ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

ANOTHER LOOK AT THE SEVEN HABITS

It's no secret to most of our clients (and our readers) that we try to live our lives according Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". It's no secret to our family and staff that it is as difficult to always be in the 7 Habits as it is to always stay on our diets. The best that we can say is that we know when we are out of the 7 Habits as well as we know when we are eating or drinking things that we should not.

But every once in a while we contemplate why it is so hard to live within the habits that we know would make us both happier with ourselves and more successful in our dealings with others. I'd like to share with you why I think living the 7 Habits is difficult and how we believe we can be better at it.

1. Be Proactive – We can't even decide where we want to go to lunch every day, let alone being ahead of the curve and making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen and reacting to those occurrences. Simply stated – reacting is easier than acting proactively. It takes less brain-power to react than to act in the first place. The result is often less than desirable, but it's easier. My staff believes that when I'm in a proactive position, I'm ‘stirring the pot' and looking for things that will cause more work. In fact, many proactive steps require additional activities between their creation and their implementation. But those proactive steps (i.e. new marketing efforts) make new opportunities happen.

So we like to have a five-minute ‘Stir the Pot' session at each staff meeting during which we write down every idea that can make us better (personally, professionally, and business-oriented) for evaluation after the meeting. And, because we want the best ideas to rise to implementation, an incentive is awarded to every idea once it bears fruit (achieves defined results).

2. Begin With The End In Mind – This is the Planning Gene that resides in every one of us but is usually suppressed in favor of the ‘Doing-Without-Thinking Gene' (otherwise known as the ‘We Ought To' Gene) – How much easier is it to say "We Ought To (complete the sentence in any way you would like)..." and then retire to exactly what we were doing previously, satisfied that we told the group what should happen, but without taking the responsibility for making it happen. Planning, of course, involves much more work in the creation of an Objective, Action Plans that will make the Objective happen and Benchmarks that will measure whether it is happening (and allow for adjustments) during the year. Laziness sometimes masks itself as the attitude that nothing can be planned and we work as hard as we can, hoping for positive results (that is in the hands of some FATE or Deity to resolve). But laziness, it is!! We know that by observing different agencies in the same circumstances, geography, with the same carriers achieving very different results based on one creating, implementing and managing a Plan while the other works hard and hopes for the best.

3. Put First Things First – I look at a staff member who, while a little compulsive, sets a determined course to prioritize work, trying to keep the chaos of our normal office activities from disrupting her performance and compare that against my, sometimes disruptive, schedule that flexes with every crisis and client call. At the end of the day, she is much more likely to achieve progress toward her priorities than I am toward mine. It makes me feel important, that I'm working hard, and leaves me exhausted every day to work in my mine-field of a role. I find it so boring to have a list of things to do in priority order and doing them, ignoring the fire-alarms that are raised to distract me.

But, by definition, I know that some things are more important than others. So I reward myself with a treat for accomplishing the most important thing on my desk every day. Sometimes it works and other times it does not. But I certainly know the difference between being busy and being productive. This Habit has taught me that. And I constantly remind myself and list my primary priorities of the day.

4. Think Win-Win – I grew up in the same dog-eat-dog world as many others going through college, corporate careers and competitive business ventures. I love winning. But I never won as much and as many times as I did after understanding the Win-Win position defined by Covey. The statement that properly states the philosophy is "Win-Win or Don't Play the Game". Don't do anything that will either take advantage of others or allow them to take advantage of you.

This means that I want to make a good living from consulting, but only if my clients always think that I am more valuable because of the results they get than their cost of my services.

This means that we close more mergers, sales and acquisitions than ever by stopping those in which either one side or the other has an unfair advantage. As you can imagine, we do not work for the ‘sharks' in the insurance business as a result. But a buyer or seller never says that the transaction didn't work or wasn't fair after the fact and we get to sleep very well every night.

This even means that I help as many agents with problems as I can, even before we form an association because I would rather keep them out of trouble now than have to charge them to get them out of trouble later.

But, Win-Win does NOT mean that you permit anyone, staff, client or others to ‘use' you without benefit to both parties. For many agents, they find themselves taken advantage of by staff members in the fašade of being understanding of their needs beyond those of the agency. Be careful. You need not become antagonistic to anyone that might be using you poorly. But you must confront anyone within your organization or your client objectively asking how their actions adhere to a Win-Win for both of you.

5. Seek First to Understand, and Then Be Understood – This is my worst performing habit. I know that I need to give the other person time to express him- or her-self before launching into my comments or responses. But, like many Type A personalities, I feel I don't have the TIME to wait for them to complete their thoughts and I interrupt. I also feel I'll forget the thought I'm having if I don't say something NOW! Sometimes I am correct in my interpretation of their ideas but often I am NOT. And regardless of whether I am right or wrong, it certainly doesn't make them feel any better, nor is it likely to result in ready acceptance of my concepts.

I have asked my staff to caution me when I disregard this Habit and I hope I can remain patient enough to honor their ideas. I suggest that you do the same. Even though it may take longer, if it means that you understand the entire position better – or if it means that you can make a better educated decision that will be accepted better by the other party, it is well worth-while. And, remember, if you do this internally, you are likely to also commit this blunder with your family and customers (even though you may feel that you are always in a fair and balanced position). Keep this habit in mind and SLOW DOWN your mile-a-minute style.

6. Synergize – The combined ideas of many minds is ALWAYS more productive and effective than the ideas of one – or even of the sum of ideas of many individuals. Synergy is the way we can maximize our individual and our group effectiveness. Our Strategic Planning process is created to synergize our thoughts to the best interest of our organization and our Organizational Development efforts with our clients always try to create synergy instead of concentrate on utilizing the skills and talents of people as individuals.

Sometimes I like working a project on my own, as do others, to an end that I feel is most effective. I've tried to keep my actions to myself, knowing that any interruption would degrade the result. I've presented finished products to others only to find that they were blind-sided and, without the benefit of the thought process that I employed to get to the end result, they have no way of understanding the benefits as well as I did myself. So I ended up having to "sell" well-developed ideas and going through the entire genesis of the project before the others could understand it as well as I did myself. But if we include others in our process, even in review and editing, we will find our results are generally better than if we do it alone and more accepted by all.

It takes a confident person to include others and synergize. Synergy is not something you do without exercising the first five Habits. It is an advanced concept, but if you are implementing the other Habits, Synergy is the whipped cream on the pie.

7. Sharpen the Saw - this is my favorite Habit, one that keeps paying dividends and one that I hope all clients and readers employ. It is a no-lose scenario. Constant self-improvement is an activity that keeps you moving forward, regardless of your age, experience and skill set. Every employee will be more valuable to you as well as to themselves by continuous improvement. Not only will you and they enjoy more productivity, but self-esteem builds and when you think better of yourself, so does everyone else.

Please resist the urge to keep people from developing for fear that they will leave you or want a job different than the one you have assigned them. No one is an indentured servant to a company. If they are not satisfied with their role in life, they will eventually leave you, not leave you and disrupt your productivity or be miserable every day. None of these benefit you, the organization or the employee. More likely the employees will become more productive if they are allowed to continually develop.

Please purchase and read this book if you haven't. Re-read it every six months or so to remind yourself of the things that will make you better as a person and as a businessperson. You will not regret the time spent in review.