Manager and mentor—a two-hatted lady
In his letter recommending Brianne Head, CIC, CRIS, for the 2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year Award, Tom Martina, vice president of Southwest Risk in Dallas, Texas, summed up her qualities in one word: “She is just that, outstanding.”
Other nominators agreed with that moniker, citing specific qualities that make Brianne, director of client services for Dallas-based Independent Insurance Group, Inc., worthy of the honor.
Laura Locke, Independent Insurance Group director of agency operations, wrote: “She constantly strives to improve herself. She seeks out books, seminars, and conversation with others to improve her own leadership style—and then shares what she’s learned.”
Kim Cato, senior regional production underwriter at United Fire Group, added: “Brianne Head’s enthusiasm, communication skills and professional demeanor are exceptional in this industry. During the time I have worked with her, she has consistently demonstrated all of these qualities and more.”
If one were to ask Brianne herself what she considers to be one of the most important qualities in her life, she would respond with “the ability to mentor.” That quality is implicit in Brianne’s response to a prompt provided by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, and it serves as a mentoring epistle in itself.
“The beauty of life is it is your life. You get to choose your own path.”
Director of Client Services
Independent Insurance Group, Inc.
The prompt, which drove the essay portion of the Outstanding CSR of the Year nomination, read: A friend who is a CSR has come to you for advice about a new customer service job opportunity in an agency in another city. What five factors about the employer and the position would you advise them to consider before accepting the job? Please discuss the most important factor first.”
That topic proved to be right down Brianne’s alley because it spoke directly to how she lives her private life and approaches her relationships at work. A company’s culture was, in her mind, the most important factor. “This is the ‘touchy-feely’ portion of a job opportunity,” she wrote. “A company whose culture aligns with your personal values, beliefs, and needs is the most important aspect to weigh when considering making a change.”
This statement reveals who Brianne is and how she operates. As a small child she was mentored by her mother—sometimes by word and sometimes by example. Brianne and her brother learned to be independent and forward-thinking, and that it was okay to make mistakes. Early on, she took that background into her work-a-day world at Zurich, where her mother also worked (but in an entirely different area). Brianne quips, “You know there are military brats? I’m an insurance brat.”
Having observed and absorbed her mother’s realistic and practical approach to life—she wore the same outfits so that her children would not go without—Brianne concludes that, in her case, the practicality of “looking forward” meant obtaining a college degree in management while working full-time. She observes that this was the path that was right for her; her advice to her employees: “The beauty of life is it is your life. You get to choose your own path.”
It is no wonder, then, that the second factor addressed by Brianne—benefits—was practical rather than philosophical in nature. “Understanding the eligibility requirements surrounding each benefit and how the overall benefits package meets your needs is crucial,” she emphasized, once again taking on the mentoring mantle and pointing out that a company’s culture should align with the interviewee’s needs. “After all,” she notes, “benefits are an essential element in one’s life.”
Brianne cautions: “Many people will negotiate salary, but consider negotiating other benefits as part of an employment offer. There is value in discovering if the benefits available are above and beyond what other companies are offering in the industry, as this is another insight into their culture.”
Third, Brianne advises: “Reflect on the interview process … . Items to reflect on from the interview process may be: How did they treat the interview process? Were your questions about the position and organization welcomed? Did you like the interviewers? Did you get a good vibe? What was your initial gut feeling or reaction? Did the interviewers truly answer your questions or did they talk around the questions without providing answers?”
Turning the interview process on its head, Brianne suggests: “Did you interview them just as they were interviewing you? The interview process itself is very much a two-way street.”
The industry’s take on the reputation of the future employer is next on Brianne’s list. The implication is that it is important for the prospective employee to find an environment that not only is comfortable to him or her, but that also is respected beyond the company’s doors. She follows with straightforward and practical questions, some of which are: “What is their involvement in the industry? Are they assisting in attracting the next generation to the industry? What is their social media presence? What is their stance on technology? What is their current office set-up? What philanthropic endeavors are they affiliated with?”
That final question carries a heavy import in Brianne’s mind. “Give back; pay forward” is part of her mantra. If a future employer doesn’t participate in community activities, will it support its employees’ desire to volunteer?
If one talks the talk, he or she should walk the walk, according to Brianne, who in 2016 represented the CSR role when she volunteered at the Independent Insurance Agents of Dallas InVEST Expo/Bootcamp day for area high school seniors interested in a career in the insurance industry. She assists as the official scorebook keeper for her son’s T-ball team (her husband is the head coach) and, always keeping her hand in the industry, serves in many advisory situations, mainly for Travelers.
Another essential prospective-employer requisite in Brianne’s mind: “Are they team-based?” That’s a trait Brianne definitely exhibits. According to Kim Cato, “Of particular value is Brianne’s team-player mindset … . Her ability to calm angry or frustrated customers is unparalleled, and it is because of her excellence in this area that she is repeatedly asked to mentor new employees.”
Laura Locke concurs: “Brianne is an incredible coach and mentor.” Brianne shares the following example: “I often take off my manager hat and put on my mentoring hat where my team members can feel safe.” Drawing once again on her mother’s counsel, she cautions her employees not to fear making mistakes. She often cites personal experience and her own mistakes, pointing out that she can now help others learn from theirs and move forward.
“As a brief example,” adds Laura, “her friendly reminders that ‘mistakes’ should be referred to as ‘learning opportunities’ has improved my relationship with my direct reports by providing more compassionate feedback.” Brianne begins each regular meeting by asking her team members to speak of something good that happened in the last week. “Find something positive even if something bad has happened.”
The final item Brianne recommends is a caution to anyone interviewing for a CSR position: “Verify your knowledge and comfort level with the job description and duties as presented. Be certain you understand circumstances regarding the potential (or lack thereof) for advancement and growth in the future.” (Looking forward is an essential quality in Brianne’s mind.)
In addition—and this is an interesting take on the interview process—if the potential for advancement “was not addressed through the interview process, I suggest sending follow-up questions to the interviewer to inquire, from their perspective, what does the best day and worst day in the position look like. Their answer may be enlightening.”
The ultimate tribute that certainly makes Brianne Head qualified to receive the Outstanding CSR of the Year Award comes from Kim Cato: “I regularly receive unsolicited praise from our staff commending Brianne’s outstanding level of service, professionalism and follow-through.” What a kudo.
As the 2017 recipient of the CSR Award, Brianne receives a cash award of $2,000 as well as a gold and diamond lapel pin. In addition, her name joins others on a sculpture that is on permanent display at the National Alliance headquarters in Austin, Texas. Brianne’s employer, Independent Insurance Group, Inc., will receive a scholarship for participation in any National Alliance program.
Alice Ashby Roettger is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She also serves as an editorial assistant at Rough Notes magazine.
THE OUTSTANDING CSR OF THE YEAR AWARD
The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research has presented the Outstanding CSR of the Year Award since 1991. The award is based on the candidate’s contributions to the insurance industry and the community, plus the quality of an essay that responds to a specific prompt.
National finalists for the 2017 Outstanding CSR of the Year Award were:
Jennifer D. Fryar, CIC, CISR, with the Sullivan Insurance Agency, Ardmore, Oklahoma
Pamela A. Grimes, CIC, CISR, CPIW, DAE, AINS, CBIA, with VFIS of North Carolina/Anders, Ireland & Marshall, Inc., in Raleigh, North Carolina
Demetra J. Ramey, CIC, CISR, with CRS Insurance Brokerage, Denver, Colorado
Brenda A. Sells, CIC, CISR, with Theodore Tunick & Company in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands
Each finalist receives a gold and garnet lapel pin, a $500 cash award, and publicity in a national trade journal.
For more information regarding the Outstanding Customer Service Representative of the Year Award, visit www.TheNationalAlliance.com.