials, ads in public transportation, on the streets and in every store on every package. We actually don’t even see them anymore.

The problem is within the millions of bits of information offered to us every day, there lays gems of wisdom and keys to success that we would love to have only if we only had the time to identify the information as critical to us, personally.

We are not egotistical enough to think that all the articles in the PIPELINE every month are among those types of ‘pearls of wisdom.’ But some of our information is quite valuable to you as an agency owner or someone interested in agency management issues. And, for the most part, you are missing this important data – regularly.

How do we know? Because when we are consulting with you and identify the source of a problem, the solutions have often appeared (some several times) in the past issues of the PIPELINE! We simply give back to you what was defined several times over a number of years. Is the lack of comprehension of programs that would profit an agent a purposeful effort on the part of otherwise smart insurance agents to avoid potential opportunities to improve their growth and profitability? Of course not.

The problem is the predominance of ‘White Noise’ drowns the valuable material you are sent along with all of the inconsequential advertising and promotions that come your way. If you walked along a street and saw a single, shining bright gold nugget lying on the ground amidst the dirt and grass, you would most certainly pick it up. But what if everything in the street was colored in the same gold color as the nugget? You would likely miss the valuable item because they all look alike. Similarly, those of us who receive hundreds of e-mails every day are seeing hundreds of gold-colored documents. Which ones do you actually read? Which ones do you delete and which ones are kept ‘in case I may want to read it later’ although later rarely comes and those potential ‘pearls of wisdom’ end up being deleted days, weeks or months later – still unread.

So how do you turn off the White Noise in your inbox or in your mail or in your telephone messages?

One of the men I respected most as I was maturing was an agent, a third-generation, big city agent who was passing his agency to his own next generation. As the head of a business with over 100 employees 30 years ago, this gentleman was deluged with both mail and phone calls daily; email was not available back then. Yet he never stressed over either his backlog or even about responding to his calls.

His assistant, to whom every call was routed, knew him well enough to know who the ‘A’ players and ‘B’ players were in his life (personal and professional). ‘A’ players (there were never more than 10 or 15 identified) got through to the boss even if it meant interrupting him (unless he was with another ‘A’ player). ‘B’ players’ messages were kept – by the assistant, not by the agent- for his response when he was available to call back. Even if the boss was available, no one but ‘a’ players got through to him in real time. Everyone else was called back, even if it was five minutes later. In this way, my friend was in control of his time, not the other way around. All other messages were ignored. A ton of people, including some clients, most insurance company people and more than a few relatives didn’t make the ‘A’ List (many didn’t make the ‘B’ list either).

But when I asked my friend why he kept such a rigid prioritization, he told me, “Al, POWER LIES IN CONTROL. If you control yourself and your time, you maintain the power position in all things. Everyone loses control at times, but by regaining your time and your composure, you can once again control your own schedule and your priorities.”

My friend didn’t always have an assistant that ran interference for him. But he refused to take calls from anyone but a select list, choosing to call back sometimes immediately when he was available.

He was a TIME MANAGER before time management was popular for anyone but industrial engineers.

Now fast forward to today.

We are literally DELUGED with White Noise. Most of it now comes to us in the form of e-mail. Some of us will be seen answering e-mail from the time we open our eyes until those last e-mail messages before we silence our phones and computers. And messaging, instant or otherwise, is now adding even more White Noise to our lives except that the white noise of messaging is often acknowledged to be time abusers and is rarely critical. If they were critical, a phone call is much more informative and immediate than a message.

So how can we identify our ‘A’ priorities and our ‘B’ priorities in these days of instant messaging and instant response to e-mails 24/7?

The answer is very much the process that my friend employed several decades ago.

If you have a secretary or an assistant, have him/her discard your mail and e-mail and phone calls, including messages, several times each day. Do not let your assistant’s priorities rule your life. The assistant works for you to make your work life more effective, not the other way around.

Rule 1 - Give your assistant a list of your ‘A’ priority people from whom you will accept a call, mail item, e-mail or message any time. Either set aside several segments of time each day or have your assistant identify when you can make other calls or draft responses and have the assistant control that process. This is the time you use to contact or respond to ‘B’ priority people.

IGNORE EVERYTHING ELSE OR GIVE IT TO SOMEONE ELSE TO HANDLE! If you have a good assistant, their job is to get the person most likely to respond to any issue to handle that issue.

If you don’t have an assistant, cull your e-mail and messages based on the source and subject. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be tempted to open an e-mail that is evidently a retail advertisement or is from an unknown party. The subject line and “From” data tells you enough to identify whether the sender is an ‘A’ or ‘B’ person, or not. In most agencies, mail is opened prior to it reaching your desk. Whoever is smart enough to open the mail can certainly identify if it comes from one of your ‘A’ people or not. ‘A’s come to you immediately. ‘B’s wait in an aged stack (oldest on top) awaiting your or your assistant’s disposition usually assignment to someone else to handle.

If this sounds like the old Prioritization of Work process, it is. As my friend so elegantly put it, “Either YOU control your life or others do. If you think you are accomplishing anything when others control your life, you’re fooling yourself.”

Today, I received 20 or 30 items in the mail and over 200 e-mails. I heard the 10-15 messages tone on my telephone, but I figured if it was someone who needed me immediately, he would have called me. I saw none of the mail items (the ladies in my office know how to handle those transactions). I skimmed the subjects and From line on my e-mails to identify if any e-mail derived from MY ‘A’s. I left a few ‘B’s in case I have time later in the day. I deleted everything else. My assistants know that this is their role before I come into work every day, as well, so I don’t lose time every morning trying to figure out what was or was not important in those overnight e-mails.

Rule 2 – UNSUBSCRIBE to everything that comes to you more than once that you don’t (and will likely never) need to see. Unsubscribe works well. Most legitimate e-mailers have it available (albeit in the fine print at the bottom of the e-mail). It works for us, as well. The only thing we do is send a personal e-mail to verify that the ‘unsubscriber’ really doesn’t ever want to see our ‘stuff’ again.

Rule 3 – The subject line tells you all you need to know to determine if an e-mail justifies your time reading it, or not. In e-mail subscriptions like the PIPELINE, we give teasers ahead of every article to show you in a moment what the topic covers so you know whether or not you want to read it. Other newsletter services like the PIA National Newsline provides a list of article topics at the top of every issue, each linking you to the meat of the subject.

We already know that most readers will not adhere to the time management principles that would give them control over their business lives. Most of us seek diversions from our priorities instead of doggedly pursuing those priorities. That’s why the Internet is so popular at work in the owners’ offices as well as at the employees’ desks. We will continue to complain that we worked hard all day and didn’t get anything done.

But a few people will become Waste Killers and will quietly become the controllers of their business lives instead of being ruled by the myriad of others, employees, clients, friends, etc who purposely or inadvertently would take control of their lives without a thought. To those few people we dedicate this article. Hopefully this newsletter will gain the prominence to be an ‘A’ or ‘B’ priority and that control will include enhancement of the agency’s growth and profitability as a natural result.