Strategic Management for Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers: Positive Change for Sustained Excellence

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Insurance Industry Staffing

Let's talk about what's keeping you up at night. 

"NU Online News Service, Feb 9: Industry Adds Jobs in Dec."

Total insurance-industry employment grew by 5,000 in the last month of 2011. During the same period agents and brokers shed 200 jobs. 200 jobs out of a remaining 646,000 doesn't seem like very many. And the previous month, jobs were added in the agent/broker sector, so there shouldn't be much sleep lost over the employment situation. Unless, of course, it's your agency being affected by the additions and reductions in staffing.

How about your agency? Did you lose staff last year? Was it intentional? If not, did you lose the "right" people? Staff reductions can have a positive effect on the bottom line. But only if you lose a poor performer or someone in a non-critical job. Losing a strong performer or someone in a key position puts you in a dilemma. Do you hire a replacement and forgo an expense reduction or do you ask the remaining employees to take up the slack, knowing you will likely experience a deficit in sales or service ability? Whether the economy is good or bad, you want to make sure that improvements in productivity don't result in the loss of effectiveness.

The difference between productivity and effectiveness is that one is about the numbers and the other is about the people. Improvements in productivity with no loss in effectiveness requires accountability. As the boss, that makes you accountable to ensure that competent, skilled, accountable, individuals want to be a part of your business and you're accountable to ensure that those who don't measure up are the ones to go.

Competent, accountable, employees want to know what "good performance" looks like. They also want to be clear about how performance is measured. They want regular feedback. Employees who meet or exceed expectations want to be recognized. They want a positive consequence. When they fall short, there should be a negative consequence.   No measurement, no consequence, no accountability.

What about employees who are incompetent or unaccountable? The only way to ensure that your organization is accountable is to ensure that there are no positive consequences for poor performance. Rewarding everyone the same hurts two ways. First, you won't see any improvement. Worse, you'll lose the respect, and likely the good performance, of good employees.

Remember that recognition and rewards come in all flavors, some with intrinsic value and some not. There are some few people who take sufficient reward from a job well done. Most of us, however, want something a little more tangible, even if it's just acknowledgement. Since people do things for their own reasons, it's likely that different people will respond to different types of recognition. It just needs to be fair and consistent.  So...

As the boss, you're accountable to make sure there is a formal process for evaluating performance.One that is consistently and meaningfully followed.

Or is that what's keeping you up at night?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Contingent Income Rising

Let's talk about what's keeping you up at night.

"Agency Compensation Expected to Rise in 2012: Ward Group"

Well, that's good news. No sleeplessness on account of that. Right? Right!

Unless, of course, you're counting on your contingent income to cover operating costs. It's been a couple of tough years and many agencies are reporting low or no growth. Without those profit sharing checks, profits would be down significantly instead of just a little. And there is a reason it's called "contingent" income. It depends on several factors -- some of which you control and some you don't. Catastrophic losses are not predictable. Premium volume and growth you can predict. And while you can't know exactly how your growth and volume will convert to contingent income, you can predict operating revenue and expense. Making sure the former covers the latter is critical when there are so many negative factors driving the economic forecast. It's enough to keep you restless if not outright sleepless.

In the study referenced above, reported in the Insurance Journal on line, there are also some potential trade-offs to go along with what are expected to be increases in agency compensation. Requirements for premium volume and growth are likely to increase for some of the companies in the study, as are loss caps. So, both the controllable and the uncontrollable may be more challenging to manage.  All the more reason to make sure your contingent income is only used for contingent outgo.

Forecasting and budgeting for the independent agent has become for challenging than ever. If you're not already doing contingent projections, you may want to start. It's a good way to look at your finances, regardless of the economy. Start with a baseline budget and project no change in income or expense. That probably means cutting back on some things just to stay even. Then create a second budget for growth, projecting realistic revenue increases based on realistic but aggressive sales projections. And, last, create a third budget projecting worst-case revenue projections and a worst-case expense budget. You can then look at what you will have to do to make each budget a reality and set your plans accordingly.

While we're on the subject of projections and budgets,  if you're having trouble making ends meet, be sure you distinguish between revenue problems and expense problems. Whether your income projections are positive or negative, if you haven't already addressed your expense problems, the time to do it is now.

How many ways are there to measure profitability? At least four. Check out our Models of Profitability.  And if you would like some objective third party help with projections and budgets, call or email and let's have a conversation.

And if the expected rise in agency compensation predicted for 2012 is great news for you, is there something else keeping you up at night?