I think one of the overlooked challenges facing today's agencies is their ability, or inability as it may be, to attract young talent.
Let's face it, most of us in this industry ended up here by accident. However, once we did get in, we found it was an industry of maybe unparalleled opportunities. You can make a great income, still have a personal life, and we have the opportunity to truly make a positive impact on the businesses of our clients.
But, let's be honest, most (at least in the production and leadership roles) of us in this industry are, shall we say, "of a certain age". When we came into this industry, it was a different time. Al Gore hadn't created the Internet. Entrepreneurship wasn't trendy. Many expected to work for the same employer their entire career. And, on top of all that, selling was easier. It was easier, largely because there wasn't information about every topic imaginable available for everyone to access, and we were able to deliver value simply because we were the sole possessor of (insurance) information.
Things are different today.
Perhaps nothing is more different than the expectations of the generation just coming into the workforce. And, I would argue, different in a very good way. They have no expectations of lifetime employment with a single employer. In fact, they expect to have several different "careers" within their career. They have grown up in a world where they have watched ideas hatched in a dorm room or as a thesis project grow into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. They have watched, and admired, companies developed around a social consciousness. They have grown up with entrepreneurs for heroes; heroes who have failed their way to success.
What does all this mean?
It means they are much less likely to "accidently" find their way into an industry.
It means they are looking to make a difference and are willing to fail in the effort.
They are more inclined to go to work for a startup with a great idea or cause they believe in, than they are for someone listed on an exchange. They want to work someplace that is exciting, where there is a sense of team (this means the entire organization, not just an immediate workgroup), they want to be part of something special. They want to push boundaries and not be constrained by "the way it's always been done". They want to work someplace because they believe in the organization, not simply because of a paycheck.
In the minds of most Millennials, the insurance industry is the antithesis of what they are looking for and is something to be intentionally avoided.
However, as independent agencies, we have the ability to be the very type of organization these Millennials desire. There is no other professional consultant with access to the breadth and depth of information that insurance agencies typically gather about their clients. And with access to this level of information, we have the opportunity to significantly impact the business of these clients, and in turn, the lives of their employees, and their clients.
Why the big focus on Millennials? Well, right now they make up 1/3 of the workforce, and with 60 million Baby Boomers retiring over the next several years, that ratio has nowhere to go but up.
Now, I'm not suggesting we reinvent our organizations merely to attract their talent, although that is an obvious need, but because, by doing so, we set ourselves up for success all the way around.
Reinvention – what it should include
Become a Startup again
Scrap the business model you have that keeps you focused on price and product and start over again by asking the question asked by every soon-to-be-successful startup, "What is the market craving that we can deliver?"
Hint: Go ask your clients what they really want and need to run a better business, and I think you will find all of them want something significantly more than product/price. The product/price is just a means to an end. Determine their endgame and help them achieve THAT, and you are on to something special.
Commit to making a difference
Again, recognize you will never make a real difference with that spreadsheet. Ask the next question asked by soon-to-be-successful startups, "Why are we (re-)starting this business? What difference do we want to make in the lives of those we serve?"
Hint: If you are able to make your clients more successful at what they do because of working with you, you are making a difference for the both the owners of the company, as well as for every employee of that company. You can help them become healthier and more financially secure. You can help create a work environment that is rewarding and satisfying. You can help open the lines of communication and deliver trust to the organization of your clients. THAT is making a difference in a way a spreadsheet never will.
Be willing to fail
Most of us keep doing what we have always done the way we have always done it because it feels safe; it's easy. Now more than ever, we have to realize the easy answer of today is quite often the most costly of tomorrow. If you have always sold based on a spreadsheet and depended on selling an insurance product as your only way to get paid, you know how hard that approach is becoming.
Hint – As the consultant most of us claim to be, our real value is in our knowledge, advice and ability to drive results. Learning to sell this way isn't easy; you'll stumble and fail a few times, but like all entrepreneurs, each failure gets you closer to the ultimate success. With the determination to make this happen comes the energy that further fuels the motivation to get up and try again.
Communication, communication, communication
Starting to become a "reinvented startup" in practice isn't going to be enough by itself to attract this new generation of talent. You are going to have to aggressively tell your story, and tell that story in ways that will connect with your 20-something audience.
See, they already think they know you. And they know you based on what you have told them on your website: the carriers you present, the service you provide, the 112 years you have been business, how safe you are, how traditional you are, how you are everything they don't value and don't want to be.
You have to change your message, expand your mediums, and think about your audience. You can become that "reinvented startup". You can develop and tell the story. You can attract this new generation of talent.
But don't do it simply for that reason.
Do it because, when you do, you will love what you do more than you ever have.
Do it because you will be making a difference for your clients in ways you never imagined.
Do it because it is what will make you even more successful.
Do it because your competition won't.
Photo by TRF_Mr_Hyde.