By Brent Kelly
BRIDGING THE PERFORMANCE GAP: STOP TALKING AND START DOING
How to transition from ideas to execution
When I look at agencies, the reason some sputter or plateau is a performance gap. This is the gap between what we know and what we actually do. If I were to draw it, it would look like two mountains with a valley in the middle. But unlike the valleys found in nature, which take thousands of years to form, the performance gaps I see in agencies develop almost instantaneously.
What causes these gaps? And why do so many agencies and producers fail to execute? Some of the main reasons are:
- Lack of a meaningful, achievable goal. Most agencies really have no end in mind. If you were to ask them, “Where do you want to be in three years?” they wouldn’t have a clear answer, because they haven’t taken the time to think about it. Instead, they just sort of wander.
- Lack of consistent, purposeful behaviors. How often have you started something for a couple of weeks and then moved on to something else because you lost interest in the first thing? Often it’s because we’re so busy doing different things that we’re easily distracted. We lack the focus and patience to persist, which is why we struggle. We want to wave a magic wand and obtain the desired results immediately. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic.
- Hysterical activity. We’re all moving at a million miles an hour, but for what purpose? Without a clear focus on what we want to accomplish each day, we’re going nowhere fast. We may appear to be accomplishing things, but in reality we’re simply spinning our wheels. As the author of The Road Less Stupid put it, “Running enthusiastically in the wrong direction is stupid.”
- Lack of accountability. Even if we know where we want to go and what we need to do to get there as an agency, execution promises to be difficult unless we are accountable. We often hear from frustrated agency leaders who complain about producer performance and wonder why they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. But then the owners don’t do anything to change the situation. They tolerate it. But isn’t the definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”?
Looking at the big picture, I see a need for agencies to simplify. Typically, agencies have a performance gap because they have too many choices. By narrowing their choices, most can narrow, if not close, the gap.
To help you simplify and transition from ideas to execution, ask yourself three questions concerning clarity, consistency and commitment.
The clarity question
Where do you want to go?
Have you ever wondered how a chair protects a lion tamer? It provides a distraction. Instead of focusing on the human as his next meal, the lion gets sidetracked by the chair in front of him and becomes too confused to attack the person behind it.
Like the lion, distracted producers fail to perform/execute when they lose focus on the agency’s primary goal. Have you identified your main goal? What do you really want? Whatever your goal, the key to execution lies in understanding your agency’s vision and mission.
Vision: What do you envision for your agency? Where do you want to go?
Mission: Why do you want to do that? Why is this so important to you and your agency?
Believe it or not, “why power” is stronger than willpower. Just because you agree to do something doesn’t mean you’ll do it. You need to be motivated. For example, would you cross a narrow wooden plank between two high-rise buildings for $20? Probably not! But what if your children were on the other side in a burning building, pleading for you to save them? That’s what I thought!
We’re all moving at a million miles an hour, but for what purpose? Without a clear focus on what we want to accomplish each day, we’re going nowhere fast.
If something is important enough to you, you’ll find a way to do it. It becomes your mission. But if it’s not that important, you may just let it fade into the background and forget about it. That’s what often happens when producers don’t buy in to their agency’s mission and their leaders ignore it. That mission falls by the wayside.
Agencies and producers often have different goals, which is fine as long as they have a specific strategy for achieving them. Without clarifying your primary focus, you have no way to keep your eye on the prize. The outcome is the same if you try to pursue too many choices at once: you’ll end up doing nothing.
The consistency question
What things must we do exceptionally well to achieve the desired outcome?
At Sitkins we call these Critical Success Factors, also known as behaviors or habits. These are the things we do over and over again until they’re ingrained in our daily activities. Just keep in mind that daily habits don’t happen overnight. Consistency is the key.
Never underestimate the power of consistency. Consistency creates momentum, which feeds on itself to the point that it’s almost unstoppable. For example, picture a massive steam engine train on a track. Before it builds momentum, it can be stopped quickly and easily. But once it’s underway and gains momentum, it could blast through a concrete building without slowing down!
Similarly, behaviors and habits can build steam within an agency. Once you implement the ones you want, they will gain momentum. If you’re consistent, eventually they’ll become part of your agency’s DNA.
If consistency is the key to creating (good) habits, patience is the key to achieving exceptional outcomes. Patience is not one of my virtues, and I’ll admit I get impatient if my microwave popcorn takes “too long” to pop! But then I remember a cartoon I saw years ago of a cow standing in a field, with a caption that read: “Have patience. In time, grass becomes milk.”
That’s so true. Most great results don’t occur quickly; they evolve over time. Consider some of the world’s greatest achievements and the time it took to produce them:
- It took 26 months to build the Eiffel Tower
- Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa took four years to paint
- It took Leo Tolstoy more than six years to write War and Peace
- The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo four years to paint
- It took approximately 30 years to build the Great Pyramid
Achieving great results in an agency doesn’t require a multi-year investment of time, just some patience and a commitment to consistency. The longer you stay consistent, the greater your results.
The commitment question
What results/behaviors will we mutually agree upon?
As I think about getting an entire organization to agree on results and behaviors, I’m reminded of a poster my parents gave me when I was growing up.
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Some-body would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
To me, that last line describes what happens when there’s no consensus on who should be doing what.
You can have great clarity and build consistency, but if you don’t agree on results and behaviors and have accountability, your efforts are going to unravel. You need to establish a standard to which everyone agrees and commits. Here’s a short list of ideas to help your agency and team members agree on that standard:
- Define. What are the non-optional behaviors in your agency? What are the non-optional behaviors that your team members agree to do to get the results you want? The agency leader should have the final say, but it’s critical to have buy-in from producers. They must be part of the process to feel ownership.
- Document. If it’s not put in writing and signed, is there really an agreement? The agencies that execute have a written record of what was agreed upon. It clarifies and solidifies the commitment, thereby providing a tangible directive vs. a vague concept. Unless it’s spelled out in a document, there’s a good chance it won’t come to fruition and you won’t get the results you desire.
- Deliver. Is ongoing accountability established in your agency? Top performers at the best agencies want and need accountability. They know where they want to go and what they have to do to get there, and they also want to perform to the best of their ability. Does your agency have regular meetings with producers? Accountability isn’t just about reviewing results after the fact; it’s also about continuously monitoring and improving producer performance.
As an agency leader and coach, it’s your job to help your team play its A-game at all times. Monthly performance reviews will help you make sure team members have lived up to their promises.
The average agency conducts performance reviews randomly, if at all, during the year. Most focus solely on annual sales figures and whether team members hit their goals for the year. At that point it’s too late to improve, and the cycle begins anew: Team members agree to “do better” the next year, with no discussion of what they’ll do to improve their performance.
Conversely, the best agencies document their performance goals and review them regularly with team members. No one likes to be told they’re screwing up, but the best people like to learn and improve. If someone doesn’t deliver the desired results, an effective coach will initiate a dialogue to find out why.
A constructive discussion would include phrases like “I thought we agreed” and “Help me understand.” Maybe a producer isn’t managing time well or seeing the right prospects. A good coach will allow the producer to explain what happened and then help him or her take immediate steps to improve so it doesn’t happen again.
Are you stuck in the performance gap? If so, it’s time to stop talking and start doing! Billionaire businessman Michael Dell may have said it best: “Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not.”
Brent Kelly, vice president of The Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach, and speaker who has a passion for helping agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please contact him at email@example.com or visit www.sitkins.com