By Roger Sitkins
HOW GREAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
Clearly define and document the outcomes you expect
I’ll never forget the day an agency owner walked into one of our producer training programs wearing what appeared to be a brand-new golf shirt embroidered with his agency’s logo. Prominently displayed below it was the slogan: Exceeding Your Expectations! It was very impressive.
As I complimented him on the shirt and logo design, I felt compelled to ask him about his tagline. “So your goal is to exceed your clients’ expectations?” I inquired. “Oh yes!” he responded proudly. “That’s what we do. We exceed expectations!”
That prompted me to ask him the name of his largest account, which he told me. I then asked, “What exactly do they expect from you?” When he started reciting something along the lines of “great service and competitive pricing,” I couldn’t resist asking him how he knew that. “Is that something you know for a fact? Is that what the decision makers told you?” “No, not really,” he admitted.
The key is to underpromise and overdeliver, and never to overpromise and underdeliver!
The moral of the story: Don’t assume expectations! Regrettably, many people do. Unless expectations are clearly defined and documented, however, I don’t see how you can expect to exceed them. That simply isn’t possible.
One of my favorite quotes about expectations is: “If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed.” Or, in the words of country singer Daryle Singletary, “I’m living up to her low expectations.” Is that your approach to expectations and accountability? Do you set the bar so low that clients won’t expect too much from you?
If you are an ACE (Agency Chief Executive), you should be keenly aware of expectations. What are your expectations for your team? What should your clients expect of you? What are your carriers’ expectations? Finally, what should your team members expect from you? Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.
- Leaders’ Expectations. You should make your expectations crystal clear to all of your team members. What exactly do you want them to do? All too often I see agency leaders who are angry alone. What a huge waste of time and energy that is. In fact, one of my favorite unwritten rules is that leaders (and in fact everyone) should never be angry alone. Why? Because they’re the only ones who suffer. They’re the ones who can’t sleep and feel sick in the middle of the night because they’re so frustrated. Yet because they keep everything bottled up inside, no one even knows they’re angry or that there might be a problem. Why should they think otherwise? Unless you tell them exactly what you expect from them, they have no way of knowing when they underperform. Our armed services have what’s known as the Military Decision Making Process. Every mission begins with the Commander’s Intent, which specifies what is to be accomplished. For example, it could be to take control of a town or destroy the enemy’s supply lines. In any case, it is the desired outcome of the mission. The key is to make sure that all parties involved are aware of the intent. Once the commander has stated it, the other officers and leaders are responsible for the planning and execution of the mission. Are your expectations clear to all of your team members? Is there clarity about your agency’s “mission?” Is everyone on the same page? What you expect of your team members must be clearly stated and constantly reinforced.
- Client Expectations. Are you like the individual I mentioned at the top of this article? Do you and all of your team members know and carry out the specific expectations of the top 20% of your clients? Remember, those clients generate 80% of your revenue! In a perfect world, your clients expect you to deliver on the promises you made in their annual risk management plan. (You do have a plan in place for your top 20%, don’t you?) If you want to differentiate, you first must make promises part of a formal plan. Then you must keep the promises you’ve made. It’s really that simple.
- Carrier Expectations. At the risk of upsetting some of my carrier friends, I’m just being honest when I say that typically, insurance company planning is a joke. How do I know this? By looking at the results! Only about one-third of agencies hit their goals with their carriers. As one of my long-time clients told me from his days as a branch manager of a major carrier, “Coming out of the gate we knew we were wrong. We could never report any agency getting smaller, even if we knew they were. It became a game of ‘We need X- amount of new premiums,’ and the agency would agree to it.” There was rarely a discussion of how the business was to be generated or the specific classes of business that had the greatest growth potential. There was simply no strategy. Fewer than 2% of agencies reverse the planning process and schedule a planning session with the top 20% of their carriers. (Yes, it’s the old 80/20 again! The top 20% of carriers = 80% of the premiums you write.) In a perfect world, the agency goes to the carrier with a highly specific plan that includes a performance report on the company. In it, the agency grades each carrier on its underwriting practices; how it handles claims, loss control, and accounting; and other key areas. By reporting these findings to their carriers, agencies have a way to compare which companies are doing the best job for them. When was the last time your agency proactively met with your carriers to discuss what you need and expect from them? Agencies that do so find that their carriers have a deeper understanding of the agency, which helps strengthen their relationship. This approach is far preferable to having the carrier come to you with what they want and expect. Reverse the planning process by having the conversation proactively, documenting it, and then holding their feet to the fire. If the carrier says they want a certain class of business but then balks every time you send a submission, it’s imperative that you follow up and remind them about your agreement. It’s really a cooperative effort that results in a win-win for growth. But you must put it in writing and follow through.
- Team Member Expectations. What can or should your team members expect from your agency? What do they really want? What do you owe your team members? (Have you ever asked them?) Based on my experience, they want more than just a job. Have you ever wondered what makes million-dollar producers get out of bed in the morning? They’re eager to get going because they have a vision, a purpose, and a mission they’re excited about. Conversely, the average producer is more like the fatigued baker in the old Dunkin’ Donuts ads. It’s all they can do to drag themselves out of bed and sleepwalk into work because “it’s time to make the donuts.” If you don’t know what motivates your team members to come to work each day, it’s time that you and other agency leaders ask them. For example, what do they see for their future, and how does the present figure into it? From what I’ve observed, most agency team members want a great work environment that offers flexibility, be it working remotely or having time for their family. They also want respect and a path to career advancement that includes ways to earn more money. Above all, they want to know they matter—that they’re appreciated and valued by the agency. Besides the producers, other team members also want to advance. Are you doing any sort of performance review with your people? I’m shocked at how many agencies don’t even do this on an annual basis. Oh sure, they might have a discussion about the numbers for the year and then award raises before setting random goals for the upcoming year. But that’s a meaningless exercise. An actual review is designed to change behaviors and enhance future performance.
- Define, Document, and Deliver. In all of these areas, you must have clarity and agreement. To gain clarity, you must clearly define your expectations. (Where are we today? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?) Next, all involved must agree to the expectations, so that everyone is on the same page. Another critical step is to document your agreement. We firmly believe that if it’s not written, it didn’t happen. It’s no different from documenting your agency’s interactions with carriers and clients. For instance, in our continuation (not renewal) process at the beginning of the policy year, we ask each client to specify what they expect from us. Our agreement to meet their expectations is then documented in writing for future reference. As the agency leader, you should be demanding documentation. Once you’ve defined and documented the client’s expectations, the final step is delivery (doing what you said you would do). The key here is to underpromise and overdeliver, and never to overpromise and underdeliver! Do a checkup on yourself to see if you’re meeting and exceeding the promises you’ve made. At Sitkins, the members of our Private Client Group issue actual reports on promises made. These semiannual Promise Reports are presented to the top 20% of our clients and detail what we’ve done for them over the last six months. We also ask clients for feedback on how we’re doing.
The bottom line
If you truly want to stand out from the crowd, you might want to start doing what the best agencies do. They really do exceed expectations. To them, it’s not a slogan on a shirt; it’s reality. What’s your reality? Is it an empty tagline or a code of conduct that’s ingrained in your corporate culture?
As always, it’s your choice.
Roger Sitkins is chief executive officer of Sitkins Group, Inc., and developer of The Sitkins Network and The Better Way Agency program. Roger began his career by working in his parents’ insurance agency in Wyandotte, Michigan, and after nearly 40 years has truly become an icon in the industry. He has trained and mentored thousands of insurance professionals. Producers, CEOs, and sales managers with diverse levels of experience have benefited tremendously from his training and leadership.
Roger was inducted into the Michigan Insurance Hall of Fame in 2017 and in that same year also received the Dr. Henry C. Martin Award from Rough Notes magazine. Roger is one of only six people to have the honor of receiving this prestigious award.
Recognized as the nation’s top insurance agency results coach and renowned leader for improvement, he believes that if you improve the life of one person, you improve the world. To learn more, visit www.sitkins.com.