ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

High Energy Agency Performance

The difference in agency attitudes, energy levels and motivation never ceases to amaze us as we travel from agency to agency in our consultations. While one agency could have excited owners, motivated managers and employees, and a spirit of entrepreneurship running through the organization, another in the same city could have desperate owners, unmotivated management, and a casual, lackadaisical service and sales team. As we analyzed the problems in one and the exceptional behavior of the other, we concluded that teamwork and energy levels were the most telling differences.

HIGH ENERGY vs. LOW ENERGY

The HEART of every agency is its owner. If the owner is excited, professional and operating at a high level of energy, he sends renewed life-blood to every employee every day. If, on the other hand, the owner is operating out of crisis every day, desperate in his attempt to keep the business afloat, he will paralyze the employees as well as himself. When we analyze an agency in flux we invariably begin at its heart, the owner. We often find that while the symptoms of the agency's problems lie in production, service or finance, the source of the difficulties is the owner.

If the agency's heart and lifeblood springs from its owner, it's DRIVE comes from the managers or key employees. Whether these people are owners or not, they either cause things to happen at an agency if they are highly motivated and have high energy, or slow down the gears until no amount of fresh blood can keep the agency circulation going. We have encountered high-energy owners who attempt to jump-start the agency over and over again only to be slowed to a crawl by low energy managers and key employees. We have also seen loyal managers and employees who desire the growth and profit of the agency tainted until they leave due to low energy owners who cannot seem to make a decision and commit to any process for more than a month at a time.

While the heart and drive of any agency responds to its owners, managers and key employees, the FUEL of any agency is its production. A consultant is hardly necessary to find the problem when an agency's performance is reviewed to find either no active producers (regardless of how many employees have that title) or too little production being accepted while retention losses keeps the agency shrinking. On the other hand, we have seen good, strong producers learn the trade at an agency only to leave it because of a lack of HEART, a lack of DRIVE or a broken ENGINE (see below). The high energy/low energy example fits producers perfectly. A few minutes with a producer discussing marketing, sales techniques and number of prospects in the "mill" quickly differentiates between the high energy producer who, win or lose, keeps pumping clients into the process and the low energy producer who shifts from extreme highs when a policy is sold to paralyzing lows when one is lost.

The service and administrative staff in every agency are the critical gears in the agency's ENGINE. If they don not operate together and in a similar fashion, the engine falters and grinds to a stop. These staff members are the most sensitive parts of the agency, easily spoiled and difficult to recover, once lost. Many agencies have recruited good, strong service staff and provided them little training, no procedures and a general lack of support once hired. "Here's your desk. When the phone rings, help the customer," is the general tenor of agency support. Then the agency owners are surprised when the employee becomes less than "high energy" and leaves within a few years. When you hire bright, high-energy staff members, agency owners, managers, and key employees must nurture them and raise them in the organization as you would raise young children (regardless of how much experience those new employees have). Producers must consciously NOT pressure them as they become accustomed to the agency operations. Many existing employees are stars waiting to be uncovered. If they feel unappreciated, they will eventually become Low Energy performers and will look like a "problem employee". However, if they are motivated, treated with respect and as a partner (instead of as a "go-fer") some of these employees will again become High Energy employees and will become working cogs in the engine again. Those employees who have stalled and have become frozen in place cannot serve your company or your customers. Like a bad cog in an engine, they misfire and slow down the agency, rather than help it progress. While loyalty is a great strength in some situations, remaining loyal to a non-performing employee does not best serve them, your customers or your business. Once they become "new" employees somewhere else, they will regain their High Energy, at least for a while. Many agents have wondered how a non-performing employee that has left them has become a star for their new employer. The answer is appreciation, respect and motivation - the oil that keeps the cogs in the engine operating.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Just like a chain is as strong as its weakest link, an agency can only operate at peak High Energy levels if owners, managers, producers and staff are all working at similar High Energy levels. Any weakness in this agency machine will deteriorate the High Energy levels of the other members and ruin the company's success.

Everything begins and ends with the owner(s). Low Energy on the part of the agency owner will, at best, drive the stars from the company. At worst, it will lower the performance and energy of the High Energy staff members until all are operating at the same, low expectations of performance. This is the death knell of an agency. Most owners in this situation are already defunct - they just have not been told that the game is over. Their businesses (and their morale) will deteriorate until they find the right person with whom to merge (or sell).

But an owner is the easiest person to re-motivate and re-energize. If he can see the light at the end of the tunnel and re-commit to the business principals that permit success, most owners will do anything necessary to re-invigorate their businesses.

The road to High Energy begins with Planning for the Future, doggedly implementing the Plan in small steps, self-congratulating and stroking all employees as the agency reaches each small plateau toward High Energy. The hardest part of the path is identifying those employees who have been de-motivated to the degree that they can not be re-energized and permitting them to seek higher energy levels and career development elsewhere. If this is not accomplished, all other motivational and development plans are worthless.

The loss of those employees (managers, key long-term employees, producers or service staff) who can no longer become High Energy performers will, in itself, send the right message to the remaining staff members and set the stage for a sustained higher level of performance for all employees.

Steps:

1. Evaluate all employees, including yourself, identifying what each needs to accomplish to be considered a High Energy employee,

2. Develop an Energizing Plan for each employee with measurement steps no further than one month apart. Let everyone know that those not achieving the Plan will need to work elsewhere.

3. Using all employees, create an Energizing Plan for the agency to "jump-start" its performance in those areas identified as profit depressors (i.e. new production, retention, employee productivity)

4. "Catch Someone Doing Something Right" every day. You, as the owner, are the primary cheerleader of the group. Begin to praise, rather than criticize on a daily basis. This will turn morale almost immediately. It will make you feel better, too!

5. Celebrate agency success whenever possible. This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and will enhance performance even faster.

6. Once the agency is performing notably better, evolve a Strategic and Tactical Plan using all employees' participation. This will raise their level of importance to themselves and to you.

Once these steps have been taken, ENJOY THE HIGH ENERGY LEVELS THAT YOU WILL CREATE!!