Modernizing your Employee Benefits Practice: Empathy (and help) for Fatigued Executives


Industry change is everywhere and angst-inducing shifts, like the impact of leveraging artificial intelligence, are emerging. Few retail insurance brokerage firms (and their Benefits P&L leaders) have tangible proof that they're pivoting and building a modern practice equipped to capitalize on the opportunities ahead.

This is an understandable consequence of player-coach "stretched-too-thin-fire-fighting" leaders who, while smart and experienced, are barely hanging on keeping their operation profitable. Despite their aspirations, they're also constrained by "just in time" hiring budgets that prioritize (and reward) near term valuations over long-term growth strategies. This is universal and not just a public broker phenomenon. Teams must have the resources and bandwidth (during the day, not the night shift) to succeed. No business benefits - pun intended - from another list of strategic ideas that well-intentioned people can't execute.

Sounds familiar? If it does, you're not alone; I have a high degree of empathy for your dilemma. A couple of themes are trending in my conversations with Benefit Executives at firms of all sizes and ownership structures:

  • Leaders are stressed that they're not spending the time and resources to develop their 2.0 client and talent acquisition strategy. They see cracks forming.
  • Redesigning their practice to drive strategic initiatives is daunting in conjunction with the other pressures I've mentioned. They're stuck in reactive state/firefighting mode with little evidence that things will change. At best they put a little lipstick on the "status quo" and hope they can survive another year.

Sigh. It would be painful if you believed there were no options. I don't see it that way, however. I'm optimistic about the Benefits business going forward and am obsessed with helping my industry friends regain their sanity and enthusiasm about growing and modernizing their business.

I concede that radical, transformational change is too much for legacy systems to digest. It's not practical and isn't necessary since the business is probably profitable (enough). However, I'm concerned about the opportunity cost of the default, stalled position.

What is the basis for your belief that you'll enter 2020 in a strengthened position absent value creating shifts in your business?

I help firms get unstuck, navigate compromises, establish priorities and develop a strategy to accelerate growth. The framework for a discussion with their Benefit Executives is 20%BY2020. Healthy internal debate is held about their market position, investment allocation and the impact on the business if we "could only change _______." Our goal is to identify 20% "of the business" as the priority and establish a protocol for ongoing measurement and assessment that ensures we make progress driving value for the firm by 2020.

Why "20%," you ask? There's no magic. It isn't zero and it's manageable. What is "x," you ask? It depends and varies by firm. Here are a few early ideas from the front lines:

  • What would need to change to free up 20% (1 day per week) of the Practice Leader's time to enable them to work strategically on the business instead of just in it?
  • What outcomes could we expect if we devoted attention and energy to the 4 smallest offices that make up 20% of Benefits revenue?
  • What would we learn and achieve if we looked at our top (or bottom) 20% of Producers and got after solutions that would enable them to be more successful?
  • What could we build that adds value and creates contrast for the firm for the 20% of our clients that are in the _______ industry or have ______ (number/range) of employees?

The goal is to get consensus within your leadership, create momentum and reduce the stress that comes from working without a plan. This approach is proving manageable and impactful.

Pause and examine your 2019 Budget and Plan through this lens. You might be surprised by what you see (or don't see).

Let's get started.