Training & Mentoring for the New Economy

The dust is settling and people are getting used to the new economy (which is not necessarily a good thing). It is clear that one thing is certain, and that is uncertainty. Many businesses now have lower revenue and less employees.

Now is the time to rebuild. Just like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the independent agent needs to reformulate itself for the new economy. If done properly, the owner that reinvents their agency now will come out stronger and in a better position when the economy fully recovers.

One key element to the success of a new relaunch of the business is to have employees properly trained. New problems cannot be solved with old ways of thinking. Everyone needs to put aside their old way of doing business. A fresh new perspective is needed in order to succeed.

Where to Start

A fresh new perspective is needed in order to succeed.

Management needs to do a complete assessment of where the agency is today and where it needs to be tomorrow. This assessment needs to include internal and external factors. A brief roadmap needs to be developed to show the steps along the way of the key changes that need to be incorporated for the future.

Management and employees need to do an honest self assessment of their skills, talents and training needs. This will be the core to developing a future training program for employees.

How to Make Training Work

The next step to training employees is to take a new look at the agency’s procedure manual. If the agency does not have a procedure manual, then it is time to create one. Each step in servicing a client should be questioned. Find out if there is a better way of doing business.

Various employees should be assigned the many procedures in the agency, so that everyone takes part. Then there can be a group approval of what is written. Once everyone agrees on the best way to handle a process, then it should be clearly written. The duties and responsibilities for each role (CSR, producer, marketing, etc.) are specifically addressed. A procedure manual is a living document and needs to be updated and revised periodically.

A procedure manual serves as both the official arbitrator for decisions and the guide for questions when an uncertainty arises. New employees will find a wealth of information in the pages of a well written procedure manual.

The procedure manual should be followed. If there is an errors and omissions (E&O) case brought against the agency, the attorney can actually use not following of a written procedure on an item against the agency in court, such as proper documentation, renewal process, etc.

However, the written word is not enough. All new employees should be assigned a mentor. The mentor could be the manager of the department or a well respected member within the department. It may make sense to use more than one person as the mentor. The concept of using mentors applies across the board to CSRs, producers, assistants, support, etc. The mentor is the new employee’s confidant, as well as their tutor.

The mentor is there to answer the everyday questions, as well as guide the new employee to a position of self confidence and perhaps even leadership. The mentor and the agency also need to map out a formalized training program for the employee.

Going Beyond Insurance

Education needs to be viewed as a means to enlighten the staff, not just to satisfy an immediate training need or provide an update for certification. In the long term, it makes sense for the business to pay for not only the required updates, but for classes that enrich employees’ overall knowledge levels. Recommend a risk management class for a CSR or allow the producer to attend an agency management class.

The most obvious reason to train the staff is to improve the technical skills of employees. Learning skills through formal education or through an in-house mentor will certainly increase employees’ productivity. However, the subtle and long term benefits of training are often overlooked.

The Payoff

A company that invests in the training of its employees is making a statement that management values its employees. The agency is saying that the staff’s ability to think is considered paramount to the business’ success. This creates a perception among employees that they are truly a valuable asset to the company. The employees also understand that the company now expects excellence from each of them.

The continual exposure to this idea will create a shift in attitude among employees. The pattern of expecting better communication skills, sales techniques, technical skills and leadership will foster a proactive attitude.

Training is a perpetual process, not a one time investment. Very often the new information an employee learns is implemented only for a short time before the old inefficient habits return. However, even in these cases, the short term gain in productivity often pays for the cost of the training. Employees that attend seminars should be required to share the highlights with their peers and management.

New ideas and new ways to work need to be reintroduced on a regular basis. Over time, the employees will latch onto these superior techniques and they will become the standard way of doing business.

Training stimulates a beneficial impact on one’s thinking by providing a model to process the information we normally receive on any given day. Models provide a systematic way to assimilate and recall data, which improves productivity.

Conceptual models also increase awareness. An employee that is an active member in a class will spend several hours just thinking about the subject. This stimulation will foster new ideas and question old concepts.

A Final Word

Now is the time to rebuild the agency for success in the new economy. The only way to revamp and grow a business is to invest back into the business both time and money. The concept of training employees needs to be part of the culture of the agency. Businesses that consistently beat their competitors have already incorporated the secrets of having a well trained staff.

Topics Training Development

About Catherine Oak and Bill Schoeffler

Oak is the founder of the consulting firm, Oak & Associates, based in Northern California and Central Oregon. Schoeffler is an associate of the firm. Oak & Associates. Phone: 707-935-6565. Email: More from Catherine Oak and Bill Schoeffler

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