Kathy Ryan is no stranger to the challenges of leadership in the workplace. For two years, she’s been coaching executives of large companies on how to have those tough conversations with employees on performance. She is the president and founder of Pinnacle Coaching Group LLC, a coaching and consulting company that works with organizations and individuals in the insurance industry. She has over 25 years of experience in human resources, including 13 years with Chubb & Son Inc. She is also the author of the book, “You Have to Say the Word.”
Ryan is bringing her expertise to Insurance Journal’s Academy of Insurance this year. She already led a webinar on “How to Have Tough Conversations” with clients, carriers and other industry partners in July, and is gearing up for a 12-week course on leadership in the agency.
Ryan says having honest conversations with people about performance is critical to an agency’s success.
“I think that managers too often shy away from difficult conversations, or are very worried about hurting someone’s morale, or hurting their feelings, and so they avoid having conversations that would absolutely allow that individual to improve their performance, (and) maybe stop doing the behavior that is detracting from their success.” She says the best advice she can give to any manager is not to be afraid to have honest conversations.
“If someone’s performance is not where it needs to be, then you need to be confident enough, and respectful of the employee enough to tell them the truth,” she said. Perhaps “they might lose their job if they don’t do things differently,” Ryan said.
The best way to have this conversation, according to Ryan, is to communicate with the employee on a regular basis, and include positive as well as negative feedback. “Give them feedback when they do something right, so that if you have to have one of these more constructive conversations, it doesn’t stand out, it isn’t that big a deal, because you’re always communicating with them anyway.”
Ryan says it’s important that those tough conversations are held in a quiet place with no distracting elements. Her book, “You Have to Say the Word,” covers this topic in depth, she adds.
Ryan is now getting ready to teach a 12-week course with the Academy that’s set to begin on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2010, called “Agency Ownership and Management: Developing Your Leadership Potential.” The 12-week course is a combination of webinars and small-group coaching sessions. The coaching calls will add more in-depth discussion on the topic, Ryan notes.
Ryan believes the insurance industry lacks training on leadership issues, one reason why she decided to develop the 12-week Academy course. “There’s really no one that I’ve come across yet who is out there targeting and focusing on developing the skills of insurance agents in terms of leadership,” Ryan says. The industry has plenty of technical training for insurance. There’s also plenty of sales-related training classes for insurance professionals but, according to Ryan, those types of educational courses don’t do enough to train someone to be a leader and agency owner.
Ryan says her course is a perfect fit for family-owned agencies where a family member might be in line to take over ownership someday. “So often that person designated to take over the business at some point is the son, or the daughter, or the son-in-law of the owner. And because it’s a family business, they don’t often think about getting that individual the leadership training they will need to help make the transition to help the agency survive past the current owner.”
Though her 12-week course is designed for those in the insurance industry, many of the leadership principles taught during the course could be applied to any industry.
Ryan says that while most of her examples used in the course will be specific to insurance, the skills are really transferable. “When you talk about giving people feedback, or hiring the best people … the information is really transferable to anyone who wants to be a better leader,” she says.
For more information on Ryan’s upcoming webinars, or to find out about other webinars, visit www.ijacademy.com.