By: Al Diamond, President, Agency Consulting Group, Inc. and Will Decuzzi, Security Analyst, Agency Consulting Group, Inc.
HOW TO RESOLVE THE LOSS OF PRODUCTIVE TIME IN INSURANCE AGENCIES
Last night I was perusing some old photos a friend sent me in my email. There were several of the venerable TV news icon; Walter Cronkite. There he was in all of his highly structured, professionalism conveying the “news”. I began my busy day with my normal coffee and a quick look at the local morning TV news channel before heading off to the office. As I watched there were four commentators sitting around the news desk squinting into their smartphones, live on the air! They spent 4.5 minutes reading tweets and FaceBook postings regarding a “story” about a sports trade. I thought to myself, “is this the most important news of the day?” Suddenly I found the image of Walter Cronkite flashing back in my mind.
I was struck by this point; I was watching a 30 minute morning news show. The show was abbreviated by three, two minute commercial breaks, leaving only 24 minutes of actual news; subtract two three minute traffic and weather reports, leaving 18 minutes of “news” time. At that moment I realized that this article was leading the Pipeline this month. I am not a technophobe; on the contrary, I embrace the value of what properly implemented and exercised tech does for me and my business. The stark contrast of the two images; Walter Cronkite and these four commentators squinting and giggling as they read their social media feeds. It is a metaphor of the impact of tech on our lives and businesses.
Think of this newscast, a limited block of time, for which the viewers give up valuable time in the start of their day to hear important news related to the area where they live and work. Were the commentators stealing time from their employer or the viewers? How about the producer and the editors who failed to fill the time with important information in such a finite time allotment? Does this scenario sound familiar? Are you people sitting in the office saying, “hey let’s steal some time from our employer by wasting a fifth of the time they pay us for on Twitter or FaceBook? No, but is the loss in productivity the same as if they out rightly decided to rip you off? Unfortunately, the answer is a troubling YES. So here is the article.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how many people you have, there always seems to be a backlog and projects never seem to be completed? What if you could make yourself and your employees more productive? How would you like to gain 25% more efficiency in your agency without adding a single new staff member?
Those numbers themselves are alarming. If you consider that the normal fulltime staff member generally works 1920 hrs/yr (52 wks @ 5 days @ 8 hrs reduced by 10 days vacation and 10 holidays) that means that you are losing over 20% of your agency’s productive time (and your money) to waste.
Not happening in your little agency? Are you sure? Even the most honest, dependable people will take advantage. Trust through verification– people are less likely to misbehave when they know someone is watching.
Employees don’t waste their time out of malice. Whether bored or stressed, both are common excuses for that phone call, text, or internet view.
According to studies the Millennials (born between 1982 and 2004) consider their technology as extensions of themselves. When polled; 53% say they would rather give up their sense of smell than their technology (The Blaze, 5/26/11). Phones and the Internet are a part of their lives. They will even interrupt high priority activities for a social media response or other technological distractions.
WHAT TO DO?
The process of correcting this problem requires a delicate and incremental adjustment of culture in your business. An abrupt implementation of seemingly draconian measures to control the staff would result in extreme responses. When not carefully implemented we have seen staff members morale drop along with already suffering productivity and in some cases they outright quit. Beginning a discussion with staff about the facts previously discussed is the first step. The discussion should continue over a period of time to accentuate the positive results of the throttled use of such technology and its increase in office productivity. As productivity rises, the stress on staff to “catch up” subsides and that should become the theme of the ongoing discussion about this topic. Over time you will adjust the culture in your business to be much more positive and productive without creating an air of oppositional management versus staff attitudes.
Procedural changes in your agency
Cell Phone Use
1. For generations we have discouraged using Company phones for personal business. That has become a norm in industry. It’s time adjust that rule. Company rules must limit the use of cell phones during business hours.
i. Tell your employees to leave their cell phones in their cars. They are available during lunch, breaks, and after work and to give everyone the office phone number in case of emergencies. We want to be more productive, not less human.
ii. Most time wasted on the cell phone is not due to handling “emergencies.”, that is just a convenient excuse. Most wasted time is due to casual calls and incessant texting, the normal activity on a personal cell phone. BUSINESS HOURS ARE FOR BUSINESS USE. WE PAY FOR X HRS/DAY. WE WOULD LIKE THE EMPLOYEES TO DEVOTE THEIR TIME TO COMPANY BUSINESS.
iii. Most employees feels will demand that their cell phones must remain within reach. A simple exercise designed to expose the impact they have on productivity is to implement a temporary cell phone “purgatory”; ALL CELL PHONES ARE PLACED IN A SECURE AREA (at the manager’s/owner’s desk) for the day. If an emergency call comes in (the only reason that a cell phone call should be made or received) the manager will answer it and relay the message or give the call to the employee. Most agencies find that it will only take a few days of this procedure to eliminate 99% of all cell phone call, texts and social media interruptions.
While we applaud agencies like McLean Insurance Protection Team of Ontario, Canada who has implemented their own telephone security protocols and has forbidden employee use of cell phones in the agency during business hours, such stringent measures may not be realistic in all cases. McLean may have a culture that accepts strong rules like this while many agencies operate under somewhat lax and friendly, family-oriented guidelines that would consider this rule too onerous.
Unlike the use of private cell phones, computer use on the company network is very clear cut. Although not directly targeting our industry, SOX 404 (Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 section 404) specifically outlines Federal mandates regarding data handling, access and security procedures on company networks. Every company should have a clear set of published computer activity and security procedures embedded in their employee rules that each employee signs.
1. Computer use at work MUST BE limited to Company business. Both e-mail use and website access are culprits to a myriad of problems that plague agencies (and most other businesses) and cost thousands of dollars each year to resolve. A procedure, alone, is insufficient to accomplish this standard expectation. Key Logging software is available that, once installed, permits reports and audits of web use at any computer in your agency. Some of the most effective this year (based on Wells Research Reviews) are:
iv. Create a procedure in your agency telling all employees that, because of the threat of viruses and Trojans, web access should be limited to only sites needed for agency business. In the event of any system problem sourcing from websites, software has been installed to monitor email, IM/Chat, and general web usage to determine which sites were the most likely sources of any infestation that may affect the network.
Change the way you measure productivity
For generations insurance agencies have worked by the clock – acting like an assembly line for processing transactions. We pay hourly or we pay a salary based on working a minimum number of hours. The days of processing transactions are drawing to a close. Before many PIPELINE readers retire normal transactions for an insurance policy will be handled by the client, him or herself, via home computers or smartphones. The agent will continue to know about the transactions on the back end but, unless advice is needed, simple processing isn’t worth what the carriers are paying us and they often delay, rather than speed, delivery of end product to the customer.
Our new focus will be on the generation of new business and the retention of clients, functions that should be of optimal concern for carriers. Our focus as agents will be all about building and maintaining strong customer relationships; well worth the commissions paid to us. If we become relationship managers instead of transaction processors, we should measure ourselves (and our employees) based on their cross-selling efforts (for expansion of business for existing clients), referral achievements (to use the current client base for growing new clients) and the retention of clients (the heartbeat of the agency). Premiums rise and fall with the economy and rating structures, but clients are forever (we hope).
If we were to shift our paradigm to evaluating our staff members based upon these bench marks; cross selling, referrals and retention, we would see a rapid and abrupt paring of ‘dead wood’. You would be able to retain performers and recruit new ones who are aligned with the new paradigm.
The procedures for telephone use and internet use can be implemented in most agencies. They simply make sense even though they appear to restrict the employees. You’re doing this for the sake of enhanced productivity in your workplace. The change from time-based productivity and compensation to Incentive-based Compensation is harder and requires more ‘engineering’ within your agency. We would be happy to help you build this structure. Just call us at 800 779 2430.
A Final Option
One of the least publicized (but critical) functions that Agency Consulting Group, Inc. can perform for agencies is the measurement and audit of the agency’s security systems including telephone and internet. This is totally non-intrusive and is done overnight through remote access to provide you with regular reports of any misuse of systems beyond procedural tolerance in your agency. This service is tailored to your needs so it can be a single project, regular reporting to you, or scheduled audits. Please call us if you would like to use this service.
Wrangling back control of your business and employee productivity is not a simple task. You are literally changing your business culture. Such actions are not simple. There may be ‘flash-back’ from employees who are used to the liberal attitudes that pay them for time used personally. The employees who may choose to leave you are those who will abuse their next employer and feel it their right to use Company time for personal business. Only agents who ‘stand tall’ and live by their principles will be able to implement recommendations like these. We can help you implement these changes in a smooth, courteous but firm way. Many will not have the fortitude to implement such procedures and rules. Unfortunately their failure to do so will soon cost them their profitability and likely their business. Business today is difficult; allowing such wasteful behaviors to continue can be catastrophic. If you are ready to regain control of your own business and rebuild it into a viable, professional and growing organization, implement ideas like these and call us to discuss your particular situation.