In the insurance industry (at least on the consulting side), big will no longer beat small; fast will beat slow.
Of course, I am paraphrasing an idea here from Rupert Murdoch. The funny thing is that this is a trend experienced in most of the business world two decades ago. However, like most business trends, it has taken a while to show up in the insurance industry. But, make no mistake: this is a reality whose time has come for insurance agencies.
This begs two critical questions if you are an insurance broker:
- What is slowing you down?
- How do you become faster?
Many of you in independent agencies might find an immediate sense of satisfaction in this idea that fast beats slow. You may be thinking, “At last, our small size is now going to work to our advantage.” Not so fast.
Big doesn’t necessarily equate to slow, and small certainly doesn’t automatically mean fast.
What is slowing you down?
I could get into all kinds of detail about how the true structure of the industry has contributed to an overall slow pace, but, it all comes back to one basic fact: agencies have never put themselves in position to control their own pace.
You are being slowed down because you have attached your business to someone else’s (the carriers). And, because you can’t stray too far from the source, you can’t move any faster than the pace they set for themselves.
You are being slowed because the power from your economic engine has been drained by the “mother ship” you have been built to serve. I know you all genuinely believe you serve your clients; I get the sentiment and ideal behind that. But, as they say, follow the money.
You have been beholden to the carriers and their need to have you distribute and help service their product. They don’t pay you to be innovative; they don’t pay you to move fast; they pay you to move at the pace that ensures you sell, service, and renew their product.
But, now this game has changed. Whether it’s being forced by Exchanges, by the carrier’s decision to be more selective about whom they allow to distribute their product, or the reduction of bonuses and commission schedules, the tethers to the mother ship are being cut.
You are systematically being cut off from the product and revenue to which you have become addicted.
And THAT is a scary place to be.
It’s time to start running your business as the stand-alone business you have always needed it to be; its time to set your own pace and grow as much and as fast as you desire. And, of course, this does add another fear factor to an already scary situation.
But your, albeit forced, liberation is also something to be celebrated. To paraphrase my favorite airline, “You are now free to move around (at a much faster pace).”
How do you become faster?
It seems the rest of the business world has been facing constant change for decades, but the insurance industry has, to its detriment, been isolated from that pace of change. Unfortunately, now that a dizzying pace of change is being forced on the industry, very few agencies (big or small) are prepared to operate at this new clip.
The new environment in which we are operating DEMANDS an ability to thrive in an environment that encourages constant change. More than simply being fast, you must become an agile organization with a clear sense of direction.
I love this explanation of agility as explained in a December 2015 McKinsey interview titled “The Keys to Organizational Agility”.
“Agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment. Agility is not incompatible with stability—quite the contrary. Agility requires stability for most companies.”
To be fast and agile, you must focus on the following growth strategies:
Value Proposition – In the past, your value has almost completely been tied to your ability to deliver and help service the insurance product. I’m not suggesting that won’t continue to be an important part of your value proposition, but I am telling you unequivocally, the value proposition of the fastest agencies in the industry has moved WAY beyond a commoditized product.
Evaluate your current situation and identify what it is about your current situation that gives you confidence in your ability to continue to be successful; to move at a faster pace. Is it your culture? Strong leadership? Loyal customers?
Whatever your source of confidence and stability happens to be, make it your focus and use it to create a foundation on which you will rebuild the business.
We all know the shortest, and fastest, distance between two points is a straight line.
It’s not enough to simply move fast, you must be moving quickly towards the right destination. The only way that can happen is when you have created a clear Vision of the organization you must become.
To be fast you must have the efficiencies that come from operating in a systematic, process-driven fashion. Without processes, you have way too much wasted energy and that will ALWAYS slow you down.
Look at everything that has to happen in order for you to be successful (prospecting, marketing, sales, hiring, training, claims, EVERYTHING) and establish an efficient process to ensure it happens in the most efficient, productive manner possible.
As your value proposition moves beyond a commoditized product to one that is built around broader, client-focused needs, you must ensure you have the right structure in place.
You must ensure you have access to the right resources; you must align yourself with the right industry partners; you have to make sure you have the right skills, knowledge, and behaviors on your internal team.
To be fast and agile as an organization, you have to ensure that everyone who is allowed the privilege of being on your team is clear about their role and how it is they are expected to move you faster along your defined path. In addition to that clarity, they must be held accountable (with consequences) for making their respective contributions.
To have real accountability, you have to communicate with your team on an almost constant basis. You must communicate to them about the changing dynamics of the industry in which you compete. You must communicate about the destination of your organization and your progress along the way. You must communicate with them about how they are performing as a critical player in your overall efforts.
This one may be the toughest of all for our industry. We are just now experiencing the first significant shift in what makes you relevant to your clients. However, you better get used to “shift” happening. ; )
The fastest organizations wake up every day and ask themselves, “What will I do today to make myself more relevant?” And then they go back to the top of this list and make the necessary adjustments.
I know it’s scary times in our industry, you likely have never felt more fragile as a business than you do right now. You hate being fragile and want to be anything but. This desire to be “the opposite of fragile” takes me back to the McKinsey interview I mentioned above. They offered a great definition to which we should all aspire.
“Fragile is a crystal glass. When we put stress on it, when we exert force on it, it gets weaker or even breaks. So what’s the opposite of fragile? We immediately think of words like resilient, strong, robust, maybe even flexible, so that it bends and it gets back to the original condition. But is that really the opposite? Something that stays the same?
The opposite of fragile is something that gets stronger when I exert force or stress on it.”
Your world has been turned upside down; you are dealing with unprecedented change both inside and outside of your agency. Your commitment must be to create an organization that THRIVES on change, gets stronger as a result, and use that as your greatest competitive advantage.
Now, put on your running shoes and go kick the competitor’s “fragile glass”!
Photo by © Carabiner