Well, it’s finally over! The politicians and the media have proven that “We The People” can be influenced, swayed and overloaded to the point that we tacitly approve of an immoral man leading our country – in the name of a “claim” of general popularity and the claim that other leaders performed in a similarly immoral manner. What would you say to your child who claims that stealing from a store is o.k. because it’s a “game” that many other children have played, as well? And, anyway, he’s a good boy otherwise!
But why am I rehashing this? And why bring it up in a newsletter dedicated to sound management principles? Because there are valuable lessons to be learned that affect our businesses, both positively and negatively.
1. Say it often enough and do it in print – people will eventually believe you. Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has conducted polls and focus groups for many years to help agents enhance service to their customers. The very hardest thing in the polling or focus group process is to ask questions in such a way as not to lead the audience. It is very easy to form questions in such a way that the answers justify your desired position. In our recent Washington experience, the pundits and media assigned to poll the public staunchly and admittedly favored one view. Were the polls accurate? Were they reported accurately? Were the questions neutral or biased? Will we ever know? Who knows? And that is precisely the point. Whether right or wrong, the polls were publicized and used to further influence people who would otherwise be righteously indignant. “After all,” we say to ourselves, “if so many people feel that he’s doing a good job…”
Now, how does that affect the management and advancement of your insurance business? Don’t learn from immoral activities, but learn the process because it works in a moral way, as well. What would happen if you conducted customer satisfaction surveys and found that most of your customers felt that you did a very good job in managing their insurable risks? The lesson above teaches us that you can not be a better salesman for your agency than can your own customers. But you must publicize the results, good or bad. If the results show weaknesses, publish them with solutions that you are implementing to improve. If the results are good, publish them – publicly and frequently. The simple repetitive process will familiarize prospects and the public with the image that your customers have of your agency. Image eventually becomes reality for prospects who have not yet had the experience of dealing with your agency.
2. Trivializing mistakes and flooding the market with the triviality of the errors, makes them sound trivial, whether they were or not. This is one area that lends itself to politics, but not to insurance businesses. We rarely are faced with problems that require this type of handling to the public.
But we have seen seemingly distressing financial results converted to a positive image by casting them as investments in future growth and work effort in-process. For instance, a merger or an acquisition could, in fact, increase expense and result in losses in the short term in order to yield the desired long-term results. Results that could alarm employees or financiers must be explained in the most positive way possible in order to have others see situations in their correct interpretation.
Political “spin” implies trivializing and casting opinion in a direction meant to mislead the public. However, applying principle-based management also permits you to correct seemingly difficult results by interpreting them differently.
3. It is easier to be slightly (or more) immoral about both politics and about business than to follow a principle-based path. If you have dozens (or hundreds) of “web-spinners” working for you, you may even create an alternative universe in which your actions become innocent. However, most of us find it difficult to keep track of any inherently incorrect statements. We must always remind ourselves of the track we have taken in order to maintain the image that we create. How much easier is it to maintain an image that is simple and honest. It may not yield you the same results as quickly as embellishment, but, in the long term, it is the more honorable way of operating a business or your life. Those who have nothing to hide need not create new interpretations of reality. They simply live their lives in honesty.
Many of us have simply and quietly chosen to lead principle-based lives. We don’t need to publicize the fact. If our conscience is sensitive and remains our guide, our businesses will continue to thrive in trust relationships. Principles do not vary. They can not be interpreted differently. They define the “right” thing to do. The best way of determining if something is a principle is by stating it in the opposite. If the new statement simply doesn’t make sense, the original statement defines a principle.
For instance, “I will be truthful to my customers at all times” is a principle. The reverse, “I will sometimes be truthful to my customers” simply doesn’t make sense. You would certainly not want to advertise the second statement, would you? If you are embarrassed to state it, it counters a principle.
Whether these principle-based leaders are driven by religious beliefs or a moral code of conduct taught to them by their parents, seek them out and do business with them. We know a number of agents who choose to refuse to deal with clients when they identify them as not principle-based. In the long run, these agents avoid many pitfalls that the rest of us encounter when a client that we know is not principle-based acts that way to us.
We even know politicians who are principle-based. But their dedication to principle is tested daily in a place like Washington and I’m not sure any of us would succeed any differently than those basically honest men and women if we were thrust into that lion’s den. This does not forgive or diminish their actions. It simply explains them.