Every agency has a culture, a way of doing business and interacting with its customers, whether intended or not. As the end of the year approaches and planning for the new year is underway, it’s a good time for an agency’s owners to think about their agency’s culture and decide if it’s what they want it to be. If not, how and what can be done to change it. That was the subject of an interesting presentation I attended at IIAG’s Fall Conference last month.
The presenter was David Siekman of Agency Performance Partners. He pointed out what seems obvious and has been confirmed by research. Agencies with engaged and happy employees are more profitable than other agencies, the research concluding that the difference is around 20%. His suggested approach was to begin with the creation of a mission statement for the agency. Why does it exist? Then move on to how the stated mission of the agency can be accomplished and finally, determine what specific actions can be taken to create the culture that is desired. He made the point that this cannot be a top down process, as no lasting change can be made to the culture of an agency without the participation and buy-in of its employees. To get that buy-in, the agency’s employees should be involved in every step of the above process.
However, the first action step to building a culture does not involve the agency’s employees and may be the hardest. It requires the agency’s leader(s) to engage in an honest self-assessment of whether their actions reflect the desired culture. Do as I say and not as I do will not work here. To lead by example requires an agency’s leader(s) to spend significant time in the office demonstrating the behavior that is expected of every employee.
The other action steps Mr. Siekman discussed were generally what you would expect, create standard processes for doing the work of the agency and hold employees accountable for failing to follow them, reward those employees who do follow them, obtain technology that is compatible with the processes that are to be followed and makes them easier, and improve relationships with carriers and vendors. However, he did say a couple of things that were unexpected. He suggested that the agency’s telephones not have caller ID. When an employee knows who is calling before answering the telephone, they will answer differently depending on their relationship with the caller. If that relationship is not a good one, the telephone will probably not be answered in a way that promotes the agency’s desired culture.
Mr. Siekman also stated that the customer is not always right, but they should not be viewed as the enemy. If not for the customer, the agency’s employees would not have a job. Instead, he suggested that an agency should strive to do what is in the customer’s best interest. He also thought it was important that every agency employee be made to feel they were an integral part of the marketing, sale, and servicing of the insurance products sold by the agency. If they are engaged like that, they are more likely to look for ways to round out the agency’s accounts with it customers.
Mr. Siekman closed with an acknowledgment that building an agency’s culture can be a daunting, even overwhelming, task. To make it easier, he suggested initially focusing on three action steps that would significantly improve an agency’s culture and thus, its operation. Don’t try to do everything at once. For those agency owners who want to change their agency’s culture, that sounds like a New Year’s resolution worth making.