ON THE ROAD AGAIN—EFFECTIVE RECRUITING STRATEGIES
Why are some agencies able to recruit and retain employees, while others are struggling?
How many opportunities are we missing when we fail to cast a broader net?
As an industry, we have some catching up to do!
By Mary M. Belka, CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC, CPIW
COVID is down to a dull roar, and the consulting road warriors among us are shaking the Zoom dust from our traveling shoes. I have been struck by the kindness of the talented people who have served me over the years, whom I am seeing once again—Ehsan and Ricardo, the Delta ticket agents who greeted me 40 weeks a year for so long, and then not at all for two years, welcoming me back as though no time had passed. Steve, the TSA agent, who also remembered me after the pandemic hiatus, and said, “It must be Monday, because here you are; come on over to my line!” Which of these employees would you be thrilled to have in your organization? Clearly, service matters.
One of the main operational issues we hear about consistently from agencies is the challenge of recruiting and retaining talent. The critical mass point about which many have been in denial has finally been reached regarding the exodus of aging service staff, and the need not just to replace bodies but to replicate the exiting wisdom. While this challenge has risen above all others for many agencies, it is interesting to note that some organizations are thriving and seemingly bypassing the recruiting challenge. They recognize that this is creating a competitive advantage, and they are leveraging it.
There are agencies that have experienced their best performance ever, with record growth and profitability—during COVID. One successful agency owner expressed recently that his primary goal is to create an environment where people are happy and where they want to come to work. He has very low turnover and is growing profitably at an accelerated rate. He says, “I don’t worry about the numbers; everyone is exceeding their goals because, ultimately, when they are happy and see that I am invested in them, the numbers follow.”
Why are some agencies able to recruit and retain employees, while others are struggling so mightily? It’s not just luck—there are threads that connect the organizations that seem to transcend recruiting difficulties. Those who have long recognized the value of developing and nurturing talent are reaping the rewards; it’s not too late to join them.
Richard Deems wrote in his book Hiring, “Clearly the team with the best people wins, as only the best can handle rapid change. The best minds make you competitive.” Talent, call it what you will—ability, aptitude, gift, touch, or flair—is the secret sauce that propels the leaders well past the pack.
Creating an organization and vibrant culture to which talented individuals are attracted is something we’ve discussed before. The goal is to seek out the best and brightest candidates. It begins with leadership, and the creation of a clear vision of where you are going, captured in your strategic plan.
An effective strategy includes, among other things, a logical, scalable business model; effective tech stack; procedures; metrics; objective measurement; and performance-based rewards. These components underpin the type of environment that attracts talented candidates to the environment you have created.
Eight recruiting strategies
It starts with readiness. Try the following strategies:
- Intentional recruiting. Recruiting great employees is a lot like recruiting great accounts. The best accounts aren’t wandering around looking for an agency to handle their risk management needs; in most cases, you must go out and recruit your target clients away from their current agency relationship. The best employees are the same—they are nearly always currently employed, and you must go out and recruit them into your organization. Ultimately, if you build a great organization, they will seek you out; in the meantime, an intentional approach is paramount.
- Be prepared. Successful agencies work at being one person overstaffed instead of running one person “thin.” Planning and budgeting provide more leeway to make hiring decisions before the need is desperate. Finding and training the right people may take more time than it did in the past. As a result, hiring people ahead of the crisis curve, as opportunities present themselves, puts your agency in a position of strength. The same thought process applies to insurtech tools, procedures, training, and performance metrics. Preparing your environment to engage talented individuals from day one helps to ensure their success—and yours.
- Reticulated activators. Once you have created a clear vision of where your agency is going and the positions you need to fill, be on the lookout for those who match your target employee profile. Just like the car-buying process, when you decide to purchase a particular brand or color of vehicle, you start seeing them everywhere. It’s not your imagination—it’s your brain helping you to find what you are seeking by heightening your awareness of that specific item.
It works when you are seeking people, too. Having a clear vision of what great service is literally helps you to recognize it when it’s right in front of you. Don’t leave recruiting to chance—the best potential candidates are often hiding in clear sight, providing great service in another industry, just waiting for a new opportunity to emerge.
- Seek the servant’s heart. So many agency owners claim they “just can’t find good people.” They are so often right in front of you. As indicated above, your reticulated activators help to make you more aware of the service you are receiving; the rest is up to you. Pay attention every time you are served. Traveling provides so many opportunities to see great service people at their best. A waiter said just this week, as we commented on the sincerely great service he had provided, “Every job I’ve had involved providing service to others—that’s what I love to do.” This individual knows what he likes to do, truly loves to serve others, and told us of his plans to return to school to study physical therapy. He’s not compelled to serve food—he is compelled to serve. Why not at your agency? Every person who impresses you with his or her service acumen, could be providing that level of care to your clients.
- Embrace diversity—today’s talent may not look like you. What does a great service person look like? The waiter whose talent I just described was striking—at least 6 foot 8 inches tall, bright, articulate, young, and African American, with a small nose piercing. He could not have been more pleasant or helpful. A servant’s heart today may be wrapped in a different package from those of the past. How many opportunities are we missing when we fail to cast a broader net? As an industry, we have some catching up to do!
- Employee referrals. The best people surround themselves with people who share their values. If your employees are engaged and happy, they will be eager to help their friends, as well as your organization, by recommending your agency as a great place to work. Many successful organizations provide significant recruiting bonuses to their employees for these referrals. One plan I’ve seen work well is to pay one-half at the time of hiring and the other half after the new employee has stayed with the firm for six months. Considering the large fees paid to recruiting firms, this approach rewards your employees for helping in the same way, usually at a lower cost and higher retention rate. This creates the added benefits of increasing the morale of current employees and giving them a stake in the success of new employees.
- Effective advertising—use your imagination. There is a continuing shift in some occupations brought about by the pandemic. Some teachers, nurses and pharmacists, for example, are looking for different opportunities in the service sector. These individuals have college degrees, and servants’ hearts, and their income levels are commensurate with those of insurance account managers. Advertising campaigns that specifically target these industries may uncover a treasure trove of employees for agencies in need of talented servicing staff.
- Build an ongoing recruiting network. You can do this by becoming involved in our industry in general, either by teaching or attending insurance industry activities and events, which creates opportunities to cross paths with potential future employees. The ability to teach—or be taught by—budding, engaged, talented professionals is an invaluable opportunity to connect with those who might make a difference for your clients. Your network may include professional recruiters for some positions.
There are colleges and universities offering degrees in risk management; these individuals are most often hired by insurance carriers. Agencies don’t traditionally participate in job fairs or active recruiting of these individuals. Hiring student interns while they are still in college can provide an opportunity for them to see a different path for success—in your agency in either sales or service.
Great leaders recognize the importance of investing in talent—it’s just good business. Closing the talent gap, if you have one, is priority number one!
Mary M. Belka is owner and CEO of Eisenhart Consulting Group, Inc., providing management and operations consulting to the insurance industry. She also is an endorsed agency E&O auditor for Swiss Re/Westport. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Mary holds the CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC, and CPIW designations.