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8 Guaranteed Ways to Win the Battle for Top Talent

As an agency owner, you have a problem. Your challenge is that it’s possibly a bigger problem than you think. The problem has nothing to do with competitive markets, competition or reduced commission rates. Sadly, it’s not only the most important challenge to solve. It’s also possible that you’ve given up trying to solve it.

The problem? Attracting, developing, and retaining top talent.

The battle to attract and develop top talent has never raged more. Every industry, including the insurance industry, constantly fights the battle for top talent. Unfortunately, that battle is often lost. The war for top talent is real, and it’s imperative that every agency owner pays attention, especially to the increasing number of millennials seeking their next place of commitment.

Here is your battle strategy to win the battle for top talent.

Think like “Shark Tank.”

A key battle strategy is to identify the roles you and your next applicant will play in your next hiring experience. These roles may not be what you expect. A great example is the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs are offered needed investment dollars plus practical business principles. The show challenges a unique paradigm shift for owners preparing to attract their next talent superstar.

Let’s do a role reversal from traditional thinking. You are not Mark Cuban. You, the agency owner, are the entrepreneur. The applicant is the shark you’re pitching to. Your goal is to convince the shark to invest their time and talent in your agency.As the entrepreneur, you don’t just want a “money person.” You want a strategic partner who shares your commitment to success. Here is the question that should keep you up at night: “What do you have to offer top talent that will inspire them to invest in you?”

When you discover the answer to that question, you’ve just won your first battle for top talent.

Develop your unique employment brand.

Recent changes in the economy and the labor market dynamically impact the balance of power between employers and applicants seeking employment. Since more people are working, less are available to hire, which means agencies need a compelling employment brand to attract top talent. Top talent does not settle for second-best. They don’t have to.

An effective employment brand tells a compelling story that prospective, current and past employees have in their minds about what it’s like working at your agency. The brand includes characteristics like your agency culture, compensation, work environment, employee benefits and employee value proposition.  Winning the battle for top talent requires you to create an environment where people willingly stand in line for the opportunity of working at your agency. Top talent does not settle for second-best; neither should you. Don’t hire the person who can do the job. Hire the person who fits your employment culture, and then train them to do the job.

Examples of a strong employment brand include:

  • Fun place to work where staff are engaged to grow personally as well as professionally

  • Clear core values

  • Flexible work hours

  • Opportunity of working remotely

  • Clear roles and expectations

  • Regular structured feedback and recognition of strengths and weaknesses

  • Performance-based compensation plan

  • Up-to-date technology

  • Transparency beginning with agency management

Hire for the position, not the person.

Create job descriptions defining the “hat” worn by anyone who sits at a particular desk. Making allowances for individual strengths and weaknesses destroys the agency’s ability to have consistent standards for how the agency does business. Hire for the position, not the person (or for their potential)

If the applicant doesn’t “fit the hat,” don’t interview them, and certainly don’t hire them.

Go where the people you want to hire live, work and hang out. Hiring is a marketing effort. Approach finding and hiring top talent in the same way you look for new customers. The only difference is that you’re looking for “internal” rather than “external” customers.

  • Involve as many people as possible in the exploration process.

Your Staff: Incentivize your staff to find your next hiring superstar.

Customer: Use your customer referral program to turn customers and members of your community into your personal recruitment force.

  • Look in places where your competition probably isn’t looking.

High-end hotels. The hospitality industry provides customer-service training superior to any other industry.

Social media: 62 percent of millennials visit a company’s social media sites to acquire information about jobs according to the 2015 Talent Trends Report. Use social media to educate the world about your agency culture and purpose, then look for people who like, comment and follow your updates.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is one of the most unutilized business resources. This social network also allows you to expand your talent pool by looking for people who can work remotely.

Local colleges: If local colleges and universities do not have insurance-related programs, look for students majoring in communication, English literature and public speaking.

Agency website: Create a page on your website that includes your core values, vision for the agency and staff video testimonials.

Look for future team members everywhere you feel appreciated or special or where they provide a memorable experience.  If the employees of your local Starbucks inspire a memorable experience for you, it’s likely they can do the same for your customers.

Ask meaningful questions that relate to the position.

Applicants prepare perfect answers to tried-and-true interview questions. That’s why you want to ask unplanned questions designed to discover the real person you’re interviewing, such as:

  • In your own words, explain the job you’re interviewing for.”

  • How comfortable would you be if you failed twenty-five percent of the time in your first three months?”

  • What are three things you do every morning that prepare you to have a successful day at work?”

  • What is a personal or business goal you have accomplished in the last sixty days?”

  • What is one thing you learned about our agency before coming to this interview?”

  • Would you rather step out not fully prepared for a task and fail or wait to proceed until you are reasonably confident you will succeed?”

  • Do you consider yourself lucky?”

  • If the phone never rings and we get no requests for quotes from customers or prospects, how do you plan to achieve your revenue goal?”

Never ask, “What income are you expecting or need to make?” That’s like asking a customer to name their own price for their insurance. Tell the person what you pay for top talent.

Provide applicants with the responsibility to demonstrate doing their job.

The best predictor of how an applicant will perform is to ask them to demonstrate how they will do their job. Demonstration transforms the interview from Q & A to Show and Tell.  Ask applicants to perform specific position-related tasks such as:

  • Answer the next phone call.

  • Respond to an angry customer.

  • Recommend limits.

  • Respond to a request for a quote.

  • Handle a cancellation.

  • Ask for a testimonial.

  • Schedule an account review.

  • Offer additional lines of business not asked for.

  • Ask for a referral to other departments such as Personal Lines, Commercial Lines and Life/Benefits.

  • Follow up with an underwriter regarding a past due endorsement.

  • Locate information about a product on a carrier’s website.

Set objective metrics in the probationary period.

The objective is to confirm that the applicant works well with existing staff and fits the agency’s culture.

  • Assign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) during a 90-day probation period.

The goal is to objectively confirm that the applicant fits the position and can deliver the desired results.

  • Examples of KPIs for the probation period

The purpose of KPIs is not setting stretch goals but changing behavior. Just like a car that veers to the right if the driver gets distracted and looks to the right, KPIs change actions by daily focusing what staff looks at such as:

  • Learn a carrier product: Without asking anyone in the agency any questions, be prepared to discuss and demonstrate your understanding of a (CARRIER) product for (LOB) and how it benefits our customers.

  • Learn about the agency management system:Without asking anyone in the agency, learn these functions (NAME FUNCTIONS) of the agency management system.

  • Achieve goals related to their job: Tasks such as scheduling account reviews, asking for customer testimonials, signing up customers for EFT and completed quotes.

  • Score 100 percent on a compliance audit: The purpose for the compliance audit is to confirm the applicant can and will adhere to the agency’s policies and procedures.

  • Conduct a peer evaluation: The objective is to receive feedback from staff that the applicant fits in as part of the team.

Offer the position only if the applicant achieves a specific score on their performance during the probation period. For example, if the applicant scores 95+, then you offer them the job. If not, they are not a good fit and you have an objective reason for not offering a full-time position.

Offer a performance-based compensation plan.

Performance based compensation is a strategy where staff is paid based on results rather than effort. A performance based compensation plan transforms compensation from an expense to an investment because staff has the responsibility to earn their planned compensation rather than the opportunity to earn extra money if they want or need it. Knowing the ROI for a new hire means agencies are empowered to offer higher compensation because the full compensation is paid out only when staff delivers the results.

While salary is important to millennials, it’s often not the primary motivation (“Class of 2012” study by Achievers and Experience, Inc.). According to Razor Suleman, founder and chairman of Achievers, in a report by Forbes, “Once a salary meets their basic needs, Millennials still desire progression and growth, along with challenging and interesting work that piques their interest.”

Catalyst created Symphony to deliver two significant changes in traditional compensation plans. The objective is a compensation plan that creates the responsibility to become a stakeholder in the growth and success of your agency.

  • Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” (Dan Pink, “Drive”)

  • Include intrinsic motivators such as personal growth, achievement and recognition.

  • Offer a high enough compensation plan that adequately pays the applicant’s bills.

  • Include Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) based on the agency’s key business behaviors.

  • Include revenue sharing that offers interviewees the opportunity to earn a part of every revenue dollar once the agency’s goals are achieved.

Hiring is a challenge, but it’s a battle that can be won. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” perfectly explains why agencies need to consider a drastic revision of the recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining process.


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