As most readers know, we are living practioners of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as codified by Stephen R. Covey in 1989 when he was 57 years old. We lost Stephen to a bicycling accident in 2012, but the principals he wrote in the “7 Habits” have been and continue to be life-changing for those who subscribe to an ethics-based life in both personal and business matters.
We believe so firmly in the principals of the 7 Habits that we re-read them and act upon them regularly. We recommend that you pull it down from your shelf (at 25 Million sold, I know that most of us have at least one copy somewhere) and re-read it yourself. If you can’t find your copy invest in a new one. The message never gets old.
But for those who may view the 7 Habits from a generalist’s standpoint, we would like to re-iterate the habits specifically for insurance agents. Over the next eight months, (except for the October’s PIPELINE Composite Group Annual Issue, that every Habit applies to us within our own industry.
Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has incorporated the 7 Habits in all of its consulting and training modules. Many of our clients will find these principals very familiar indeed.
Habit 1 – Be Proactive
How often have we heard agents bemoaning their situations by pointing out the faults in everyone and everything (except in themselves)? It’s the companies – It’s the economy – It’s the regulators – It’s the disloyal customers – It’s the weather conditions – It’s the direct writers – It’s the banks – It’s the unmotivated employees that are the causes of all of my problems. I just react to those influences trying to stay in business.
But if these reasons are real and not excuses, why are there successful insurance agents and agencies out there growing and profiting even in these times?
The answer is that some agents are reactive while others choose to respond to the same stimuli in proactive ways. If you find yourself reacting to reduced revenues caused by soft markets and reduced commissions by cutting back on marketing and sales costs and reducing staff, how can you expect to ever grow again? We have never seen a company shrink to greatness – have you?
The opposite of being proactive is being reactive. This means we come to our agency every day without a plan of action nor objectives that we can accomplish personally in the course of the day or week. People ‘pull our strings’ and we’re off to the races. One problem arises and we address it, irregardless of whether it is a Quadrant Two (Quadrant One is Important but not Urgent; Quadrant Two is both Important and Urgent; Quadrant Three is Urgent but not Important; and Quadrant Four is neither Urgent nor Important) that may deserve our attention or something that should have or could have been delegated to others to remedy. One problem follows another and one crisis follows another until it’s time to go home and NOTHING has been accomplished that would move you closer to your true short term or long term objectives. You feel rightfully frustrated for having accomplished nothing and you feel like everyone else in the agency is your boss instead of you being a leader to your staff.
Being proactive begins with YOU! Whether you are a list-keeper or not, begin with setting one or two goals, major or minor, that you will accomplish. Start small. Set a goal or two for the day and let it be known what those goals are (publicly). Telling others of your goals makes them more real. Others will now see if you are accomplishing what you desired or are slipping back into old habits. Eventually, you will set loftier and longer-term goals, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual, that you will work toward on a day-by-day basis.
Your behavior gets the results that you desire. You begin to believe that you can, in fact, choose what you want to do and be responsible for your own actions. Will you slip? Of course. But it’s not whether you fail or succeed that counts – it’s whether you pick yourself up and regain your equilibrium to go back to the actions that you know will give you your results.
When your staff brings you the next problem, ask them a very simple question, “What would you do to solve the problem?” If they don’t know, help them work through it – don’t take the problem and do it yourself. This is a learning tool for staff members who should know how to resolve most of the problems that are thrown your way. If they know what to do, ask them for at least two alternatives. If there’s only one possible alternative and they already know what it is, why do they need to bring it to you? If there is more than one alternative answer, ask them which they would choose and either agree or disagree and work through why another alternative may be better (another learning moment).
Your goal with this exercise is to refute the game of “Monkey Transfer.” Everyone is always willing to transfer the monkey to someone else to carry and resolve. Why should it be you? Your mantra should be that the ‘Monkey’ always transfers down, never up.
Most agency owners suffer from a lack of focus and priorities complicated by confusion over what they should do versus what others should do. Some of this confusion is created because we try to address issues (carrier, customer and staff-related) that are of concern to us but beyond our ability to change. Covey called this the Circle of Concern vs. the Circle of Influence. You may worry about world peace and the insurance company’s underwriting attitude but unless you can do something about it personally, spending inordinate amounts of time dealing with these issues is useless when there are so many things that are directly in your path of influence that you can address.
Tomorrow set one minor goal that you wish to accomplish. Tell your closest staff member of your priority and celebrate when it is done. There will still be plenty of time to parry all the monkeys that will be handed up to you. On the next day, do the same thing but choose a more intense objective or choose two small goals. Keep going until you have the wherewithal to pick something that will take a half-day to accomplish that only you should be working upon. Tell your staff to hold calls and not bother you while you finish your key priority of the day. I promise you’ll get it done faster than you thought (if you don’t stray to the Internet or email or other mundane things – just to get them out of the way) and you’ll still have time to address the other issues that arise every day.
Practice Covey’s Habit 1 – Be Proactive. Be alert to those reactive moments. Knowing when they happen is half the battle. Next month, Habit 2 Begin With The End In Mind. If you can spare the time (Quadrant 2) “cheat” and read ahead. Get your copy of Covey’s book and read through it. It certainly isn’t hard reading and, if you’re like me, it will charge you up because these are truly easy to do…