Move Your Agency From High Maintenance to High Performance

agency leader between feuding professionals

Do you know the difference between high maintenance and high performance? My definition of a high-maintenance agency is one that is reactive and devoid of sufficient communication between leadership, producers and service personnel. Because roles are not clearly defined, the workplace is stressful, and productivity suffers.

Conversely, high-performance agencies are clear on what they are and where they’re going. Not only is there great communication within the agency, producers also work proactively with clients. These agencies achieve superior results.

If you identify more as a high-maintenance agency than a high-performance organization, don’t despair. It’s possible to move from high maintenance to high performance if you’re willing to incorporate three key elements into your agency’s culture.

1 - Mindset. I’m sure you’ve heard author James Allen’s aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” That’s very similar to French philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous quote: “I think, therefore I am.” Both apply to the agency mindset. These are the beliefs that ultimately drive behavior and results, for better or for worse. If you’d like to improve your agency’s results, or yours, it’s important to be aware of your deeply held beliefs and recognize whether they’re holding you back.

Does your agency think big enough? Small thinking leads to small results, which is why many agencies settle for less. Perhaps their producers and leaders have hit a comfortable plateau and are happy to maintain the status quo, rather than improve and strive for more. They believe that being average is “good enough.”

This reminds me of something Tony Robbins has talked about. He said that we tend to use “softeners” by comparing ourselves to others who are doing worse than we are. In essence, these are the things we tell ourselves to soften reality. For example: “We’re doing better than ABC Agency,” or “Things may not be great, but they’re not that bad.” With this type of mindset, people will never grow past their own level of thinking. Instead, they should be trying to measure up to their top competitors and, more important, to the best version of themselves.

What self-limiting beliefs are holding you/your agency back? Have you ever told yourself, “We’re just a small-town agency,” or “I guess I’m just going to be a $300,000 producer,” or “There’s no way I’ll ever land that huge account”? Perhaps you’ve heard of the Imposter Syndrome. You look at yourself and doubt your worthiness, fearing that others will find out that you’re an imposter who’s not up to the job. In reality, you may be an extremely capable producer who lacks self-confidence. You must change your mindset! Remember, mindset is a level of awareness. It’s a matter of recognizing what might be holding you back and then fixing it. Transforming and growing is not about pretending to be someone you’re not, it’s about being all that you already are.

2 - Skillset. Can you imagine a professional basketball team that never practiced passing or shooting? Would you pay to hear a musician who never worked on scales or rehearsed? Would you go to a surgeon who hadn’t operated in a few years or kept up with the latest tools and techniques?

The same expectation of mastery applies to insurance agencies. Amateurs hope they get better; professionals make a plan to do so. If you want to transform into a high-performance agency, there are certain skills that you and your team must develop and improve upon. The best agencies have a strategy to develop the skills they need to get from point A to point B. How is your agency training your team in key skills?

Here’s a question I often ask insurance professionals: On a scale from one to 10, how important are communication skills—asking questions, actively listening, presenting, etc.—to your success? They always answer 10 (or higher). But when I ask how often and deliberately they practice this vital skill each week, do you know what I hear? Crickets. Simply talking to your co-workers every day doesn’t count.

What’s your agency’s practice schedule? When and how often are you working to improve your communication skills? Practice is the only way to build confidence and competence. That’s why, on a regular basis, you should be rehearsing:

  • Your 30-second commercial
  • Asking for referrals
  • Handling objections
  • Points of differentiation
  • Leading sales meetings
  • Making a presentation

Furthermore, you should record yourself so that you’ll know precisely what you need to work on. For instance, if you hate the sound of your voice (as most people do), how do you think your listeners feel? The only way you’ll improve is by listening to yourself, and then practicing and polishing your delivery.

The bottom line is, if you can’t do it from your home or office, you can’t do it out there. Rehearsing in front of your peers or on camera is low-risk practice because professionally, there’s nothing at stake but your pride. So what if you feel silly? Wouldn’t you rather feel awkward in front of your peers than look incompetent in front of a Future Ideal Client?

Take a look at your team’s calendar. Where is practice time on the schedule? The beginning of your weekly sales meeting is an ideal time to schedule low-risk practice. Rather than talking about numbers and metrics, or complaining about what should be done, you can work on the fundamentals. Best of all, you don’t need to devote hours to every session. You’d be surprised how much better you can get in just five or 10 minutes. Do small things repeatedly and you’ll get the momentum going. In time, the cumulative gains will be significant. Better to eat an apple a day than a bushel once a month! The key is always consistency.

3 - Toolset. Just as a carpenter needs specific tools to do a job, so do insurance professionals. What are the resources (namely people, ideas and technology) in your toolbox? WHO and WHAT surround you, and how do they affect your life and business?

First, let’s examine the WHO. Who are the people that you and your team members are learning from and sharing with?

  • Peers. Choose wisely. Peers don’t necessarily have to be people in your agency. They could be people in other industries who are doing their jobs at a high level.
  • Mentors. There’s a lot to learn from people who have been places professionally that you haven’t been yet.
  • Coaches. These are the people who will inspire, encourage and challenge you to achieve your full potential. We all need them. In fact, over the years I’ve worked with coaches because they help me see things and think in ways I hadn’t before.

Next, WHAT tools and resources are you providing your team? You have to feed your body, but as author Jim Rohn asked, “What’s your ‘bread for the head?’” What are you feeding your mind? What are you putting in your head and what are you giving your team? Are you feeding your team members hopes that they’ll get better or are you giving them the tools and resources they need to improve and excel?

I love good entertainment, but if all you’re feeding your mind is trivial thoughts, that will be reflected in your interactions with clients. Instead, try nourishing your mind with one or more of the following:

  • Books and periodicals. Leaders are readers! Sadly, more than half of college graduates never read any type of professional development or self-improvement book after graduation. I find that shocking. You’re either hungry to learn and grow or you’re not. Better yet, you don’t have to be an avid reader to learn new things.
  • Podcasts and audiobooks. These are excellent options for those who like to learn by listening. I have a weekly podcast (The Agent Leader), but there are many others. These days, you can find interesting and enlightening podcasts on just about any subject, and they’re accessible whenever and wherever you choose. You’d be amazed at what you can learn from other successful producers and leaders in the industry just by listening.
  • Conversations/networking with industry leaders. One of the most impactful parts of our training programs is our roundtables, where we divide a large group of producers into smaller groups of four or five. Each group shares ideas, discusses a specific topic, or answers a difficult question. After about 15 minutes, everyone reconvenes, and group captains report their findings and share their ideas and observations. The power of collaborative thinking always yields the most impressive results.
  • Training and development programs. Without a doubt, these are an agency’s most important asset. That’s why every agency needs some form of purposeful training to operate at its highest level. There are plenty of options out there (although naturally, I think ours are the best!). Unfortunately, too many agencies still think of training as giving the producer a desk and a phone, and wishing them luck. They’re not unique. According to a recent best practices agency study, average agencies invest only about 0.4% of their annual revenue on training. That’s not nearly enough! If you’re not dedicating sufficient resources to train and develop your team members, you can’t expect to achieve high-performance results.

There always will be agencies that prefer the trial-and-error method over a well-equipped toolset, just as there will be producers who say they don’t have time to improve. The truth is, we tend to find time to do the things we really want to do. Besides, anyone can spare 10 minutes a day for professional development. It really comes down to how and what you want to learn, and how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in your agency’s growth and development. Ultimately, you’ll save your agency time and money by surrounding yourself with the right people, skills, and tools.

The author

Brent Kelly, president at The Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please visit

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