The most powerful, important, expensive, destructive and fragile business asset
In business, we have attempted to become much more attuned to “people” issues. We have established personnel or human relations departments that in some places have now transformed to become people relations departments.
By Dr. William T. Hold
For some five decades plus, I have been deeply involved in the growth of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. With the aid, support, and encouragement of literally millions of individuals within the United States and in ten different countries across the globe, the organization has survived and grown stronger.
We have negotiated through the 9/11 crisis; various manmade destructive events; and natural catastrophes, including tidal waves, floods, and hurricanes. However, the great majority of big problems or crises have focused on a very dangerous, complicated, and unpredictable peril: people. Who are these people? They include our employees, clients, participants, and various related individuals.
How many times has an agency owner or department manager with another people problem put their head on their desk and asked, “What ever happened to the insurance business we are supposed to be managing?”
You’ve likely heard the oft-quoted expression “people will be people; they’re all alike.” By and large, humans have the same general physical makeup. However, this is where the similarities end and the real differences become vividly clear. How could people be more different than Billy Graham and Vladimir Putin or Mother Teresa and Lady Gaga? Therein lies the problem. Differences are not always apparent, nor are they easy to understand or deal with. Plus, differences can change with age and evolving societal trends.
In business, we have attempted to become much more attuned to “people” issues. We have established personnel or human relations departments that in some places have now transformed to become people relations departments. In addition, we have tried renaming people. For example, for some reason we have become very reticent to call people employees. They have become associates, co-workers, staff members, representatives, team members and the list goes on.
Perhaps if an increased number of people believed they received more of the respect they rightly deserved, were treated with greater fairness, were paid more equitably and were more strongly supported by management, we would not have to invent more names for the same people.
The term “team member” has been widely used for a significant number of years as a substitute for “employee” because it is less personal and can cover up mistakes and inadequacies under a cloak of “group guilt.” In addition, it is easier to spread good news or achievement over a larger group of people, i.e., “group success.”
Regardless of the size, complexity, or nature of your business or meeting, you will almost always find three kinds of people present:
The advocate/believer. This is the individual who believes in you, your company, your goals and what you are doing. They have a positive attitude, and they want to learn. They are realists, not Pollyannas. They have a genuine and continuing interest in helping clients, co-workers and other various business-related individuals. In addition, they will in many cases be at their absolute best in crisis situations. At a university, they would be the “A” or “honors” student.
The employee. This person is average, and at high school or college they will not be the “honors” graduate, make the Dean’s list, or go to graduate school. They simply do their job. They usually take all their vacation all the time. Typically, they will, when asked, help others but will almost always want additional money or vacation/comp time.
The paid enemy. This individual really does not like you, the business or even the school or college. Typically, they do just enough to avoid being thrown out or fired. When a problem or crisis situation arises, they become the victim. In many cases, they become a larger problem than the client with a loss or related issue. They usually leave a trail of mistakes, ill will and larger more serious future problems. In the end they will probably quit school or the business, be terminated, expunged, or “drummed out of the Brownies.”
At this point you may believe I’ve exaggerated the situation. You may argue that all your co-workers, team members, or colleagues are advocates/believers, and that the paid enemy does not exist in your world. Begin to watch, listen, and look more closely as you go through life in the coming weeks and months. Do not ask the advice or opinion of other managers or “leadership.” Ask the people who do the daily work, who in many cases bear the burden, and you will be unpleasantly surprised at the answers.
Whether or not we like it, every life, from the advocate to the paid enemy, continually leaves a message. Rest assured that you do not have to be rich and/or famous to communicate a message. As difficult and wonderful as people can be, they are all important because in some fashion they will make a difference in the lives of other people, including you.
In business—as in the rest of life—our message to all the people we deal with from clients, employees, associates and even our families, must be an understandable message of value. As agency leaders, we can help shape the messages by addressing the people in our teams and moving them along a continuum of positive change.
Our goal, of course, is to maximize the number of advocates/believers and eliminate the paid enemy. By doing so, you can build a winning or even championship team. As you may know, winning and success are very important in bringing and keeping people together. Championship teams are most often made up of several kinds of people. They’re not all superstars, but for the most part, most of the team is made up of what I would characterize as “GREAT” people.
Now how can we identify GREAT people or a GREAT person? These individuals always have a unified purpose. Common goals are their friend and being average is their enemy. I believe a GREAT person can be identified in the following manner:
“G” – Goal oriented. They do not just do things; they do what counts. They are not simply processors, they are achievers.
“R” – Respect. They respect the members of their team and have earned the respect of the team.
“E” – Extra effort. They focus on adding value not volume. Their goal is to pass the pack, not pass the buck.
“A” – Attention to detail. They understand that excellence is many small things done well. They have experienced the fact that small things make the big difference and in life we do not trip over mountains, we trip over molehills.
“T” – Tenacious. They will not allow failure to define them. Rather they will use failure to help them re-define themselves.
Goal oriented, respect, extra effort, attention to detail and tenacious; these define, in my judgment and experience, a GREAT person. Whichever name you choose, these are the people/employees worth searching out and holding close.
William T. “Doc” Hold, Ph.D., CIC, CPCU, CLU, is executive chairman of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, which he co-founded in 1969 as The Society of CIC. Under his leadership, The National Alliance has grown to become one of the most prestigious insurance education organizations in the world. In this column, Doc shares his personal insights and opinions, which are not necessarily those of The National Alliance or its board members.