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Ideas to Develop Productive Agents

Old leadership styles don’t work well in today’s work environments

It’s difficult to build a sustainable insurance agency when about 90% of the agents you hire won’t be around in 36 months. In today’s world of new working expectations and finding the right people for the job, experts give us ideas to think about.

group of young professionals
Hiring and keeping agents productive takes new skills.

That startling job-abandonment statistic can’t help but influence how you do things and what you do. It produces agitation that can lead to management burnout – especially in economic downturns when stakes are high, and time slips away.

New leadership styles make a difference

Typical leadership responses to economic challenges are to initiate more micromanagement, speed-up activities, and get staff to handle bigger workloads. However, these tactics tend to fracture teams, make people feel more vulnerable, and increases individual anxiety.

You might feel more in control, Merete Wedell-Wedellborg, a business psychologist, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, but she cautioned that such close supervision can feel more like distrust and disenfranchisement to team members.

It also can push people to “manage upwards” instead of just doing their job. Moving closer to your team members might be helpful to motivate, energize, and support them, but it also is easy for you to become controlling, disengage people, and sow doubt, Wedell-Wedellborg said.

Panic and urgency often lead to unrealistic deadlines and expectations. Leaders also may become more ego-centric in their sense of lost control, often interpreting any staff resistance to their ideas as insubordination. She suggests deliberate delays between ideas, decisions, and actions by creating processes that build in time for outside checks to consider ideas instead of rushing to judgment. This can be as easy as a planned phone call or web meeting that doesn’t eat up excessive time.

Good people leave bad companies

Good people leave bad companies. They lose faith in leaders, colleagues, and the future of the company often leading to the “quiet quitting” so prevalent now. Wedell-Wedellborg noted that team members like the connection and community at their workplaces, and leaders should preserve relationships balanced around task priorities. One way to do that, she suggests, is working cooperatively with the team to define what success looks like in the situation you’re in.

Insurance industry management consultants Mary Belka and Cheryl Koch offer insights into how to help agents produce their best during downturns. Their first call to action is “focus.”

Training sets the stage

Even in small-town agencies, a little specialization goes a long way. They suggest instead of quoting everything, give agents specific target clients to recruit and specific parameters for producing new business. This helps agents increase their expertise and understanding of products and the clients who use them.

They also recommend specific, organized training and education programs. Just “shadowing” a busy account executive doesn’t provide detailed or complete information for new hires. Training matters, especially in the first 90 days.

A solid training program helps ensure consistency on all desks and limits personal interpretations of what an agent thinks you mean or want them to do, the consultants said in a Rough Notes Co. article. Without leadership in this area, inconsistency and the frustration it brings becomes institutionalized in your company.

Training should be integrated into the metrics, accountability, goals, rewards, and consequences you want for your agency.

Sally Prather, executive VP at Alera Group, said quiet-quitting and fewer people in the workforce signals that employees are willing to change jobs in favor of employers who do make them feel more valued and offer programs that meet individual needs, from career advancement to benefits.

“It’s important to recognize that these factors will not go away,” Prather said. "Younger workers, in particular, have a different mindset and expectations of their employer.”

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