The best agencies put their people in positions that allow them to make the most significant contributions possible.

Structuring an effective and efficient team is never easy, but it's even more difficult for small businesses. The need for everyone to wear multiple hats complicates the need to align the results needed from each role with the individual team member's skills. However, the nature of a small business makes building the team exponentially more critical; the margin for error is almost zero.

As Jim Collins famously observed: The importance of having the right people in the right seats on the bus is critical for growth. Nothing will slow growth faster than having weak or strong team members who are in the wrong role.

Role clarity

Before you know if you have the right people in the right seats, you must define the ideal seat.

It must be explicitly clear and documented what contributions are expected from every role in the agency. Once established, everyone must be expected to contribute as defined by their position. The stakes are too high to allow for results to be diluted.

This is a critical point. In small businesses, most team members wear multiple hats and perform various roles. It is important to set expectations and define contributions based on each function, not the individual.

For example, an Account Manager may be responsible for servicing clients, soliciting and analyzing quotes, and installing technology solutions. Look at these responsibilities as roles to be defined with specific expectations. Over time, as you grow, these responsibilities and roles will likely spread out and become the focus of multiple team members. Until then, they will belong to a single team member.

Another example of role dilution is the most common, the producer role. As producers build a book of business, they often (almost always) dilute their producer role with service activities. You must clarify that service issues lie with the service role. The cost of not doing so is too great for everyone involved.

Alignment

Once you've documented your ideal seats, you must understand what skills/behaviors are necessary to occupy the seat successfully.

This is a common stumbling block for many agencies. When looking to fill a role, a common place to look is elsewhere in the industry. Just because someone has the industry experience and the title you're looking to hire for doesn't mean they are necessarily a good fit.

Use an assessment test such as Omnia to ensure they are a good fit for the role. If the position requires specific skills or proficiency with certain resources (technology solutions, Microsoft tools, etc.), be sure to test for those.

Assessing for role fit doesn’t end with a job offer. While it’s easy to focus on role alignment when hiring someone, we must remember that, over time, misalignment can occur. Sometimes an individual pushes themself hard and outgrows the role. But, especially in times of growth, the role can also outgrow the individual. Ensuring the alignment of functions and individuals is an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring and adjustments.

Prepare for the future

From the agency perspective, maintain an aspirational organizational chart that will support your growth moving forward. The structure you will need when you're twice your current size will likely include different roles and skills than you have now. The clarity of your future structure will allow you to look for the right additions to the team and to prepare your current team for evolution.

From the individual team member perspective, work with them to identify the role they would like to grow into, along with the skills, knowledge, and habits they will need to achieve that role. Assess where they are currently in those areas and help them build a professional development plan to start closing the gaps.

Accountability and consequences

Expectations are meaningless if there is no accountability AND no consequences to go with them.

The behaviors you tolerate as well be the behaviors you promote. If you allow anyone (including producers) on your team to perform below expectations, you are signaling to the rest of the team that they can get away with poor performance.

We often convince ourselves that our team is filled with professionals who want to be left alone. The reality is that the best performers want to be part of a culture of accountability, one that comes with consequences when expectations aren't met. The reason is that if they have no accountability or consequences for not performing well, they must not be that important to the organization's success.

High-performing agencies have accountability and consequences at a high level; it’s why they attract the highest achievers, which is also why they are high-performing companies.

Compensation rewards the right behaviors

Your compensation model must reinforce and reward each role's critical behaviors and results.

For sales positions, agencies typically pay too much for renewals and too little for new businesses. The highest performing agencies recognize that they need to keep their producers focused on new production. They accomplish this largely through their compensation formula.

While still compensating producers for renewing their existing books, high-performing agencies pay much higher percentages for new business than renewals. However, the biggest key to keeping producers focused on writing new business lies in the agency offering large, "over-the-top” bonuses for “over-the-top” production.

Of course, it’s also important to understand that using compensation to reward the right behaviors doesn’t stop with producers; you need to create incentive compensation programs that reward the entire team for the revenue growth of the book they service and the agency as a whole.

Producers must produce

A salesperson’s job is to sell, always.

This idea was alluded to earlier but is worthy of additional emphasis. Salespeople must continue to do the job they were hired to do, sell. They should not be allowed to stop selling or even slow down simply because they are satisfied with their personal income level.

Underperforming agencies allow producers to become complacent, sit on a book of business, and become overpaid, under-qualified service people. However, their high-performing counterparts expect their producers to always produce. Period. End of story.

Rehire your best talent

High-growth agencies know where to make the best personnel investments.

Making a successful producer hire is difficult. While the typical agency will look for more producers when they want to grow, high-performing agencies will first focus on “rehiring” their best talent.

If a high-performing agency finds that a producer is legitimately bogged down with non-sales activities, they will hire a support person to relieve their proven salesperson. Successfully hiring a support role can be done more predictably and for less money than hiring a new producer. This is a no-brainer investment to get proven sales talent back in the game.

Leadership seat

High-performing agencies have the right person driving the bus.

High-performing agencies recognize that the idea of having the right people in the right seat starts with the driver’s seat. They never assume that the owner is necessarily the best equipped to run the day-to-day operations; when they aren't, they bring in a professional to fill this critical role.

Get started!

  1. List the critical few (the top 2 or 3) results and the driving behaviors you need from each role on your team.
  2. Assess and take inventory of the skills possessed by each team member and compare it to the results/behaviors you identified above.
  3. Review your compensation formulas for every role to evaluate if you intentionally reward the behaviors/results you need from each position.
  4. As an industry, we are horrible at firing people, even when it is obvious to everyone that it is the necessary next step. If you don't have the right people in the right seat, you either need to provide them the training they need, re-assign them if there is another seat they can fill successfully, or get them off your bus.

This may be an entirely new way of looking at your team but think of it as a much-needed tune-up for the engine that runs your business. Clearly defined roles and a culture of accountability and success will allow your agency to run smoothly and perform at optimal levels.

 

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