COMMIT TO YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: IT’S MORE THAN CE!
Intentionally find opportunities to explore and expand with a curious mind and a passionate attitude
By Donna Gray
According to Wikipedia, “Professional Development” can be described as “learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, attending conferences, and informal learning opportunities situated in practice.” That’s an extremely broad definition, but it certainly summarizes the many ways insurance professionals work their way through the Phases of Professional Development framework as outlined by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit focused on research and development of tools to enhance learning.
The five phases
The phases of professional development outlined by the organization include:
- Building a knowledge base. The purpose of this phase is to acquire new knowledge and information and to build a conceptual understanding of it. For the insurance professional, this might entail pre-licensing education to obtain an insurance producer license, or intensive training to become an insurance underwriter or claims adjuster.
- Observing models and examples. The purpose of this phase is to study examples in order to develop a practical understanding of the job. Here is where we often engage in role-playing during training, encourage new producers to shadow seasoned veterans on client visits, or deploy a formal mentoring program that pairs new hires with experienced personnel to learn the ropes.
- Reflecting on your practice. The purpose of this phase is to analyze the results of your practice based on new knowledge acquired. Taking time to debrief after a role- play exercise or a ride along on a sales call provides valuable and actionable feedback immediately. Use this reflection to determine what went right and what could be done better next time.
- Changing your practice. The purpose of this phase is to translate your newly acquired knowledge and experience into plans and actions for change. Take the feedback identified by debriefing your performance and use it to revise your approach. Depending on your role in the industry, this might mean a change to your pre-appointment data gathering method, your in-person or online communication or meeting strategy, or your approach for handling client complaints.
- Gaining and sharing expertise. The purpose of this phase is to continue to refine your practice by learning with and from colleagues, while also sharing your practical wisdom and experience with your peers. In our industry, networking and idea-sharing are key components of how professionals grow. Get involved with an insurance organization in your field of industry practice and engage with other active members.
Keep in mind that the phases of professional development are continuous. To become and remain a professional in the field of insurance, you are never finished learning. Once you’ve mastered one aspect of the business, you will return to phase one and continue to add to your knowledge base in other areas of the business.
CE: Required or inspired?
As licensed insurance professionals, we are mandated to adhere to continuing education (CE) requirements to maintain the right to practice. However, many view CE as a burden rather than an opportunity to further build their knowledge base.
The most typical state continuing education requirement is 24 hours of CE every two years, with three of the hours pertaining to ethics, according to statece.com. When you think about what you can accomplish with 24 hours of dedicated attention to a subject or activity, the results can be life changing. For example, you could walk around the island of Manhattan, bike from Miami to Key West, watch two full seasons of House of Cards, or completely remodel a room in your home.
Now, consider the impact on your insurance career if you regularly devote 24 hours to quality educational experiences. By investing this time in your professional development, imagine how you could excel. Five benefits of taking a more inspired approach to continuing education requirements include:
- Expansion of your knowledge base. Use continuing education opportunities to learn a new niche market, uncover the nuances of how coverages can apply to risk, and increase your expertise. Actively and intentionally seeking ways to expand your knowledge will prove beneficial to your long-term success.
- Increased confidence and credibility. Increasing your skills and professional expertise will boost your confidence. The insurance industry is full of professional designations. These designations are an outward display of dedication to the industry, commitment to professional development, and certification of a specific level of knowledge. By achieving a designation, you increase your credibility with prospects, clients, and peers.
- Increased earning potential. Honing your skills and expanding your knowledge level can boost your earning potential and increase your future career options. By achieving and maintaining professional designations and licenses, you are investing in yourself and increasing your value.
- Networking opportunities. Participating in industry meetings, workshops, conferences, and other events increases your exposure to other people within the industry. When you decide you are ready to further your career or branch out into a new discipline, your professional network will come in handy.
- Staying current on industry trends. The exchange of ideas during classes, meetings, and events provides great exposure to up-to-date information on regulatory changes impacting the industry, trends that are shaping client expectations, innovation that is driving technology changes, and other world happenings that require adjustments to current and future operating plans. Every industry is constantly evolving, and we must continue to expand our knowledge, learn new practices and techniques, and embrace new technology to best serve the changing needs of our clients.
Take your professionalism to a new level. Be intentional about the classes you take and the events in which you participate. By having a personal development learning plan, you can leverage the time “required” to keep licenses and certifications current by engaging in quality programs that truly further your education and skills while inspiring you to reach new goals and achievements.
The opportunities for advancing your insurance education are truly endless. No longer is having an insurance designation or advanced certification limited to those with large training budgets. Classes of all levels are routinely available in a variety of formats, offering flexibility. Venues include online or classroom settings, and formats may be instructor-led in real time or on-demand, interactive, and self-paced.
Every industry is constantly evolving, and we must continue to expand our knowledge, learn new practices and techniques, and embrace new technology to best serve the changing needs of our clients.
There are multitudes of quality insurance education providers, designation programs, and professional organizations. Some of the most popular are Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC), Certified Risk Manager (CRM), Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA), and Certified Insurance Service Representative (CISR). These designation classes are frequently offered by state insurance associations affiliated with the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”).
There are also many national organizations and technology user groups that offer excellent education in specific areas. Beyond completing the requirements to achieve a designation, membership in these professional associations leads to further learning and networking opportunities.
Some to consider include:
- Niche-focused risk management: International Risk Management Institute
- Insurance-specific marketing and sales training: American Insurance Marketing and Sales Society
- Vertafore systems training: Network of Vertafore Users
- Applied systems training: Applied Client Network
- Specialty lines education: Wholesale and Specialty Insurance Association
And the list goes on! A simple search on your area of interest will provide additional opportunities.
Curiosity, as important as intelligence
Curiosity is just as important as intelligence in employees, according to Harvard Business Review. The way IQ is measured makes it an abstract concept, and a high IQ doesn’t always mean someone will be driven and inspired in the workplace.
A study from Perspectives on Psychological Science says that intellectually curious people—those with a hungry mind—typically are bored with routine, they’re more willing to accept ambiguity, and they rarely are comfortable with conforming.
These types of workers are always interested in the next best thing and are more likely to look at how they can improve the day-to-day business. Those with a curious mindset, who get bored with routine and crave the biggest and best, are a perfect fit for fast-paced change and innovative cultures. Curious people are typically natural learners since they crave knowledge and new experiences in all aspects of their lives.
These are the characteristics that the insurance industry must find ways to attract and retain in its workforce.
It’s not the hours you put in
In the words of Sam Ewing, former baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, “It’s not the hours you put in your work that counts; it’s the work you put in the hours.”
This succinctly sums up the commitment insurance professionals should make to their professional development. It’s more than putting in the CE hours. It’s about intentionally finding opportunities to explore and expand with a curious mind and a passionate attitude.
By supporting an approach to professional development that inspires, rather than requires, the insurance industry will continue to evolve and innovate.
Donna Gray is executive director of the American Insurance Marketing and Sales (AIMS) Society, a nonprofit educational organization that administers the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA) designation. Successfully deploying a meaningful and engaging professional development program is a common discussion topic among members of the AIMS Society and during CPIA seminars. Specifically, “CPIA 3: Sustain Success” addresses the concept of having a well-crafted continuing education plan for all employees. For information, visit aimssociety.org.