The idea of Best Practices has been around for many years and surely started with very good intentions. And as with many ideas that continue to perpetuate without review of their usefulness and the results they deliver, it is time to evaluate the very idea of best practices itself.
I've read several articles about the fallacy of "best practices" and they bring up excellent points. The term "best practices" really doesn't mean "best" but rather it usually refers to a good operating practice that has shown results somewhere. Another way to look at it is "common" practices. It's the collection of actions and processes that get created or pushed into organizations and are considered worthy of getting an acceptable result.
The more we do the same thing over and over, the more routine it becomes, the more comfortable we become with it and honestly, the lazier we get about it. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn't in any way make it the "best". In fact, in a lot of cases, it's a groupthink mentality and has been created out of a series of compromises so "everyone wins" (no one actually wins) and no one is overly offended.
That kind of groupthink leads to mediocre actions, which, at best, leads to mediocre results. If you blindly do what other people are doing without thoroughly evaluating the reason behind it and analyzing it against your own circumstances, then chances are you're trying to put a square solution into a round problem.
This idea, of course, spurs me on to think about the insurance industry and how "best practices" are integrated so tightly into the independent agency system seemingly without question.
Six agency Best Practices to re-evaluate for new Best-For-Your-Agency-At-This-Time Practices
1. Producer-Owners must be the managing leader of the agency. In no way is this a requirement. Often times, those who start agencies do so because they are great sales people with a lot of chutzpa and independence. While this is great for selling, it doesn't necessarily translate to setting a vision for a company and leading others.
Do an honest evaluation of your leadership abilities. If you're not the best person for the job, then one of the best leadership decisions you can make is to step into another role (production, and/or outside communications/rainmaker) and either move someone into the role or hire someone to become the managing leader of the agency.
2. Producer-Owners run the sales team. Same idea as above. Just because a person can sell and owns the agency should not obligate him/her to run the sales team. It's common to find these producer-owners as a Lone Wolf sales personality, and this type does not usually understand how to translate what they naturally do into a system that others can recreate and use on their own.
Agencies need strong sales leadership who can bring consistency and accountability to the sales team and can work with the agency leadership to create a cohesive client experience and sales system. This person should have a set of skills that is focused on communication (marketing, coaching) and follow-through (disciplined processes, accountability).
3. Best sales person becomes the sales manager. Oh dear. This is such a terrible idea. Your best sales person is good at selling. Why take away their selling time to have them manage people? Sacrificing the revenue they are so good at generating rarely translates into increased revenue generated by the team.
One skill does not translate to the other. Instead, find someone whom the team respects and turns to for advice to be the sales manager. This person could be from the inside or you might have to hire from the outside. See #2.
4. Producers are the face of the agency. If you have true producers, they are door-openers and like the challenge of the sale. That does not mean they are necessarily good at details and project management, which is required to deliver on the promises and maintain the relationship.
A high-level account manager or account executive should work alongside producers during the sales process and then transition to being the point person and project manager once the prospect becomes a client. In this role, they, too, can be the face of the company with the client and lead the account management team for delivering on those sales promises.
When you allow more people on your team to have more contact with the client and more responsibility, they will have the opportunity to see gaps in the client business that your agency could potentially fill. If you run your business on the idea that the leaders and producers are the only ones with ideas for creating value, then you're missing out and will fall to the competitor who realizes it takes everyone on the team to create greatness.
5. The agency is organized into silos (departments) with separate leadership. If you run your business in silos, you service the customer in silos as well, and miss out on seeing potential overlapping opportunities between your agency and the client. See, silos within your own company naturally force you to think of the client business in silos as well, which doesn't allow the producers and the account management teams to see the client business holistically. And you'll never become strategically valuable if you only evaluate one section of a company's operations.
If, instead, you take the approach that your whole team is working with clients to help them improve their operations and profitability through effective employee and risk management, the opportunities will become immediately obvious.
6. Marketing is an add-on activity to be handled by an entry-level person. Marketing has been seen as nice-to-have activities and therefore not given a level of importance in the operations of the business. However, the scope of available, and expected, marketing activities has changed so dramatically in the past 5-10 years, that looking at it as an optional activity is no longer good enough to build relationships with today's consumers.
Marketing is the beginning of the sales process. The activities marketing generates should be created in conjunction with the sales team and based around the sales process. The person handling marketing should know your sales process as well as your sales team and should know your business as well as the owner.
Best practices make it easy to say, "Well, everyone does that."
The idea of best practices doesn't need to go away; the way you use the ideas needs to change. The problem is that people take the ideas at face value and then implement without thought. Or companies simply use the ideas to validate their own mediocre practices, using them as an excuse to not look for better solutions.
There are endless opportunities to evaluate your business for "best practices" that have lulled everyone into a sense of complacency. Look at this list as the start to a series of internal evaluations you should hold to make sure you really are running your business with the best practices for your company at this point in time.
Photo by viZZZual.com.