Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series offering best practices suggestions for hiring in the independent agency. Part one of this series appeared in Insurance Journal’s Nov. 7 western region edition on page 24. More information is available at www.iiat.org under Agency Management.
After a long search, your agency has finally found the right employee who is intelligent, has the right attitude and has a solid background. So what do you do with the person now?
The employee has much to learn, but how does the person get there?
Several common challenges face an agency with a new employee. First, the agency needs to help settle the employee in. Second, anyone new to insurance will not understand enough about the industry to benefit much from formal education tracks offered by the state association or other training organizations, at least not for some weeks or months. Third, agencies want to get new employees at least somewhat productive as soon as possible to actually do some work, but what can the person do when he or she knows only little?
Most agency owners are excellent at sales and the technical aspects of insurance, but few (except perhaps the largest) have any staff with experience in human resources management or training. What agencies need is a fast, easy, common sense approach to orienting a new employee to the insurance industry and the agency.
First, the agency needs to confirm for the new employee that the decision to take the job was not a mistake. The employee needs a sense of comfort in new surroundings. Too many businesses neglect that step when they are impatient for an immediate contribution by the new hire. To be fair, the employee wants to contribute, too. Meeting the challenge does not have to be difficult, but it must be deliberate. Checklists can help with human resource issues and computer systems, but those chores are only part of it. Conversations with new co-workers, department heads and the big boss are desirable and can help reinforce that the agency is glad to have the person on board and has expectations for the person’s future. The agency culture needs to be reinforced with face-to-face conversations.
A new employee needs to get settled into a new workspace, learn people’s names, learn how to make a call, a copy or a cup of coffee. The person may need to become familiar with the part of town he or she now calls home eight to 10 hours per day. Honestly, agencies that expect a new employee to make contributions from day one, or week one for that matter, are probably dreaming. Just how much contribution can a person new to the industry be expected to make during the first weeks? Sure, the new employee can be taught to produce certificates of insurance fairly quickly and put to work, and that might help with a backlog, but is that a good idea?
Besides errors and omissions issues, such assignments, if that’s all the person is given for the first weeks, would probably send the wrong signal that this is the person’s future. I’d run,
Step one-slow down and think about the practical things a new employee needs during the first few days. Speak clearly about mutual expectations; talk about the first few weeks; and make a plan and a schedule for the person’s orientation. Agree on those with the new employee. If you can make the person comfortable with shared goals, you’re ahead.
Next, a new employee needs to learn the basics of the industry in small bites, with background and context. As an educator, I am frequently discouraged when I meet people who have been in the business for a year or two, learned many things, become somewhat productive, but have little or no context to understand what he or she is doing every day. Sure, the employee can carry out assignments (probably due to intellectual capacity or well-thought-out procedures), but apparently, no one seems to have taken much time to teach the person the who, what, where, and most important-why.
Answers to those can be found using two methods, neither of which is very speedy. Experienced persons-mentors-should talk to the new employee frequently, answering what seem to be silly questions and sharing background. Intelligent people can draw common sense conclusions regarding work that needs to be done in an agency once they properly understand the why of procedures and workflows. Too few mentors take the time.
Another option is to give the employee time to read good publications about the history and basics of the industry. This takes time, but frees up more of the mentor’s time. Many good readings have been published over the decades, many by the American Institute for CPCU/IIA. One example is “How Insurance Works,” a book frequently recommended to Texas agencies as part of IIAT’s online New Employee Orien-tation Guide. A new employee does not have much to offer at first, so I recommend using the person’s first days and weeks to learn context as well as tasks.
Finally, agencies need systematic ways to acquaint new employees with procedures and workflows, for the sake of both efficiency and E&O loss control. For that chore, there is no magic method or procedure, but there are common sense principles that can be applied. People learn how to do things through explanation, observation, practice and evaluation. Those elements ideally should be applied when learning any new procedure. Whether the task is how to input an application, put together a submission or how to process a claim, a new employee needs to understand what to do, see it done, be given the opportunity to practice it, and receive feedback. The more systematically an agency can break down the critical procedures and allow each to be learned in an appropriate order, the quicker and more successful orientation will be.
Paul Martin is director of edu
cation for the Independent
of Texas. E-mail: