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Get the hell out of the office!

Once a year my company’s management team spends 2 days out of the office. Amazing you say, they leave the office, they go away? Well, let me be more clear. We go on our annual sabbatical and we change the world. You see we travel about 2 hours away to a small rural community around Bloomington, IN called Nashville. It is there where we rent a chalet and “hunker down” for 2 days of intense scrutiny of all operations, markets, policies, procedures, etc. We just returned from our seventh and I am again amazed as to the impact of this “company tool”.

Our sabbatical usually starts on a Wednesday afternoon where our management team all meet to pack one vehicle and travel south. On our journey, we always stop for a nice meal and reconnect on a personal basis and try and avoid “shop talk”. We arrive at our chalet about 7:30, relax and get ready for a long day of intense conversation and work. Usually we might play a game of pool, have a glass of wine, or do some other “team building activity”, but knowing the work that must be done; we make it an early night.

On Thursday morning, we’re all up early to drink the strongest coffee ever made. We usually work in the living room due to comfort so it’s at this point where we all “get our spot”. It is important to note that the majority of our management team wears “jimmies” during our work day. Usually there is one laptop used that contains the agenda and each person has brought “their agenda” and supporting documentation. We start our work about 7:30 and the world begins to change.

The first issue we tackle is why we are here. What does each person want to accomplish from this meeting. What are the main objectives? Next we complete an annual SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis for our company. It’s always interesting to compare this years SWOT with previous years, we are definitely in a changing environment. The next item of business is the most important item, the creation of our Action List. This is the list that all “to do’s” are placed upon and it is this list that will be implemented once we return. This list is referred to the rest of the day and items are added as issues are solved.

Since this is our seventh sabbatical, we’re now at a position where we are merely “righting” the ship. Years ago, we did things like changed the name of our company to get us more in line with the products and services we offered, changed our mission statement, etc. The more sabbaticals your company has the more one will see the emphasis change from the big stuff to the smaller more “tweaky” issues we all face as independent insurance agencies. There is always about 3 main issues that must be tackled, but it is the “tweaky” stuff that seems to take the most time.

Our “tweaky” issues this year included late pay process; update our personal lines new business procedures and a review and update of our accounts receivable policy. Our big issues were an update of our stock purchase / perpetuation plan, annual producer / agency goal setting, and pending personnel changes. There were many other things there were discussed, but this is an article, not a book.

To start each and every discussion there is an agenda sheet that is used. We prefer to use power point and a heading with bullet points that must be reviewed, but once we get going, it is a free flow of information. As an example we started talking about producer goals and our lack of accountability when producers do not hit goal. Our solution after about 30 minutes was not to punish the producer, but created a system where by at the end of the month if the numbers needed by each producer were not hit, the management staff (comprised of all producers and operations manager) would take the producer out for a cup of coffee and look at our five key components of our sales process. We plan review each key and help the producer realize why their numbers are the way they are.

So what are our five key components? During this years review we tried to break our sales process down into behavior steps and review numbers that impacted our process. By combining these numbers we realize that we can get a great estimate as to how a producer will perform in any given month, year, etc. Our components analyzed were: average commission income per account, number of new sales calls per year, number of accounts that qualified, close ratio on those qualified prospects, and retention of ones book. If you compute using that system it will give you an accurate idea of what a producer can do for a company. Using this formula, each producer agreed to a realistic goal that must be hit or they will be killed at the end of the year.

We usually end our day about 4:30 where a ceremonial bottle of wine is opened and a few of us partake. After that it’s usually quick showers and off for another great meal where again, the focus is not shop talk, but great conversation about life, love, and happiness. If you think that last sentence was hokey, our mission statement is “find the pain, heal the pain, show the love”. We return to the chalet about 9:00 to play cards, pool, or yet another team building exercise and retire at ummmm, well that’s not important.

The next morning, we pack up and return to the office to start implement our action plan. During the next weeks staff meeting the changes are reviewed and any major items are discussed. Our staff was relieved this year to find out that we didn’t change the name of the company and that no one lost their job due to sabbatical group think downsizing. As we move through this year, our sabbatical notes will be reviewed and updated based upon the actual workings of the world. Next January when we leave for our eighth annual juncture these notes will be summarized and reviewed at the start of the work day.

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