ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

WHEN YOU'RE UP TO YOUR ANKLES IN ALLIGATORS IS STRATEGIC PLANNING IMPORTANT TO INSURANCE AGENCIES?

Many people go years without visiting their dentist or doctor unless they have a pressing ailment – and for most, they don’t suffer impairment as a result and their teeth don’t rot and fall out.

But when cavities arise, they are most efficiently treated before they cause severe pain. And, if your body changes with age, it is best to find out what’s happening and resolve medical issues before surgery is necessary to correct a problem.

Strategic Planning to some business owners is a cross between visiting the dentist and having a check-up and praying that the doctor finds nothing wrong.

But, in reality, Strategic Planning in a business is pro-active preventive maintenance and making course corrections to assure the growing and continued health of your business.

I am a first generation American. My parents, being from stout European stock, had a common superstition that you don’t talk about death, illness, or most other bad things for fear that they will happen if you talk about them. Of course, they also believed that you didn’t talk about good things, either, for fear that if you spoke about them they wouldn’t happen...so go figure...

But as we have helped hundreds of agents create Strategic and Tactical Plans for their business, we’ve noted the same attitude of discomfort discussing either the good or bad that could happen. They prefer putting their “shoulder to the wheel” and “nose to the grindstone” to achieve the best results possible under the changing circumstances of life.

Of course, the usual result of putting “shoulder to the wheel” and “nose to the grindstone” is sore shoulders and flat noses and really has little to do with success.

One of my favorite quotes is found within my signature block in my e-mails from Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

But Jefferson was not speaking of blindly working, head down until one falls over. He was a well-known planner with pragmatic as well as lofty goals. His statement was intended to be the back end of planning – dedicated work toward goals in ways that are likely to permit their achievement.

I am (and my business is) a “7 Habits” follower. Almost everyone has heard of Stephen Covey’s 1989 book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Over 40 Million copies have been sold and Abebooks lists it as the #1 seller of used books (by far) since 2000. I strongly urge you to purchase and read it – as it can change your life. All of his habits are based in the principle of Planning.

So if Strategic Planning is so important, why doesn’t everyone do it?

The belief is that it’s hard and requires you to look inward to your strengths and weaknesses and become proactive in pursuing your strong points and correcting personal and organizational weaknesses. Most insurance agents have healthy egos, but just as it takes a level of comfort to deal with your own mortality (life insurance and perpetuation/succession planning), it takes a similar level of comfort with yourself to plan ahead for the growth and profitability of your business. And, unfortunately, many high ego people are, in fact, quite insecure and afraid of confronting their own demons.

The most prevalent excuse we hear from agents is, “We work as hard as possible every year to retain business and to grow our client base. We don’t have time to plan. We should be selling insurance instead. And, anyway, we can never predict how much we will retain or how much we will sell every year.”

In reality agents who plan are much more successful and more consistently successful than agents who don’t plan. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Planners tend to actively implement and monitor their well thought out strategies. Just the activity of doing something (anything) will yield better results than doing nothing (simply hoping that clients will stay and new ones will come to you).

Agencies that Plan once and stop, fall into the same common traps:

1. Lack of commitment – If the owners are not fully committed, the Plan is certain to fail.

2. Lack of leadership – a Plan is not a replacement for strong leadership. If you don’t have at least one leader, fix this before you begin planning. A leader becomes the “champion” of the Plan.

3. Not including everyone to participate in the Plan – A plan is not for owners, it’s for everyone – if the folks who sell and service the clients don’t understand why they are pursuing new goals and action plans, the plan will fail.

4. Concentrating on the goals and objectives instead of on the Action Plans – Action Plans form the “how to” of the Objectives that define the “WHAT to accomplish”. The important part of planning is setting the different work effort that will yield the desired results.

5. Planning because some consultant or magazine tells you it’s the right thing to do – This results in expensive and pretty “Shelf Plans” (bound volumes that are only looked at to see how far we missed our goals). Planning is not supposed to be a prediction of what will happen nor is it to be shelved for future reference. It is a working tool for operating your agency and it will spoil, not age like fine wine, by leaving it unattended for a year.

Guides to forming Strategic Plans abound. If you would like a guide to Strategic Planning, simply e-mail me and we will be glad to send you one (al@agencyconsulting.com). But you can also get plans to build your own house and there are some pretty descriptive videos on YouTube on how to pull your own teeth. Planning, like construction and dentistry, is best done with professional help. Even though we have helped agents plan for over 35 years, we still use an impartial professional to help us create our own plans. We encourage you to develop and implement a Plan. Once you succeed it becomes second nature and an annual event.