Author: Scott A. Karstens, President & CEO
Title: The Seasons of Your Agency
Date Published: March 2, 2015
Date Edited: June 30, 2017
At Broker Backoffice, we are very fortunate to work with multiple agencies of various sizes. We have come to appreciate the challenges that an agency faces year over year and cumulative over time. Some of you may be familiar with the Byrds, the band who made Ecclesiastes a pop cultural hit…To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn… What’s particularly interesting about the song to me, is its meaning or impact in a many areas of our lives and just like the seasons change around us so to do the seasons of your Agency.
The Seasons of Your Agency
So, how does understanding the seasons of your agency affect your Agency Management? When you think of the different seasons; Winter , Spring, Summer, Autumn, what comes to mind? For me I love Winter, but Winter is cold, desolate, and barren regardless of how much I enjoy the snow. Spring brings to mind a newness, fresh beginnings and growth as we thaw from Winter. Summer for me is a season of recreation and maintenance. And lastly, Autumn is a time of togetherness and plenty. I grew up around farmers and worked on farms when I wasn’t in school or sports. If you asked, to many of the farmers I knew, Winter would be just as described, cold and desolate and you would be resting and awaiting the Spring. Likewise, if you were a farmer, Spring time is time of preparation for growth. Spring is when you till the ground, plant seed and make sure you are doing what is necessary to prepare your fields for growth. Then, as a farmer, when you get to Summer you have to work hard at maintaining your crop as best as possible to help control weed growth and soil conditions to allow for growth to continue. And lastly we get to Autumn. Again if you were a farmer Autumn is a time for harvest. This is where you begin to reap the rewards of your labor. So how does this apply to your business? Well just like the farmer has different seasons so to does your business and you will likely need to identify what season you are in (not necessarily on the calendar) and appropriately address your “field” to be the most effective you can be. In this article, we will discuss the seasons of your agency, how to identify what season you are in, and provide some ideas on how to address your “field”.
Season 1: Winter
Winter is a very important season for your business. Many agencies work at a fast pace, long hours and little rest through the other three seasons and need a Winter season to give them rest. This ‘Lull’ is very useful for evaluation, reflection, planning and REST. Those agencies that have had a decade or more of growth and want that growth to continue will make the most of this season. They will make sure they 1. can come out of it with a refreshed body, mind and soul 2. are able to effectively communicate a clear headed vision for the employees, partners and agents to rally around. But, Winter can also be very treacherous. Some agencies are struggling to grow and Winter still has all of the benefits mentioned above for these agencies, but without the correct mindset and ability to implement there are some major pitfalls that can be nearly fatal to the agency.
Pitfalls in Winter
Pitfall #1 is Complacency. If you find yourself spending too much time resting and not enough time planning, your competition will move past you quickly. It can sometimes be difficult to identify when you as a leader are being complacent. Here are some things to look for in you personally: Do you get energized by the thought of growth? When you think of updating or creating an action plan, do you get energized? Do you find it difficult to deal with issues (normal or complex)?
How do you deal with complacency? First and foremost, ask your team to engage and provide input to your business. This includes criticism as well as new ideas. Second, listen. Third, process the information. Decide what is a behavior you can correct and what is a behavior you can encourage. Fourth, have a close advisor. If you don’t have one, get one. Run your ideas past them, but more importantly share your struggles. And last, Implement! Even if it is a two line plan, implement what is possible and get moving.
Pitfall #2 is Doubt. When you campout in a Winter season too long, doubt is a killer to progress. Many people will begin to believe their doubt; “I can’t do….”, “because I/we….” or “How could I possibly….”. The mind is a terrible place to live when living in doubt. These questions come up in other seasons as well, but the danger during a Winter season is the ability to pull out of the doubt cycle.
How do you pull out of a doubt mindset? First, you need to find a trusted advisor as we mentioned above. It is invaluable to have someone that you can lay your concerns and doubts on. Make sure when you are picking this person or people/people, that you are not a commiserating group and that you are not relying on a spouse for this. Second, don’t start with home runs. One big mistake is wanting it all right away. Give yourself a path which includes mini victories or base hits. This helps remove doubt and encourage the team around you. Third, it is extraordinarily difficult for someone who is active, with focus, to doubt themselves for long. Get active!
Pitfall #3 is Laziness. This is an interesting one and a sensitive one. No one likes to think of themselves as lazy and they certainly don’t like being told they are lazy! But often, laziness is born out of complacency and doubt. It is just a natural reaction for someone to become lazy when they have no motivation to move because they doubt the movement will work. So, how do you know if you are being lazy? Many of you might think, “Well, I work long hours there is no way I am lazy!”. Your time in work has little to do with being lazy, but can be an outward signal of it. The number one signal for “am I being lazy?” is your willingness to complete a task. If you are being lazy, you may be working long hours because you are not willing to complete something, again tied to complacency and doubt.
How do you correct laziness? This one is difficult in my opinion because it is bred out of complacency and doubt. Plus, there is a lot of pride surrounding the thought of being lazy or being called lazy. The first step though is to recognize the areas of business and personal life in which you are being lazy. The second step is to pick ONE to work on. We often like to fix everything all at once. You will find that if you can identify one behavior or one area in business or personal life to work on it is much easier to focus on fixing that one thing. A convenient side effect is that often in the process of fixing that behavior, you correct many of the other residual behaviors or ideas. Lastly, set up identifiers with your personal advisors so they know what to look for and can help to keep the problem from reoccurring.
Pitfall #4 is Confusion. When you are fully wearing complacency, doubt, and laziness how can you possibly understand what to do to correct your situation? One clear way to identify this is that you no longer know what to do. A really difficult part of identifying this problem is that pride tends to really take hold of you and even though you don’t know what to do, you won’t admit you’re stuck , you won’t take any advice, and the spiral ensues.
How do you correct confusion? For some, this is where you need to consider transitioning your business to others who have the energy and are willing to put in the effort or bringing on fresh talent for perspective. Your business can experience true growth in-spite of your situation, upon correction (this is only true if you stay positive and focused with the transition or addition). You need to have a trusted advisor that you are willing to hear harsh criticism from and that you can accept praise from. You will need to work on each pitfall, some will be more severe than others in your situation. The result of this should bring great clarity to you and your business.
Season 2: Spring
Spring is a wonderful season and filled with excitement and expectation as you prepare for the upcoming seasons. You will likely find yourself working long hard hours in the Spring as you begin putting your plan into action. A well used Winter season, combined with experience typically is the ground work an efficient Spring season. So , what are some things that help make Spring an effective season for your business and what are some things to watch out for?
Tips for an Effective Springtime
Have a Plan. Each year a farmer has to make a plan for their fields. They plot out what crop they are going to grow, which sections they are going to grow them in, how much they will need to plant to get the yield they are expecting, will they be using fertilizer & if so, what kind? how much? Where are the boundaries of their fields? For most, if not all farmers, this was planned out long before Spring. They may also be adapting or following on previous years’ plans. You should have this approach to planning in Spring for your agency. What crop are going to begin growing this Spring season? Clients or Agents? Agents or Agencies? Product or Products? How many prospects/suspects will you need to reach your goals? What marketing will you use to attract these prospects/suspects? What territory(ies) are you concentrating on? Having a plan is a crucial part of success for your agency. If you don’t have one, be careful…unexpected results (good or bad) can be detrimental to your agency.
Take Action. You cannot plow a field in your mind. If a farmer takes all of that time to make a plan for their growing season but never takes action, the results are very evident to them and the community around them. Likewise, a plan without action for your agency makes a great paperweight at best.
Affirmation. Likely in your agency, you are the decision maker or one of them. It is vitally important to make sure that you are affirming your plans through motivating your staff. It is also important that you are not creating plans in a vacuum. Who in your organization deals with your prospects, suspects, clients, agents or agencies as closely or more closely than you on a day to day basis? Is the answer is someone other than you? If so, you need to focus on including them in the planning process. If your plan is already in place, affirm their role and their importance to the plan. Put some energy behind your plan and make sure your agency is on the same page as you. An important final note here; don’t stop affirming the plan. Keep your agency focused on the plan.
Track Progress. The visual check for a farmer is very important, and now a days, soil checks and crop checks are vitally important in gauging the effectiveness of their plan. For most agencies, this is one of the most difficult aspects of their plan. If you have a plan right now, what is your plan for tracking your progress? Even if it is the most basic proof of success or failure, you need to have at least one way to gauge effectiveness. This is important because you need to affirm the plan even if it requires changes down the road. You have no way of responding if you cannot successfully track your results.
Beware of These Two Things in Springtime
1. Drought. Some Springs are just dry. If a farmer recognizes a dry Spring and does not adapt , what will happen to their crop? It will likely not take root and will not survive the dry hot Summer. A well prepared farmer though has the ability to adapt (typically its already incorporated into their plan) to the climate around them and will turn on their irrigation to give them the best chance at success. In your agency, what if you run into a dry spell? Most agencies don’t know how to respond. Possibly just a s important as responding is identifying you are in a dry spell.
2. Flood. Have you ever had a plan work so well that you got too much response? This is what most would say is “a great problem to have”. One of the problems with a flood is drowning the crop which could ruin the yield. This is the hardest thing for a farmer to deal with (in my opinion). How do you disperse water in your field? Many times you have to just wait it out and let the ground absorb the water as quickly as it can…and mud doesn’t allow for very quick absorption. The danger to your agency with a flood is very similar to the farmer. You may not have the staff to handle the influx, so you are forced into a situation where you are waiting for “the water to absorb”. Sustainable growth is a key component, and if you run into a time of crisis, good or bad, your ability to communicate through the crisis is vital
Season 3: Summer
For many farmers the Summer season is a fun season, but is typically filled with early mornings and hot afternoons. Their field should be in full growth mode by this point. The further you get into Summer, the more attentive you have to become. I remember walking the beans in my younger years ridding the field of weeds to give it the best chance to grow, or working in a several acre tomato garden weeding it to give the tomatoes the best growth possible. Some farmers in the Summer season, are even worried about pollination for hybrid plants and setting their field up for the best success in harvest relies on their ability to work this part of the plan.
Planning For a Successful Summer
Work Your Plan. Do you know what “weeds” threaten your agency? If you planned for this, you should be well equipped to deal with the things that pop-up that can slow your growth or worst destroy your field. If you did not create a plan for these “weeds” now is as good a time as any to create one. It may not cover everything but it is better to have a written and communicated plan than no plan at all. This can make a big event more manageable for you and your office.
Affirm Your Plan. It is important to continue affirming your plan and the people that make this plan a reality. Give encouragement to your office and your agents and keep the plan alive in their mind.
Track Your Progress. How could you possibly anticipate your yield at harvest if you don’t track your progress? Make sure you have a method of tracking so you can gauge where you are compared to your plan.
Be Adaptable. Sometimes, things happen that you did not anticipate. We all hope this doesn’t happen, but we all know that products can change, pricing can change, companies can change and agents can change. If you have a sound plan you should be able to adapt in this season to stay on course. If a farmer loses half of his field due to damage, he still needs the harvest to buy the seed for next year. Staying on course may not equal the same projections but should position your agency appropriately.
Season 4: Autumn
Autumn is the time to reap your rewards. You have spent your entire planting and growing seasons in anticipation of your yield. One of the important planning items for a farmer is appropriately marking their field when they are planting. This is likely done with GPS now, but is crucial because when you are taking in your yield because your vision can be limited. Your combine is likely higher than the corn, but you may have trouble identifying if you are on the correct track. If you have marked your field well, this problem is still relevant but less likely to be be a game changer. This is because you have not only identified the boundaries of your field, but you have marked the areas of the field that can cause damage to your combine. If your combine is out of service what happens to your yield? It is important that you plan your pace here as well. To get your most effective yield it may not be appropriate to be in your combine all night. You need to work hard and be at a steady pace (regardless of speed) to allow you the best experience bringing in your harvest. This will protect your equipment, your crop and you. Rest will come soon.
Some Things to Watch Out For in Autumn
Keep Your Pace. You can’t be lazy and you can’t be crazy. Your agency could be looking at substantial growth, but at what cost? Perhaps the most expensive loss when not paying attention to your pace is your reputation. That is one thing that is very hard to earn back because most people won’t give you the chance. Harvest everything you earned, keep it in good condition.
Don’t Procrastinate. Related to pace, you cannot procrastinate during harvest time. You never know when a storm is going to hit and change your outcome at the last minute. If the field is ready, go. As we have mentioned before, you should have already planned for this.
Be Adaptable. What if in the middle of my harvest rates change? Ever had that happen before? You finally get things moving and then the game changes on you? Even if you find yourself in a losing position you need to get your crop out of the field and begin preparing for the change (if needed).
These seasons in our mind follow our calendar year or close to it, but these are meant figuratively. You could be in the middle of “Summer” in your agency, in the calendar month of December. Your agency may actually follow a calendar year in its seasons. Regardless of where you are at, it is important that you have the ability to identify where your business is so you can plan where it needs to go. Broker Backoffice provides you the tools at your fingertips to identify this more quickly. Our realtime tracking and realtime reporting allow you to keep a pulse on where your business is at. You even have the ability to work on this analysis for your sub-agencies or your agents. With consistent use we can provide predictive analytics, not just backward looking analytics, to help identify the triggers for the different seasons in your agency.
This is at the heart of our business. If this is important to you, we would love to connect with you and show you how your experience with Broker Backoffice can help bring your agency to the next level.