Tag Archives: mike manes

Right Answers to the Wrong Questions?

A few weeks ago, I spoke to about 20 professionals attending a program about their future and the future of their organizations.

I talked about tomorrow. They were more worried about today.

I wanted to venture into tomorrow and look back to today. They just wanted to get through today.

I discussed purpose: Why? They were more concerned about strategies and tactics: How?

My metaphor was a blueprint. They wanted a to-do list.

I was thinking effective (doing the right things). Their concern was efficient (doing things right).

Leadership was my target. Management was their aim.

I quoted Stephen Covey on leadership, “Begin with the end in mind,” because leaders focus on the horizon, a vision for the future. They were thinking management (“Begin with the beginning in mind”), because managers stare down at their desk, facing their challenges du jour and being constantly interrupted with issues about operations and people.


Not theirs.

I misread my audience.

I was there to discuss change management, to talk about solving problem and capitalizing on opportunities as we move from today through tomorrows. (Note the “s” on “tomorrows.” You face a tomorrow every day – one at a time.)

See also: The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager  

I should have realized that, as John Kotter put it, “management is still not leadership.”

He said: “In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.”

He added: “Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes; it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.”

Don’t repeat the mistakes I made with my audience. Be sure you know and understand the questions (both those being asked and those folks are afraid to ask) before you provide answers. Then make sure the answers you provide are correct and understood by the audience you serve. Communication is the negotiating of meaning. If the audience is not “catching” what you are “pitching” it might be well intended and thought provoking or ego or noise or a hope and a prayer but it is NOT COMMUNICATION!

See also: The Need for Agile, Collaborative Leaders  

As George Bernard Shaw stated so correctly, “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”

Are you providing the right answer to the right questions? If not, start again!

Agency Succession Plans: Do It Now!

Bill was a 40-something-year-old son in his 70-something-year-old father’s agency. I asked about the agency’s succession plan. He said, “Mike, I’m already running the agency by myself. When Dad dies, nothing changes.” He assumed too much…

See also: 3 Ways to Boost Agency Productivity  

With a smile and good intentions, I hit him with reality. I asked simply, “What if you die first?” His stunned look told me that he had never considered that possibility. Here’s reality – it might be easy for Bill to succeed his father. It will not be easy for most fathers to succeed a son or daughter.

Agents manage risk – it’s what they do. But are you managing your own risks? Really?

When an owner dies, becomes disabled, disappears or loses the ability to lead effectively, the best insurance can be a succession plan. A well-thought-out process, planned and reality-checked in advance is mission critical, as these stories show:

  • David was a very close friend whom I hadn’t visited with in years. We spoke by phone for an hour on Wednesday Aug. 3, 1994, and committed to meeting for lunch on Monday of the following week. David was murdered that Friday while hiking in a national forest in Arkansas. What were the odds?
  • The best producer in the agency was assumed to be the most “natural” person to lead in the future. Unfortunately, great producers are often not good leaders or managers, and their best value for the agency is almost always in production and not management.
  • Often a #2 person is great at #2 but not worth a whit on the front lines of #1. But once they “move on up” it may be impossible to move them out.
  • Absent formal succession plans implemented immediately, an owner’s death will invite a swarm of competitors ready, willing and able to consume in months the client base and talent it took you decades to grow!

See also: ‘Agency 2020’: Can You Get There? (Part 1)  

Develop and implement, NOW, a succession plan for death and every other major contingency in your organization. I said NOW!

Could Your Agency Pass a Risk Audit?

2017 is here. Are you, your agency and your clients ready for the future? Are you managing your risks for the future like you have in the past? Are your advising your clients about managing their risks like you have in the past? Will this work tomorrow?

Our industry is very good at “managing” static risks (those unchanged by society). P&C agents are great at providing counsel or products to address issues of lawsuits and damage to property and loss of its use.

Life/financial services/group and individual benefit professionals can counsel or insure risk of death, unplanned aging, accident and sickness, unemployment and other contingencies (special needs child, etc.).

See also: Risk Management, in Plain English  

What follows focuses on some dynamic risks (those influenced by a changing society), including issues of politics, climate change, energy, economics, government intervention, math (sustainability and solvency), competition and demographics.

In the Bible in Luke 4:23, we read, “Physician heal thyself.” Those of us in the insurance world need to take that advice. In a world of dynamic change, insure (and assure) yourself and your clients for the future. Consider these “risks”:

  1. Politics — The election is over. Politics have changed. Two years ago, could you have predicted that the two presidential candidates in the 2016 election political blood bath would be very flawed candidates with 60% negatives? One who barely outran a democratic socialist, and the other who destroyed almost two dozen “traditional” candidates. Our country, economy and the world are dancing to a different beat.
  2. Climate change/natural disasters — I won’t debate if our climate is warming or trending toward the next ice age. I know bad stuff has been happening. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes (traditional or fracking), the 2016 great flood, droughts, etc. are causing mega-damage, and we the people (as taxpayers or premium payers) must pay for these losses. Money paid to cover losses of yesterday are not available in next year’s budget.
  3. Energy — This is a great place to work when oil is at $80 a barrel. At $40 a barrel, life is tough. Environmentalists think high gas prices are good. Many “working folks” don’t agree. The cost of the great debate on climate change will be paid by “we the people.” The cost will be high.
  4. Economy — Economics will drive tomorrow. Wages, unemployment, marketplace expectations, addiction to government, incentives for innovation (entrepreneurship) or taxing success will be issues. Brexit proved some folks aren’t enamored with the “global economy.” The U.S. presidential election showed the divide between the “more” and “less” government camps. Some want to tax the 1%. Others see the world as 47% as givers and 47% takers. Still others only use benefits, while some pay for benefits they never use. Yesterday’s economy can’t get us to tomorrow’s demands or possibilities.
  5. Government engagement is probably the biggest “insurance coverage” and expense we all pay. Think Medicare, Medicaid (as healthcare and nursing home reinsurer of last resort), VA, ACA, Social Security, NFIP and the U. S. as reinsurer of any disaster or “money need” that is not covered elsewhere. These “premiums” (taxes) are a huge drain on our resources.
  6. Math (sustainability and solvency) — Government programs like the ones mentioned above are like a pipeline. Taxpayers’ money flows in the front end of the line, and benefits flow out of the other end. Because of the political nature of all government programs, there is a valve on the front end of the line that is used to limit the number of dollars flowing in (we don’t want to anger the taxpayers who vote) and a valve on the back end of the line is opened wide to ensure maximum benefits (don’t want to anger beneficiaries who vote). Ultimately, all such systems collapse. Just look at the national debt. (The ACA is one example of the non-sustainability of good intentions.)
  7. Competition — Our industry was built on a Main Street model in a Father Knows Best world. It has survived and prospered. Unfortunately, some agents haven’t evolved while the world they live in has. We are in a Modern Family world shopping in a global economy where Main Street is not as much of an issue as Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Amazon, Uber, artificial intelligence (anticipating needs) and the next disruptive innovation.
  8. Millennials — The greatest generation, the Boomers, is exiting stage left. Now, the Gen Xers, Gen Yers and millennials are taking their place at the wheel. They are as different from me as they can be. This will change what, where, how and when you sell and how you are compensated.

See also: How to ‘Gamify’ Risk Management  

Think you’re ready for tomorrow? Think again…

Carpe mañana.

Healthcare Reform IS the Problem

Our healthcare (HC) and healthcare financing ( HCF) systems are not sustainable. To think about why that is, find a picture of a rainbow (or draw your own). There are seven bands of color. Label your rainbow from the bottom to the top: Soul/Mind/Body/Wellness/Primary Care/Secondary Care/Tertiary Care (healthcare from specialists in a large hospital after referral from primary or secondary care).

See also: Has The Projected Cost Of Health Care Reform Changed?  

At this moment, there are 324,414, 852 people in the U.S. Most believe that we are made up of those three bottom elements: spirit, mind and body. The center band of the rainbow is wellness – an ideal for any HC system. The three upper bands define the delivery systems of HC in our country today.

The flaws in the HC and HCF model displayed are simple – our current system has at its core a focus of “sickness,” not the ideal of “wellness.” Our system was built on a focus on the body. Yet you can get nearly universal agreement from doctors that much of illness originates in the head, and most will agree that a “believer” supported by a prayer community gets better results.

Our care giver systems are intertwined with HCF and superimposed on “we the people,” not fully integrated with us as individuals. We go to the doctor. Our world of specialists is defined by organs du jour. Our care is explained to us in the vernacular of medicine, not language we understand. When care doesn’t work, we are sent to a different specialty.

Finally, our demographics are killing us. Diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, a victim mentality and a sense of entitlement are limiting our future.

The heaviest users of care are spending other people’s money for the treatment! And, while our systems have become very good at delaying death, they are less effective at extending the quality of life. (Don’t believe me? Go visit a nursing home every day for a month.)

See also: What Trump Means for Healthcare Reform  

Yet healthcare reform is based on the same flawed thinking got us into this mess.

America and her people are genius – when they work together for good. Need evidence? We’ve already walked on the moon. We have the money, the need and the motivation to save us all – now we must just find a way to do it.

What can we do? What should we do? What do you suggest? Somebody out there – outside of the special interests – has the answer for the common interest or an idea that we the people can use to bring health/wellness to our HC and HCF systems.

Marcus Welby, MD is dead. We aren’t. Help!

Insurance is Not a Commodity? Hmmm

I was scanning the Insurance Thought Leadership site, and saw the Most Popular Article today is Insurance is not a commodity, by Chet Gladkowski. Number 10 on this same list was Lemonade – Insurance is changed forever, by Rick Huckstep. Both articles were well written and thought provoking (for us folks in the insurance industry). For the average consumer, I suspect both articles would probably not be read or certainly not rise to the top 10 list of non-industry professionals / consumers. 

I believe the biggest threat to our future as agents and the insurance industry is not technology, generational change, a global economy, AI, innovation, etc. I believe it is, to quote Pogo – “we have found the enemy and he is us!” The Insurance, Financial Services and Risk Industries exist for customers / clients, yet we as the “vendors” or “service professionals” for this industry – all too often think it’s about us. We tend to define our business model in terms of products and services offered versus clients served.

We are self- defined as P&C agents, Life and Financial Service professionals, Risk Managers, Bankers, Consultants, etc. We tend to be “product defined and product driven” versus “client defined and client driven.” What if we became experts first in our clients and their wants and needs and facilitated their buying versus being “sales reps” for the manufacturers – the insurance companies, banks, brokerage firms, etc.

See also: Has Auto Insurance Become a Commodity?  

Here’s reality – as I perceive it – sometimes buyers just need / want a commodity (term life), a product (BOP or group policy) or a service (a self-funder plan or retirement planning). My experience indicates that most consumers “want what they want and they want it now” on their terms and with their definitions. 

Our industry will protect our future when we look more to the marketplace and spend less time looking in the mirror! Below is an article written months ago yet appropriate food for thought in light of the above – are you like Southwest Airlines or a bad gelato store?

What did you do for me today? 

I was flying back from Milwaukee. The bad news is that I had to spend time in airports and airplanes. The good news is that I got out before it got crowded and the best news is that I flew Southwest Airline (SWA). In my opinion, flying can be worse than a root canal. What makes SWA different is they use enthusiasm and fun to “sedate” you from the pain of the flying process (cramped space, bad weather, security checkpoints, etc.).

If you haven’t flown with SWA before – try it you’ll like it. If you have you’ll understand what follows. It’s the simple things – a smiling face, a pilot and attendants who inject humor and song into the mundane process of telling us what we need to know but don’t want to hear. They even give you two small bags of peanuts (instead of one). I know this sounds insignificant until you’ve flown on airlines that don’t sedate you.

When we deplaned in Atlanta I stopped at a Gelato stand in the Concourse. I was reminded of what a root canal without the sedation is like. The “lady” behind the counter came across as a Don Rickles’ type character without his charm. She served me a scoop of Chocolate Chip Gelato (about the size of a golf ball) in a cup the size of a single shot jigger. The Gelato was very good – the service and presentation weren’t. At $5.99 a scoop – I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a smile, kind word, or a thank you.

In the name of full disclosure – I think I presented myself well to the “lady” – I think I was my cute, charming and polite Southern Gentleman self. She may have been having a bad day – which we all do. Nonetheless my experience is determined by what happened to me not what may have been happening in her world that day. I was the customer!

Here’s the parallel to the agency business. I realize, whether you are an airline, Gelato stand, or Agency, customer service is not always easy. You have hundreds (thousands?) of customers that have to buy insurance or use the product they’ve already bought. Some have just had a claim, others an audit, others a loss control inspection and still others merely need to make a change to the policy. Some are nice people, some are nice people having a bad day, and some are not so nice whether their day is good or bad. Like an airport, dealing with the insurance industry is not the most exciting part of anyone’s day. 

See also: Agents: What’s That Spot on Your Face?  

Agents measure themselves against Best Practice Guides. These guides “count” what you did or will do. It measures “things” you do every day. Retention and additional sales of policies and clients – in my opinion – is the more important measure of success or failure. Are your customer’s “coming back for seconds” or will they be like me and “avoid your Gelato stand next time they need something sweet to eat.”

About 35 years ago I wrote a column in national publication about “whether agents sell a product, commodity, or service?” Today I realize that I missed the point – it is not what agent’s sell, it is about what clients “perceive” (feel) they receive from what they buy. It is about the experience created for them in dealing with you and the carrier. Will their memories include a kind or comforting word you offered, the help needed, a smile, song, or a “second bag of peanuts? Will their experience keep them coming back for more, whether that is for a commodity, product, service or a similar experience?