Step Away From The Drama

My former colleague (and good friend) Nancy always told us to "keep our eyes on our own paper" when there was drama. I thought of her when responding to a question in the Account Executive Academy recently.

I've included a screenshot so you can see my new favorite tool in action, PreziVideo. And also a funny face because of too many months in a dining room.

Client service is a team sport and how colleagues are showing up (or not) is adding an extra dash of fun to 2020. Resist efforts to steal your time and drain your energy by anyone who just wants to complain.

Repeat after me. Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

When there's an issue between "Colleague A" and "Colleague B" as there was here, be the voice of reason to determine if the problem was an event or part of a pattern.

The goal? If someone slipped up then we should extend the patience and grace we'd want when (not if) we fall short at some point.

If it's part of a pattern of shortcomings, then energy should be focused...

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Don't hoard toilet paper or good ideas 💡

firm operations sales Mar 18, 2020

I'm checking in from the Bay Area where I'm "staying-in-place" for at least three weeks with the husband, kids (21 & 16) and 2 foster puppies.

We're already discussing the "family tattoo" we're each getting at the end of this adventure. Suggestions? 

I've been trying to decide whether to work or sanitize our canned goods. ‍Do people really need an update from the BenefitsLady in the midst of this chaos? I've rewritten this 10 times the last few days.

Here's my current thinking. Your clients are stressed. My clients are stressed. There are things we can do and offer that will help others. We shouldn’t hoard toilet paper or our talents. Now is the time to crowdsource ideas and positive energy in the employee benefits community.

It will be different, but let’s stay engaged and connected.

This morning I caught up with an industry friend for an hour for a casual Zoom coffee. I’m looking at my calendar and scheduling connections with people who...

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Do you celebrate the badass?

Is "risk-taking" rewarded in your office?

How about celebrated?

We've been talking about the employee benefits strategic planning cycle. Our industry needs to change and that involves some risk.

Lately I'm hearing variations of these themes:

  • Practice leaders want their teams to be more assertive & innovative.
  • Teams want "management" to get focused and make creative investments.
  • Benefits Solutions are frustrated brokers aren't quicker to adopt new offerings.
  • Benefits Solutions & Brokers complain that their mutual clients are afraid to make changes.

We're a group that takes pride in protecting our clients. The insurance industry beckoned us saying "hey, if you like certainty and avoiding risk, come on over and build a career over here" and now we're surprised at how easily we can talk ourselves out of trying something new if we're not careful.

You know I'm right. At least a little.

When someone introduces a new solution or tackles a challenge, does...

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1 critical number to monitor before a strategic planning meeting

firm operations growth Feb 13, 2020

Next up? Strategic Planning

Did you catch Bill Murray's Super Bowl commercial? The movie Groundhog Day reminds me of the Employee Benefits lifecycle. We recover from the "busy season" and launch into the "strategic planning" cycle with clients. Rinse and repeat.

Didn't we just update that PowerPoint deck? Erg. Here we go again.

There's a number I'd like you to pay attention to as you're collaborating with your team for this next phase in the Benefits cycle.

What is your thinking to formatting ratio?

I've noticed that some teams spend more time formatting their PowerPoint to look strategic than thinking strategically about their client's priorities.

Where would your clients fall on the chart?

It's important to present ideas in a modern and professional format. However...

Clients don't hire you to create PowerPoints. They want your guidance and PowerPoint (or whatever you use) is simply a tool to support a strategic conversation.

You might be too light on thinking time if:

  • Someone...
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Are you the firefighter or the arsonist? 🔥🧯

firm operations growth Feb 04, 2020

Most employee benefits professionals report spending their week putting out fires. In my 30-year accidental career, I’ve been a carrier rep, broker, managed brokers and now consult to carriers & brokers. I’m empathetic to your competing priorities.

I usually include a firefighter slide in my presentations to illustrate how this phenomena impacts our business. 

It’s hard to get the right solutions to the right customers at the right time if your hair, and business, is on fire.

Last week I spent time in Phoenix with a carrier’s sales team. As I was organizing my thoughts, I couldn’t help but think of Lady Gaga. And her former fiancé who is on Chicago Fire. 

BTW, in addition to Tito’s and weeknight Sauvignon Blanc, my guilty pleasures include too much tv and my weekly subscription (print - I’m old school) of US Weekly. I know these things.

If you’re a fan, you know he’s obsessed with what’s causing the...

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Take the "Feedback 5" Challenge

Warning. There's no turning back. Once this is on your radar, you'll be like two of my original foster puppies. You won't be able to look away.


 

5 words are routinely used to give feedback that are useless (at best) and destructive (at worst) without context and follow up. 

"They need to be more/less _______________."

More (or less) what? I'm glad you asked.

She needs to be more approachable, assertive, creative, collaborative, confident, engaged, independent, open-minded, present, sales-focused, strategic or technical. Or she needs to be less aggressive, conservative or negative. You get the point.

I don't know what someone really means when they say these things. And most of us are not great guessers.

Worse yet, the person on the receiving end of the "feedback 5" usually has zero idea what happened, how to fix it or when they'll have done "it" the right way, enough times, to change perception. 

The "Feedback 5" may be part of a...

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Pay attention for the mic drop moment. 🎤💥

firm operations growth Oct 15, 2019

I'm an optimistic skeptic. Or a practical visionary. Or a grounded dreamer. Does that make sense? The blessing (and burden) of being in the 30-year club is that I know some "things" and there's a risk that experience is an obstacle instead of simply informative as I work with teams to modernize how they work.

I'm constantly balancing the healthy tension that exists when you've been at this for a while. Can you relate?

As a part of the onboarding process for the Account Executive Academy we just launched, I've done 1:1 interviews with 20 Benefits Account Executives over the past 10 days. We'll be working (and learning) together over the next 6 months. The headline?

Your key talent is ready. They want more and have ideas about what you might do more of (and less of) to continue doing great work.  They're up for a challenge and eager to connect with industry peers. I can't wait to see what breakthroughs occur with these key stakeholders...

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Clients hire you (and fire you) because they want to be led.

Are you too slammed to consider new solutions because it's 4th quarter in the benefits business? Are you deferring new ideas until Q1?

Do your clients know? Would your prospects care? Don't forget that clients hire you (and fire you) because they want to be led. 

If you're a benefits solution, raise your hand if you've been pushed off to the mystical time known as "after-the-busy-season." Makes you wish for a lunch & learn, right?

I see a pattern at firms at all levels (sales, service, platform resources, and leadership) of completely putting off investing time to think, learn and plan because it's "the busy season."

I understand the demands of competing priorities and am concerned about what those delays will cost you. If you don't revisit an idea until Q1, it's unlikely you'll execute and capitalize on it until mid-2020. That may not be quick enough in a dynamic market.

I've been thinking about this quote from Jason Fried, the CEO of...

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Wake up! Speak French! Originally published in Leaders Edge Magazine

firm operations growth Jun 01, 2019

My parents, sisters and I were on a month-long trip through Europe in 1987 in a bright orange Volkswagen van that Dad still claims he didn’t choose. It was a mechanism for international embarrassment—European Vacation, Teen Daughter edition.

We’d arrived at a toll booth and didn’t have correct change. The “middle sister” was proficient in rudimentary French, but she was asleep. Desperate times. We were blocking traffic, so we screamed at her to “wake up and speak French.” Dazed and confused, she conversed with the toll taker; it’s unclear whether it was her translation skills or his sympathy (or irritation) that allowed us free passage.

This family classic comes to mind as I contemplate the employee benefits industry and impediments to innovation. We are asking the same people who have been successful in this industry because they like process, certainty, contracts and an annual “cycle of things” to now be flexible,...

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Let's put down the Magic 8 Ball and get real about the new business budget

firm operations sales Nov 27, 2018

Who produced 20% of your practice revenue this year? Do you have a high degree of confidence that they’ll repeat or was that “accidental” revenue? If production isn’t going to come from them, who will deliver? Benefits leadership is tough enough; let's get real about new business and remove some mystery from 2019. What resources will your new clients leverage? It varies widely based on size, industry and funding mechanisms, making those details in a pipeline invaluable.

In many firms, benefit leaders are responsible for practice investments without reliable insights into producer activity. I think we’ve outgrown leveraging historical production and a Magic 8 Ball to “guess-ti-budget” new business revenue and then holding our breath to see if it materializes. As I’ve written previously here, I'm empathetic to the challenges in our business. I'm concurrently optimistic and believe it's possible to tactically prioritize...

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