Have any of these situations happened to you recently:
- an experienced CSR quits abruptly and leaves a large share of commercial clients temporarily “orphaned";
- your account manager needs to process a renewal for a client but can't find the Word document on your server, or;
- a producer loses a key account at renewal due to an aggressive price/coverage bid from a competitor.
In these circumstances, the reaction of a brokerage principal is crucial. Many leaders throw themselves into the crisis and try to solve the problem themselves. The thinking is the universal – “this is my business, I have to fix it.” There’s a term for this: the “hero model" (Disclaimer: I have slipped into the hero role more than I care to remember).
The distinct downfall, or opportunity cost, with this approach is that the time you spend putting out fires is also the time you’re not dedicating to strategically running the business. Principals, especially in small-to-mid sized commercial shops, are often found working “in” the business, not “on” the business.
Crises are operational kryptonite
Jumping to solutions can reveal some structural weaknesses in an operation. For example, why must the business slow down when a CSR leaves? There should be a process for client service that is documented and embedded within the brokerage, allowing anyone to seamlessly carry on customer service. Or why should a principal be involved in finding lost documents, or be the glue that holds client sales and retention together?
Many successful brokerages are still run like a one-person shops. This is actually typical of many businesses, as the principals have often built their organization from the ground-up. However, this leaves many brokerage owners feeling like they’re at a crossroads. Why?
Because they’re busy solving crises and have little time to take a big-picture view of the business. They don’t have the time to think about crucial elements of the organization – sales process, growth strategies, client messaging, vision, employee engagement, team development. As a result, they are “getting by” but not “getting great.”
Start 'getting great'
Over twenty years of working with commercial brokers has given us insight into what successful brokers do to be great. Here are three practical tips to help you work "on" the business, not "in" it:
Delegate, delegate, delegate. The next time you find yourself slipping into the role of problem-fixer, ask, "Can my employees address and solve this issue.” Chances are they can. Give them an opportunity. If not, discover why the situation at hand is causing problems. Is it a process or procedural issue that can be fixed? Can routine, repeatable tasks be automated and standardized across your brokerage?
2. Set aside time to work on the business
Take at least one day per week (or 3-5 days per month, even at an off-site location) to work on the business. Don’t let thoughts or discussion get bogged down by the details of day-to-day operations. Think about “soft” issues like vision, mission and messaging, but also set ambitious targets in “hard” areas such as earnings, closing ratios, growth, operating expense, commission per producer/employee. Communicate both sides of the targets (soft and hard) to everyone throughout the organization.
3. Look beyond the familiar
Think outside the business of insurance. Sure, you can follow what insurance markets and other brokers are doing, but how do other businesses/entrepreneurs experiment in different segments of the economy? Are there new ideas or approaches relevant to your business? Could these provide some innovative applications to marketing, client retention or service enhancements? Start talking to your customers about their approaches to different business issues.
Working 'in' the business is the classic case of getting lost in the trees and not seeing the forest. But when you lift your head out of the trees of day-to-day operations, you get a much better view of where your business currently stands – and where it can go in the future.
Topics: Best practices