Young Professionals: “How About A Nice Game Of Chess?”
Christopher W. Cook

PriSim Business War Games and the CIAB partner to provide strategic competition for emerging leaders—Broker Smackdown

We wrapped up a two-parter on development programs As for our story, Officer McGee tracked down Jean and our serial killer, and after a nail-biting shootout, both went down with bullet wounds to their torsos—Officer McGee left unscathed. Jane, who awoke from her coma again, claimed the body of her sister at the morgue, only to discover a birthmark that didn't belong to Jean, but rather the twins' long-lost triplet, Joan. So where is Jean? And of course the body of the killer vanished from the morgue—that's just staple.

Back to reality. I quoted several movie characters in last month's Young Professionals article, and I somewhat continued the trend by quoting "Joshua" from the 1983 film WarGames in this month's title. For anyone who's seen the movie, it's difficult to forget the seat-clenching nuclear war simulation scene toward the end. So why am I bringing this up? What's any of this have to do with development programs or the insurance industry? Well, it just so happens that there exists a company that builds and develops insurance business simulation programs, and they can be available for your next development event or added to your training curriculum.

PriSim Business War Games, Inc., has been around for 20 years, developing training programs not only for brokers and carriers, but covering other industries as well like manufacturing, dealerships, publications, aerospace and defense, and banking.

"We started our experience in insurance on the carrier side and then gravitated to management leadership development on the broker side," says Jeff Lefebvre, Ph. D., PriSim founder and partner. "Once You've completed one of our classes you have essentially gone through a very compressed MBA program that's been customized around the insurance brokerage business model: its unique language, dynamics and financials.

"We have a very broad offering for anybody in a brokerage who wants to enhance their business acumen, improve their financial acumen, and develop their leadership skills. It's taking people who perhaps were successful on the sales or service side and giving them more management and leadership focus. We aim to broaden their perspective to not just worry about customer counts and renewal rates but also to understand the income statement, the balance sheet and all the financial dynamics of running the business over many years."

Products and benefits

Participating in a PriSim simulation course will result in achieving numerous objectives, the first being improvement of business acumen.

"Our simulations put you into the CEO/principal position, and what you learn is the big-picture perspective," says Lefebvre. "You run the entire business. You have to find the cash and capital that you need. You need to hire the people, set up the compensation structure, deliver your service, borrow money short term/long term, issue equity, pay dividends. We take you out of your silo mentality of just being a customer service rep or a producer and make you more of a business decisionmaker by having you understand the entire business."

Practicing strategic thinking and business planning is the second objective.

"Often people are caught in the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month routines, which is important, but it's also important once in a while to pause and reflect," Lefebvre continues. "It's important to think about what your long-term objectives are. We have them pick two-, three-, and four-year strategic objectives. What do you want to look like in 2020, and how do you back up to 2016, 17, 18 in order to implement a plan that gets to those longer-term objectives and goals?"

Participants will also increase their financial understanding and confidence and build leadership and teamwork abilities.

Lefebvre adds: "You're developing a better understanding of the financials and money—income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements. What are the critical performance indicators in terms of profit margins, trust ratio, leverage, and receivables? When you walk out of our classes you've basically gone through a finance for a non-financial persontype course.

"You pick up a lot in terms of team building. You're on a team, so you have to deal with personalities and people who see things differently. How can you effectively communicate your ideas and challenge their ideas to come up with better ideas? It's not just about the numbers; it's also about working with your teammates to study those numbers and to understand their perspectives on the 'right' answer."

PriSim's clients take advantage of what the simulators offer with regard to developing their talent. Although some bring PriSim onboard for a multi-day training event, most develop longer-lasting working relationships.

"Most of our clients run their courses two to three times per year," says Lefebvre. "Some of our best clients will run their courses eight to 10 times. It all depends on whether it's part of a curriculum, how committed the organization is to training and development, and if they have a corporate university structure. Some clients are non-core clients, one and done. We don't have many of those."

Customized programs are also available to teach the client company's business model and highlight the specific challenges of the industry.

"We have different degrees of customization," adds Lefebvre. "We have clients who say, 'Hey, we really want to make you part of our curriculum. We've identified the competencies we're looking to develop, and we've identified that your course covers these competencies; maybe if you add or tweak this, it will be better aligned.' So we become part of their corporate university offering."

PriSim offers additional training materials to complement its more complex simulators.

"Simulations are probably the most important tool we bring to the table because they are industry specific and customized, but we have an agency board game which we use in conjunction with the computerized simulation," explains Lefebvre. "We'll take about an hour in the class where students are given different transaction scenarios so they can see how money moves through the agency as a policy is sold, commission is received and premiums are paid out to the carrier. The problem with the computerized simulation is that a lot of the calculations are happening in the background. I see the income statement and the balance sheet change, but I don't really see the flow like I do when I'm moving the money myself on the board game.

"Occasionally we'll have a large client come to us and say 'You did a great job with the three-day simulation; we'd like to have you build us a much simpler version' in more of a 'what if' tool. These essentially are big calculators that can quickly do calculations in various situations. What would happen if we could retain our business by one more percentage point? What would happen if we paid our producers an additional two percent in new commission and they were able to close 10% more in new business? They're very Simple models, typically one or two screens where you can type in different assumptions and see what would happen to your profitability.

"Those can also be integrated into our classes, or they're actually powerful enough to be used for stand-alone twoto four-hour courses where you want to drive discussion about some of the key levers that could be used to improve the business. We will do a trainer-to-trainer class, develop the model and license it," concludes Lefebvre.

Broker Smackdown

For the second year, PriSim Business War Games has partnered with the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB) to offer threeday competitions—called Broker Smackdown—for emerging leaders with less than five years of leadership experience at its Leadership Academy.

"People often ask why we call it the Broker Smackdown," says CIAB's senior vice president of leadership and management resources, Elizabeth McDaid. "It's got a fun, competitive connotation to it and we know that brokers are competitive by nature, so we thought the name would give it the fun nuance it needs.

"We ask each firm to send a pair of its emerging leaders, and they are paired with two from another firm, although a firm could send four people," continues McDaid. "As a team, they are inheriting a brokerage firm. Everyone in round one has the exact same firm. We ask them to take that firm and do SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis on it, look at the customer segmentation, the products being offered, and the producers and staffing, and set a strategy that they will execute over the next four rounds.

"After about an hour-and-a-half we stop round one. While the simulation material is being processed, we turn to the leadership competencies that are being stressed in the program. The next hour is spent discussing the strengths and the areas of development, not only individually but also as a team. When they go into round two, the market is completely different because the simulation responds to the decisions that each team makes. The program goes on like that for two days. On the last day we announce which team was able to execute on its strategy the best," McDaid concludes.

This year's competition—using PriSim's Agency Challenge! Simulator— includes three regional events, the first having taken place in San Jose in March, the second May 3-5 in Philadelphia, and the final in Indianapolis July 12-14. The victors from the regional Smackdown events will compete for the national championship at the CIAB's Insurance Leadership Forum in Colorado Springs in October.

"The Broker Smackdown can accelerate the business acumen learning curve by as much as three years. We refer to it as a mini-MBA," says McDaid. "It's not just working the simulation; you're also hearing minilectures between rounds about what you'd focus on in a business school. Broker Smackdown is really taking off at The Council, and people are loving it. We have lots of room for it to continue to grow."

For more information: PriSim Business War Games CIAB Leadership Academy Broker Smackdown