Your New Employee is About to Start, Now What?

By | November 21, 2005

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles offering “best practices” suggestions for the hiring process in the independent agency. More information is available at iiat.org under Agency Management.)

After a long search, your agency has finally found the right employee. Intelligent, the right attitude, solid background. So what do you do with them now? There is so much they need to learn, but how do they get there?

Several common challenges face an agency with a new employee. One, the agency needs to help settle the employee in. Second, anyone new to insurance won’t 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. So, what to do with them in the meantime? And three, agencies want to get new employees at least somewhat productive as soon as possible, to actually do some work, but what can they do when they know 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 these agencies need is a fast, easy, common sense approach to orienting a new employee to our industry and the agency.

First, the agency needs to confirm for the new employee that the decision to take the job wasn’t a mistake. The employee needs a sense of comfort in new surroundings. Too many businesses neglect this step, impatient for an immediate contribution by the new hire. To be fair, the employee wants to contribute too. Meeting this challenge doesn’t 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 was glad to have them on board and has expectations for their 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. They may need to become familiar with the part of town they now call home eight to 10 hours a day. Honestly, agencies that expect a new employee to make contributions from day one, or week one for that matter, are probably dreaming. And just how much contribution can a person new to our industry make the first weeks anyway? Sure they could be taught to produce certificates of insurance fairly quickly and put to work, and that might help with a backlog, but is that such a good idea? Besides the E&O issues, such assignments, if that’s all they were given for their first weeks, would probably send the wrong signal that this is their future. I’d run, wouldn’t you?

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 their orientation. Agree on these with the new employee. If you can make them 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 they are doing every day. Sure, they can carry out assignments given to them (probably due to intellectual capacity or well-thought-out procedures), but apparently, no one seems to have taken much time to teach them the who, what, where, and most important–the why.

Answers to these can be found using two methods, neither of which is very speedy. The first way is for experienced persons–mentors–to talk to them frequently, answering what seem to be silly questions and sharing background. Intelligent people can draw common sense conclusions regarding work that needs doing in an agency when they properly understand the why of procedures and workflows. Too few mentors take the time.

The second way is for the employee to be given time to read good publications on the history and basics of our industry. This method takes time, but frees up more time for the mentor. 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 I frequently recommend to Texas agencies as part of IIAT’s online New Employee Orientation Guide. A new employee doesn’t have much to offer at first, so I recommend using their 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 this 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. Each of these elements ideally should be applied when learning any new procedure. From how to input an application to putting together a submission to 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 education for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. He can be reached via e-mail at pmart@iiat.org.

Topics Agencies Training Development

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