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You heard it when you were a kid. You probably don’t remember when you heard it for the first time, nor do you recall the first time you passed it along to someone else.  It’s one of those old cheesy pun-filled knock-knock jokes that made you laugh, even if it wasn’t all that funny.

“Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

The joke is old, but the sentiment remains evergreen. Breaking the expected repetition is what makes the joke work.  It’s that same breaking of a repetition that is happening in the insurance industry, and needs to continue to develop. Thinking in the same old patterns gives you the same old results and that includes your hiring practices.

One area that the insurance industry has done a great deal of work in improving over the past few decades is gender equality. Insurance is continuing to push forward with more opportunities for women in senior management positions. Women have transformed the industry and helped make a road map for others to follow in terms of how to create the next generation of pioneers bringing new ideas and insights into the process.  Looking to the lessons learned by the increased involvement of women in the industry provides a unique opportunity to leverage what is already known to continue to develop further diversity.

I talk to industry clients on a daily basis who want to know how to find, and keep, the best producers and customer service representatives. They want to know where to look and what questions to ask. They want to be able to tell the difference between someone who looks good on paper and someone who will deliver once they are actually on the job. They are dealing with the everyday stresses of keeping things afloat while looking ahead to bringing the next generation into the fold.

It’s easy to look at studies into the need for the industry to diversify and attract young minority professionals into the field. But how does that become a reality? If you find yourself staring at another stack of virtually the same applications, the solution is to change where you are looking.

Here are concrete steps you can take to get a little more orange and less banana in your stack of applications:

  1. Go to local colleges and universities for fresh young talent. Speak with the dean’s office about regularly scheduled talent and job fairs. Consider setting up an internship program. Your company will serve as a role model to help cultivate their interest. This personalizes the process by showing an active interest in their future.
  2. Be active in your community, especially among minority populations. Talk to groups and professional organizations who might have future leads.
  3. Embrace the new. It’s not easy to adapt in a world that feels like it is changing every time you turn around, but being able to connect with a younger generation and an increasingly diverse population means that you need to be able to break from the old patterns. Being able to adapt to changes and turn them into opportunities is a standard good business practice that doesn’t change just because we are talking about recruiting.

The most important part of finding “the next great employee” is about going out to find where they are right now, and getting them excited about the opportunities of the insurance industry. These relationships are the pipelines that will not only bring in fresh new faces and ideas, but also future clients and revenue.

Where does diversity fit into the framework of your organization’s culture? It’s one of the first big questions asked when people start discussing “diversity”. How it is prioritized makes a huge difference in how effective your efforts will be. On the corporate level there is often a dedicated Chief Diversity Officer who implements strategies to help with outreach and recruiting among underrepresented populations.  For smaller companies, having a human resources leader who is able to devote their time and efforts to the task is vital.  If you are running your own independent agency though, that task might be yet another one that is resting on your shoulders.

Diversity is one of those trendy words that gets thrown around as a catch-all for “not the same”. But it’s not just multi-culturalism, or having an age and gender balance, or inclusion of LGBQTA+ people, although those are all important.  It’s about finding the best people from different backgrounds, and bringing their experiences together to help your company continue to grow and prosper. It is about being open to everyone bringing their “whole self” to work; building and maintaining an environment where every voice is important and people feel like they have a stake in the process. When recruiting the next generation of insurance professionals, this is a baseline of what they expect when entering the workforce.  It is not just “doing a job”: they want to feel like they are a part of something special, and they want to work somewhere that respects them for who they are.

Which is why, for those with the interest, the insurance industry is so full of rich possibilities for personal fulfillment. There is a lot of room right now for a young professional who is willing to work hard, to advance quickly in many independent agencies, to become a part of something greater than themselves, something they can believe in.

When speaking to potential producers, that opportunity is a definite selling point.  These are the self-starters, the ones who are driven by a competitive spirit and who are motivated by the idea that their salary is tied directly to their ability to make the sales. They want to be around people and have that spark to get other people interested in what they have to offer.

The industry is exciting in a different way for the potential customer service reps. Insurance is the bedrock of achievement. It does for innovation what a parachute does for skydiving. It makes it possible for people to take calculated risks without fear of catastrophe. The people who want these positions are the ones motivated by stability and being able to count on when their next check is going to come. They excel at being a part of a team and to them, the details are the part of the engine that makes everything run.

These are two very different kinds of people, who want very different things, bringing their own skillsets to the table. Bringing in a new generation, and allowing them to be their best, truest, whole selves in the process is a challenge. But figuring out where each individual would best fit within the diverse tapestry of your organization doesn’t have to be one.

That’s where a behavioral assessment tool, like the Omnia Profile, comes in handy. The Profile breaks down the mysteries around the 17 behavioral types, helping you understand more about your candidate and how to help them unlock their potential.

Your dedication to expanding diversity in the workplace, and finding the best and the brightest of the new generation regardless of background helps to continue to grow the potential of your business. It gets the best applicants to your doorstep. The Omnia Profile helps you determine which of those candidates will be the best fit with your existing organization and how to develop their long-term potential. It helps you break out of the same old hiring mistakes and find that orange in a world full of bananas.

 

Providing good customer service

It’s a rare company that can thrive despite its reputation for bad customer service. To be sure, such companies exist, but they’re not common.

Perhaps the company offers a product most consumers simply can’t live without, or the organization is practically a monopoly in a market where people have few choices. Or, maybe the company’s product is so integral to how we work and live that consumers couldn’t avoid it if they tried. (We see you Google!)

Alas, insurance providers generally don’t fall into this category. Instead, good customer service is a differentiator between your team and every other team selling what you sell.

But take heart! In a real sense this is good news. Developing quality customer service is within your control, and the rewards are high.

So here’s the $64,000 question: how do you know if your customer service is good?

Your Customers Say So
Customer praise, whether private or public, is an indication your customer service is good. Notice that you’re not looking for the occasional positive comment, although that’s nice. You’ll know you’re on to something when you’re getting regular positive feedback via multiple channels (e.g., snail mail, email, social media, client surveys) from various delighted customers.

Your Customers Recommend You 

It’s one thing for a customer to do business with you herself but another for her to recommend your product or service to someone else. A recommendation is a huge vote of confidence and ought to be regarded as such. When we recommend a product or service, we show our willingness to be held accountable for our opinion. Most people won’t do that unless they’re supremely secure in the quality of that good or service.

Your Customers Stick With You

Repeat business is a big way customers say “well done!” There’s no shortage of insurance agents and no reason for any client to give you his business unless you do your job well.

So when the competition is high, but your customers are loyal, most likely you’re giving them what they want and need (i.e., good customer service). 

Customer Complaints Rarely Reach the Executive Level (Or Heaven Forbid, Go Viral)

You know your customer service is good when complaints (and every company has its share of customer complaints) rarely reach the executive level. Most likely, that’s because your team is skilled and adept at resolving conflict before it gets out of hand. Consider this: when your customer service is good, problems solving almost looks easy!

Your CSRs Are Happy

Is a happy employee a guarantee of high performance that positively affects the bottom line? Probably not. As the author of “Employee Happiness Isn’t Enough to Satisfy Customers” put it, employers must “engage employees by giving them both reasons and ways to please customers; then acknowledge and reward appropriate behavior.”

Even so, it’s hard to image that deeply unhappy employees who blame the company for their grim attitudes are treating customers well. Putting aside any intentional malice, these employees most likely don’t possess the zeal necessary to interact with customers in a friendly and solution-oriented manner.

Truth is, we’ve all encountered the robotic, noticeably-lacking-in-enthusiasm CSR who didn’t seem to care whether we ended the encounter satisfied, unsatisfied, or even angry. Happy employees plugged into the company mission have a totally different attitude, and it shows in the way they address customers and their concerns.

Your Customers Are Engaged

Do customers respond to your survey invitations? What about your email or text messages? Are they commenting on your blog? Do they return phone calls? If the answer is mostly yes, your customer outreach is working, and you have the satisfied customers to prove it.

Your Customers Don’t Begrudge You Making a Living

Insurance can be expensive, and most customers are aware that part of the cost goes to pay the services of insurance agents. However, when customers like the job you’re doing, they’re okay with that. Everyone has to make a living, so why shouldn’t you? Plus, you’re serving their needs so you’re worth every penny.

Last Words … 

Recognizing what good customer service looks like, or even what it can sow (that is, increased business) is not the same as recognizing how to deliver it. Here, then, are a few tips for creating a work environment that encourages good customer service:

  • Hire the right people for the job. Behavioral assessments help employers identify individuals with the traits needed to get the job done.
  • Set clear expectations. When employees know what’s expected, they’re in a much better position to perform satisfactorily.
  • Invest in quality employee education. Continuing education is a must. When employees are growing personally and professionally, they’re more connected to the business and its customers.
  • Treat employees well. What do high performers really want in a job? It’s not a mystery, and a gazillion surveys have already provided the answer to employers with ears to hear. We’re talking good pay and benefits, work/life balance, opportunities for advancement, a chance to impact the business, and a sense that their bosses care about them as people. Anyone who’s getting all that in a job won’t be going anywhere anytime soon and will take pride in doing the best job possible.
  • Develop policies that provide as much responsibility as your employees can handle. Intelligent policies that actually allow for decision-making and problem solving will be welcomed by your team and your customers. On the other hand, policies that tie the hands of employees and prevent them from making customers happy are challenging all the way around.

Even companies that can afford bad customer service don’t want it. However, it’s not enough to merely think your customer service is good. Knowing is so much better.


 

 

Re-engaging the Dis-engaged EmployeeAll the surveys prove it—more than two thirds of Americans would rather be working somewhere else. Worldwide, the problem is even worse. A 2013 Gallup poll found that internationally only 13% of workers are engaged.

What Causes Disengagement?

Many articles have been written about the causes of disengagement, but most experts agree that employee feelings of under- or unappreciation are a major factor. Whether the feelings stem from dissatisfaction about pay, work tasks, level of authority, work environment, or something else, once they’ve taken hold, reduced enthusiasm for the job follows.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t notice the warning signs of disengagement or think employee happiness is a nonissue. So long as people seem to be doing the work, that’s all that matters, right? Um … wrong. When an employee begins to lose interest in the job, nothing but a pointed intervention can stop the employee’s attitude from going from bad to worse.

Getting the Disengaged Back on Track

 All the surveys can’t be wrong. Chances are, you’ve got a disengaged employee or three in your camp. How can you get these folks back on track? Doing nothing is a mistake. Disengaged employees are less productive, less creative, and more prone to absences and accidents. Follow the tips below to minimize the potential disruption.

#1. Know the signs.

As mentioned earlier, employers don’t always recognize a disengaged employee when they see one. However, early intervention can’t happen unless the problem is caught early. Warning signs of disengagement include:

  • Decreased participation. Disengaged employees will shy away from offering opinions about what’s working and what isn’t, because they’ve stopped believing their ideas make a difference, or they’ve stopped caring, period.
  • Increased absenteeism. Disengaged employees want to be somewhere else and take whatever opportunity they can to be somewhere else.
  • Increased late arrivals and early departures. Ah, those pesky but necessary job interviews! Disengaged employees have to fit them in somewhere.

Again, these signs reveal themselves in the early stages of disengagement, before the employee has moved from antsy to deeply disgruntled. More severe signs include a notable number of missed deadlines, increased mistakes, and decreased cooperation.

#2. Face the issue squarely.

Don’t hesitate to approach the disengaged employee for a frank discussion. The goal here is not to criticize but to express concern. For example, you may say that you’ve noticed the employee seems a little distracted lately, and you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do? The employee will either deny or confirm your observation, but regardless you’ve opened the door for conversation. If you’ve timed this correctly, and the employee is in the beginning stages of discontent, you’ll have an excellent chance of turning things around by proving you care.

#3. Recognize that disengagement is an emotional process.

People disengage from work because of how they feel about their job tasks, their workplace, or their employer. If you’re not prepared to deal with the employee’s emotions, you won’t be able to re-engage him or her.

#4. Be ready to give something.

Disengaged employees have needs that aren’t being met. Perhaps the need is for more money, more interesting assignments, or more autonomy. Whatever it is, they’ll be disengaged until they get it. Your job as a manager is to get work done through your people, so you’re obliged to supply whatever resources, support, or encouragement you can to make that happen.

#5. Keep the door open.

Work is a continual negotiation. Consciously or unconsciously, employees are constantly weighing whether what they’re getting from work (recognition, sense of purpose, intellectual stimulation, compensation, etc.) is worth their investment of time, energy, and talent. Engagement, therefore, is not a one and done. It can wax and wane, and managers need to stay tuned to the morale of their employees. Keep the door, and the dialogue, open.

Disengaged employees may be common, but they don’t have to be common in your organization. In fact, if you follow our tips, they won’t be.

For more on how to better engage your employees with your own “open door” policy, Check out our previous webinar “Fuel Employee Trust and Engagement with Authentic Communication”

 

Forget all the “bootstraps” stories with which we Westerners love to amuse ourselves. No one has ever achieved any level of commercial or material success without help from someone else. That’s the main reason of “why you need a mentor.”

Here are the little whys.

You Need a Mentor Because …

 

A Mentor Knows Things You Don’t

A qualified mentor has experience and knowledge that surpasses yours, and she’s willing to share. This is not to be taken lightly. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when someone is inclined to show us how. Want to break into a particular field? Learn the right way to ask for a raise? Position yourself for a promotion? Be considered for that high-visibility assignment? A mentor who’s been there can help.

A Mentor Knows People You Don’t

A mentor can introduce you to others who may be able to provide guidance, advice, information, or even access to still more, helpful people.

A Mentor Can Offer Perspective

Even the most gifted problem solver can get stuck when she’s too close to an issue or has been pondering it too intensely for too long. A good mentor can help you get unstuck by presenting an alternate perspective. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with your mentor’s view, hearing another opinion can help confirm your position while providing food for thought.

A Mentor Can Offer Encouragement

Before transitioning from editorial into human resources, I ran the idea by my mentor Caroline, a veteran trainer. I thought I’d pitch my administrative, organizational, research, and writing talents to the President of the company where I worked, but having no HR background whatsoever, I lacked confidence this was truly a good idea. In fact, I was almost ready to bag the whole thing! To my surprise, Caroline encouraged me to go for it. Her enthusiasm bolstered my confidence, I made the pitch, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

How to Nab Yourself a Mentor

It’s no secret that far too few employers offer formal development programs, including formal mentoring programs. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Potential mentors are everywhere. Here’s how to nab yourself one.

Network

You can’t meet people if you don’t put yourself out there, so make it a point to mix it up every now and again. Go to that professional seminar. Volunteer for your neighborhood Yard Sale Committee. Join groups on LinkedIn that speak to your interests and start participating. The next time your friend or professional acquaintance mentions so-and-so who does such-and-such (and you’ve been wanting to meet someone who does such-and-such) ask for an introduction.

Don’t Force It

Once you meet a potential mentor, don’t force the issue. Chemistry and mutual interests must be genuine. If you’re being friendly, but something seems off, scratch that person from your mental list. He or she most likely isn’t the mentor for you. Those willing to mentor are special kinds of folks. They have a sharing personality. Not everyone does.

Test the Waters

Let’s say you met a potential mentor at a professional workshop. You talked a bit, and the chemistry is good.

The next step is to invite the individual out for coffee or lunch (your treat) and see what happens. Does he or she accept the invitation but then cancel at the last minute … a few times? Say yes to the idea but never respond to your follow up email messages? Move on. This guy or gal is not mentor material.

On the other hand, what if you have coffee with your potential mentor, but the conversation seems stilted or awkward? Again, move on. You’re looking for a genuine connection, here. A forced anything just won’t do.

Don’t Get Discouraged

The world is full of flakes, phonies, narcissists, and folks just too busy to extend themselves. Don’t get discouraged when a relationship that seemed promising fizzles. It happens, but there’s a mentor out there for you.

Remember the Rule of Reciprocity

Be prepared to give as good as you get. By definition the mentor is more experienced and knowledgeable than you, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. Be a listening ear to your mentor. Be good company. As your relationship progresses, the student may become the teacher!

Having a good mentor and professional development goes hand in hand. In the meantime, why not take a look inside yourself and discover what drives you and what you can do to ensure your own personal and professional growth. Check out our Professional Development Report to learn more!

How, When, and Why to Tell the Boss “No”

Many of us have a hard time saying no to anyone, including those closest to us such as children, significant others, and good friends.   

It’s not hard to understand why. We don’t want the people we love to get angry with us, and we don’t want to disappoint them either.

Unfortunately, sometimes a “no” has that effect.

When it comes to work, a “no” can mean the loss of the boss’ favor, or even the loss of a job. However, there are times when no other answer will do. (Pun sort of intended.)

Here’s the 411 on the how, when, and why of telling the boss “no.”

How

  • Mindfully
  • Firmly
  • Calmly

When

  • As necessary

Why

  • The boss has requested something that can’t be done.
  • The boss has requested something that shouldn’t be done (i.e., is not a best business practice and is liable to result in a bigger problem than the one you’re trying to resolve).
  • The boss has requested you violate your personal code of ethics.
  • The boss has requested you break the law. 

Of course, saying no isn’t always as easy as this lists implies. Your boss may not accept your no readily, despite all the good reasons she should. So before you even say no (and here’s where the “mindfully” part comes in) prepare for your boss’ resistance, and:

  • Have an alternate suggestion (or two) in mind. If doing what the boss wants can’t or shouldn’t be done, what else can you suggest that’ll get him or her to the same goal?
  • Have your facts straight. Your boss will want to know why you’re saying no, and you’ll want to have an answer. No problem. You’ve got sound reasons. Be prepared to state them briefly and clearly and without a whole lot of emotion, no matter how you might feel about your boss’ request.
  • Know whether this is the hill you’re willing to die on. If your boss insists you do something illegal or unethical, you’ve got a serious decision to make. Continuing to resist could cost you your job or any kind of peace on the job. Are you willing to risk it? Only you know the answer, and you should know it before you utter the word “no.” That being said…
  • Understand that most causes aren’t worth a fight. The boss is still the boss, and if she persists in demanding you do something you don’t think is good to do, do it anyway and carefully document the instructions you were given. Perhaps you’ll learn your boss was actually on the money! Or perhaps your instincts will be confirmed. Either way, your rear is covered. 

It’s All About the Boundaries

Physical boundaries separate countries and psychological or emotional boundaries separate you from me, so that it’s clear where you end and I begin.

Psychological boundaries are both good and necessary for healthy relationships, including work relationships. Without good boundaries, lines get crossed and feelings get hurt, or worse.

For example, a boss who demands at the last minute that an employee stay late, unconcerned how doing so will affect the employee’s plans for the evening, is evidencing bad boundaries. Rather than considering the employee as a separate human being with rights and responsibilities, this manager is treating the employee’s time as though it were his own.

(Now, I’m NOT saying it’s wrong for a boss to ask an employee to stay late when there’s work to be done. Instead, I’m making the point that the dismissive attitude of the boss in this case is indicative of someone with little regard for what belongs to others—a classic boundary issue.)

And sadly, poor bosses typically demonstrate poor boundary management.

If you work for a bad boss, or even an overall good boss who’s nonetheless challenged in this area, you’ll be much happier if you learn how and when to say no.

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