#SitkinsIsTheSolution

Agency Leaders' Panel Discussion

Apr 07, 2022
 

Now, this is a special episode. Number one, I am actually on the road so you may notice my mic sounds a bit different, but out the road doing a conference speaking event this week, which I'm totally excited about, I'll share more about that in future podcasts.

I had a great day today, but also it's a special podcast because I'm going to be sharing a little inside information, so to speak, not too much, but a little inside information on our networking event that we had last week. We run an event for all of our Sitkins Network members called ProFit Net which stands for professional fitness networking. ProFit Net, our annual networking event, and we had a panel discussion with three great agency leaders when we had this event. And I want to share today that panel discussion, to allow you The Agent Leader Podcast listener to lean in, take some notes from agency leaders. We had Mike Malinowski, who's the CEO of EHD Insurance, fantastic agency, one of the best implementers that we've worked with and Mike has some great tips and insight on leadership. And I had Dan Elliot, who is the vice president of the Diebold Agency in Michigan.

Dan's been on the podcast before as a guest, and he was part of the panel discussion. And Todd Lykke, who also was a podcast guest that was on our panel to share his thoughts. And this panel discussion was based on this concept. Are you willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable? Are you willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable? And all these agency leaders shared some of their experiences where they had to get uncomfortable. And when they got uncomfortable, it's allowed them to have phenomenal results. And also I asked them where maybe had they been comfortable too long and things that may be holding their agency back. Again, take a listen, have your notebook ready, take some notes. You're going to enjoy this episode. Again this is an excerpt from our panel discussion that we have with their agency leaders during our ProFit Net event. Take a listen, enjoy.

 

Brent Kelly:

I want to bring on some of our members who have really done some extraordinary things with their agency, and it just exemplified some key areas in leadership. I've actually got three panel members that are from different parts of the country, different size revenue agencies, different specializations. We're getting a pretty good scope here but from a leadership perspective, and as you can see in this section, if you're looking at the workbook, the idea, the topic was getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I'm going to ask these leaders, and I'll give you all a brief intro here, so people get to know you a little bit.

Brent Kelly:

I'm going to brag on you just a little bit, because I know you won't brag on yourselves because you're humble servant leaders, but I do want to add I've asked them some questions ahead of time, but I've also told them, as well, I want them to begin to think about some of these questions in terms of where have they had to get uncomfortable in certain areas, to get the results they want or maybe where, as leaders, have we stayed comfortable too long that has maybe hindered some of our progress in different ways.

Brent Kelly:

As I was preparing for this over the past couple of weeks, something hit me. I've said it before, and Roger's said it before, that nothing grows in the comfort zone. Wherever we've just been for a long period of time, not much grows there. I was thinking except for one thing, complacency. Complacency grows in your comfort zone. We just get used to doing the same thing. Just keep that in mind. In fact, that may be something you want to write down at the top is, the only thing that grows in my comfort zone is complacency.

Brent Kelly:

I don't think any of you are here to be complacent. You wouldn't be part of the network. You wouldn't be part of our structure of what we want to do and want to accomplish. I'm going to give you see the guest spotlighted here. We've got Michael Malinowski, Dan Elliot, Todd Lykke. I'm going to give a brief intro. If you guys need to add anything, feel free to do it. If I say something incorrect, you can correct me, but I think we got this pretty well set here.

Brent Kelly:

I first want to mention Mike Malinowski. Mike is the CEO of EHD Insurance in Pennsylvania. He has several offices in Pennsylvania, and again, I'm just versus going through all the vernacular of this and that, I just want to hit some highlights that I know at [Sitkins 00:45:17] we personally have appreciated and applauded from each of these agencies.

Brent Kelly:

I would just say this with EHD Insurance, and then we've mentioned them on several of our trainings because they are, if not the top implementer, they're certainly right there at the top. We've joked, Mike, back even with John Miles, of you're our number one agency, ah, maybe number two, not quite there yet, but doing some great things.

Brent Kelly:

I do want to share, because part of this we talk about is culture, and I've shared this in different programs, Mike, obviously you're going to be aware of this and it's got to be hard for many of you to see with my screen so I'll read it, but it just goes back to when we, it says here at the top, this is a mirror that is in all of the EHD offices, right, Mike? It says there at the top, "Is this your best version possible?"

Brent Kelly:

When we talk about that with EHD, they didn't just go, oh yeah, that's something. They made it a thing. At the bottom, which is fun, they have on there, it's hard to see I know, I'll read, it says "Producers, if it's Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM, you should not be reading this."

Brent Kelly:

Just a culture of the fact that A, we are going to be our best version possible, number one. And B, producers get in the green zone; get out there and do those things. I wanted to share that. Just a couple things EHD... Mike again, correct me if I'm off on some of these a little bit, but $28 million in revenue, right? I wanted to bring this... What's interesting too, two years in a row and maybe they're going on a third now, they had over $1 million in BOR or AOR business, which is pretty cool.

Brent Kelly:

One million in revenue, just... By the way, that's not their only revenue obviously. As most of you know, we don't teach necessarily a BOR or AOR process. We believe that a BOR or AOR is the end result of a great process. Is the fact that they're choosing, so kudos to you. Of course, that comes in a COVID year as well.

Brent Kelly:

You just recently informed us, which we didn't know about this until recently, you had your best new sales year in EHD history last year; 2.2 million in revenue. Everybody applaud Mike and the EHD team. That's pretty cool stuff. We say leaders in the clubhouse, EHD is doing a great job. Mike, want to introduce you and I'll get to your questions here, just in a second.

Brent Kelly:

I want to also introduce Dan Elliot. Dan Elliot is the VP at Debolt Insurance Agency in Michigan. He's third generation, right Dan, of the agency?

Dan Elliott:

Technically fourth.

Brent Kelly:

Technically fourth. So, sometimes we joke Dan, if you ever watched the movie Multiplicity, you make a copy of the copy of the copy. It doesn't always get so good. But in your case, you've broken the mold. You guys are doing great. Dan's a great leader along with Pete, Amy in your office. Obviously, your dad Kevin's been around with Sitkins for a very long time, and been a huge implementer, but just some things that Debolt has done. It's not even just the numbers, you guys are doing great stuff, but probably one of our best agencies, not the best of understanding, low risk practice and preparation. You guys really understand this nature of accountability, and a sales culture, and your producers hit your goals. That's part of what we do. If we're going to set goals, we're going to hit them, and Debolt has done a fantastic job. Also mentioned, a personal note from Dan, just had your number two child, right?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah, back in December. So, thank you. Things are busy around here, but good and busy. I know you don't like that word, but I'll use it in this context.

Brent Kelly:

It works. Right off the top for Dan being our panelist. Thank you, Dan. Appreciate you being here and congratulations on number two.

Brent Kelly:

Last but not least, Todd Lykke from TCL Insurance in the great state of Texas. Todd is our, at least on this panel and actually from almost this whole group here, one of our newest members of the Sitkins network; hasn't been with us that long, yet about a year or so at this point. Todd's a trucking specialist. Their agency's entire trucking. Again, had tremendous growth. I asked Todd to share with me where they're at, and over his course of time. Obviously been with us for a year, had a very successful year, but Todd started... Get this, this is pretty interesting, talk about committed to grow. I use terms of revenue, Todd, so you can correct me a little bit, but about 30K in revenue when you started eight years ago, and you're now about three million, am I close?

Todd Lykke:

300,000 in revenue.

Brent Kelly:

300,000 of revenue. Now you're at what?

Todd Lykke:

Closer to 3 million.

Brent Kelly:

Three million in revenue. I just wanted to give a scope of getting where agencies are at, and where they're going, because the bottom line of this is all three of you have done things as leaders to get it uncomfortable, or help your team to get uncomfortable. With that, I've got a few questions, and Mike, can I start with you?

Mike Malinowski:

Sure.

Brent Kelly:

All right. So the question...

Mike Malinowski:

If I said no, would it matter?

Brent Kelly:

No, it wouldn't. If you said, no, I would still be call on you. That's how we're going to roll here. I want you to, and I ask you to share your agency's top success. Obviously EHD, you guys have had a number of successes, but we can replicate success, all learn from each other. I will want to know this though. I want you to share your agency's top success. My question is this, how and where have you and/or your team had to get uncomfortable to accomplish that success, and how are you planning to replicate it? Kind of a loaded question there, but...

Mike Malinowski:

Yeah, sure. Yeah, there's a lot around that. I guess what we can really attribute a lot of... Obviously Sitkins has helped us tremendously, I'm not doing this because of a commercial, but we have four offices all over the state. Our language was siloed and we weren't going through the same process. Brent and Roger helped us put that together.

Mike Malinowski:

Where we really concentrated on, that really helped us grow and hit our new business numbers that we want to, is the trading down, the building and development of our, we call it, Special Business Unit, which for us is 10 grand in revenue and below. It was tough for producers. It was tough because we wouldn't pay them on it. We were making them concentrate on the larger deals, because that's what we were paying them to do. We hear the same thing, as you know, "Well that's my best friend and I need to talk to him," and not really trusting the group that's built to do that.

Mike Malinowski:

There were some struggles, there were some folks in my office several times, and no one else can do it as good as me. That's not what we were paying them to do. There was our uncomfortability around that, but we thought if we built a good structure for that business, it would help these guys concentrate on referrals, and all this stuff that we've done.

Mike Malinowski:

It was probably 18 months where there were some producers, especially the tenured producers, who got very uncomfortable about that process, but now they don't even want to look at it; which is good. We built a unit up, they do a good job, but I think that was probably one of the main things, Brent, that has really helped us build to a platform where we can grow our larger commercial stuff. Yeah, if that answers your question, that's probably the most uncomfortable we were as an agency.

Brent Kelly:

Fantastic. Talking to some of your producers, there's always those thoughts. Wow, that's not something we really want to do and no producers like, "Well, I'm not giving up revenue," but one of the things is, hey, let's replace them before we release them, in certain ways. Let's get more focused on what we're going to accomplish. Now, obviously, and again, with some of the agencies on here where you guys have done an EHD, you moved to a $10,000 minimum account size, which is a big number.

Brent Kelly:

That may not be right for your agency, but what's interesting, and for every agency, but what's interesting is what Jim Lewis, the sales manager, told me about the results. As you guys established a true minimum account size and started focusing the larger accounts that you really could be a value added provider, and be that indispensable risk partner, from what Jim told me, I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but in essence, you basically tripled your close ratio on those accounts.

Brent Kelly:

They're working on larger accounts and closing more of them. It was like the, "oh yeah." I know that was an uncomfortable moment for you as leaders and for your producers, so thank you.

Brent Kelly:

All right. I'm going to go to Dan. Dan, same question to you. You can share your agency's top success. I know it's hard to brag, and also within that success where maybe have you had to get uncomfortable to do that.

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. I'll answer that in two different ways. There's probably two different philosophies of the success and how we got there, and how people were uncomfortable. Structurally, first of all, it was really getting the right people in the right seats of the bus. That's crucial, and those are tough conversations and tough movements that we had to do throughout the agency to get there. That was a long process.

Dan Elliott:

When it came to our COO, we had some big changes there. We had some turnover in our CFO, also with some of our support team and account managers; just focusing on right seat of the right bus. But really, when it came down to sales, it was having that clear divide between sales and service. We talk all the time, same goal different role, and what that mentality looks like.

Dan Elliott:

It's uncomfortable to get there. It's well worth it in the end. We're finally as close to there as we've ever been. It's hard to sit there and tell your sales guys, listen, I know you've always done it this way, but we need to do it this way, and this is why. Same with our account managers. It's not that we're taking this away from you because we don't think you're capable, it's because we need to in order to grow how we want to grow. Those weren't fun conversations, but were well worth it in the end.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Thank you Dan, for sharing that. I wrote down there just saying that's part of, we always talk about in many of our programs it's established in the culture, and then beginning to implement the process. Here's our new process and we've never really talked about the true depth behind the why. Why is this so important? What is it really going to look like when done the right way? It doesn't mean you're going to get everyone going yay, yay, yay.

Brent Kelly:

There's more of an understanding, and even back to what Mike said, there's a commitment that we're going to do this. We need to do this for the health of our organization, the growth. Quite honestly, Dan, this goes back to sales and service. One of the things that we talk about in our camps is that, well, a true great client experience isn't having the producers do some of these things, because they're not very good at some of those reactive services anyway. Let's just get them out of the way. Sometimes there's a little ego involved in that, to say the least.

Brent Kelly:

All right, Todd, same question to you. TCO, what's been a great success? Where has there been some uncomfortability to get there?

Todd Lykke:

Thanks Brent. Well, what we're always focused on is our sales culture and we've certainly had success there. We just completed today finishes the first quarter of the year. This quarter, we are celebrating our best quarter that we've ever had. Best first quarter that we've ever had in new business sales. Gosh, very, very proud of that. At the same time, our challenges have been, we left money on the table. We had some unforced errors. Those numbers could have been better. They were ours to take, and we messed up on it. Where have we had to become uncomfortable? It was a choice, but one is following what we learn in the Sitkins' meetings. When we look at, from going back a year ago, changing the culture so that everyone on our team understands the red zone, the green zone.

Todd Lykke:

What are you doing? What you do today, what'd you do last week? Using the iceberg. Using that where 80% of the results is the 20% of the work. Doing what's really important below the water line is what's going to drive above the water line all year long. On the 80/20 rule, 80% of our revenue, 20% of our clients, really focusing on that, and saying, Hey, wait a minute, we always have to average up. It's not just picking the easy fruit.

Todd Lykke:

Our producers, our sales team understands they have to average those accounts up. They are red zone, green zone, average accounts, iceberg, no practice quoting. That's another issue that we look at every month. What is our close ratio? It's important to have a good close ratio. Why are we practicing and spending our valuable CSR time on low probability accounts? We're too busy for that. There's no magic bullet. It's making good decisions over and over again, but sometimes it's uncomfortable, so we have to push through that. It is showing up, and we're still trying very hard to get better.

Brent Kelly:

Well, Todd, first of all, congrats on where you continue to move forward to, it's really exciting to watch. You didn't say the word, but what hit me is consistency. That's the challenge and no magic bullet it, but it's just this idea. One of my favorite books is The Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy. Great read. Similar book called The slight Edge, by Jeff Olson. Similar premise, it's just, you're looking for this magic thing. We always say, we joke now at Sitkins, we've got to quit the gimmick of the month club, and just commit to doing the things that we know we need to do, even when it's not always fun or easy. Todd, I applaud you, and obviously Mike, and Dan, and other agencies here, as well.

Brent Kelly:

Talk about culture. Are we a sales culture that's focused as a sales culture, that provides exceptional service? Or, are we a great service culture, that happens to sell when we have time? Just ask yourself as an agency, which one are we really? And what does that look like?

Brent Kelly:

Todd again, thanks for answering that. I appreciate that. I'm going to go on the flip of this a little bit and Dan, I'm going to start with you on this one. All right, so I'll put you up first here. Every agency has challenges. I know you at Debolt have challenges. What would you say, right now, is the biggest challenge facing your agency today, Dan?

Dan Elliott:

I would say that the biggest challenge that we have is, as good as we've got with the separation of sales and service, having all of our producers and our whole sales team dedicate themselves to this process. We've coached them, we've explained to them what it is, and what the expectations are, and the ones that are buying into it are clearly excelling. But, we have a wide range of different tenured producers within our agency. Some of them have earned that right to do things their way, as they sail off in the sunset, but making sure that as we're hiring for the future, that we are really having that consistent process in place because it truly works.

Dan Elliott:

That's been our hardest thing to manage is we have four different locations, different tenured sales people, everybody having that same dedicated process because we've talked a lot, Brent, off of the call here that it truly works if you do those basics better than anybody else. Just trying to get that consistent process against people from different industries, and different tenures, and things like that has been a big challenge.

Dan Elliott:

I think it still is our biggest challenge, but we're making progress every day.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, and Dan, I think you're the only one that has that challenge right? No, I mean, I see a lot of heads nodding. One of the best analogies I heard is the time someone getting producers to do the right thing together, is like nailing jello to a tree, it just jiggles everywhere, because there's just a lot of personalities involved in that. There certainly is, again, a consistent process and the culture around that. Mike, how about you? With EHD right now, what do you feel is the biggest challenge you guys are facing today?

Mike Malinowski:

It's, by far, talent. It's, by far, producer recruitment. As you know, we talked to one of the breakout groups. It's probably limiting us in our accountability for those part-time producers, as Roger said earlier, because we're just struggling finding talent out there in the industry. I'm sure everyone's going through that. So, in order to grow, and as we always say, bigger's great, but the boulder's harder to push up the hill, and you need more hands on deck.

Mike Malinowski:

In this particular area, we're just struggling. As you know, we thought we're going to try to do it ourselves. I don't know if it'll work, but we can't just sit here and just let it happen with the producer academy we're starting. That's our number one challenge, is we think we have the sales culture and some of that stuff going in the right direction, but you still need younger folks out there, probably more diverse folks, especially in our area, to do producing.

Mike Malinowski:

That's what keeps me up at night, because we just can't make people. A lot of people retiring too, that we're backfilling in, and the worst thing we want to do is give someone who's actually one of our best salespeople, our best producers, someone's book, and then they just struggle to get out and produce. That's probably our number one item that we're trying to work on and solve that problem. We have to figure it out.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. You guys are starting the producer academy. Part of this too, I wanted to, as a reminder, if any of you have a specific question for one of the panelists, again, we're technically scheduled for up to 1:40. We got a lunch after that. Be happy to ask a question, maybe some things you're doing. By the way, just on Mike's point, I know he's not the only one of our agents that's going, what are other people doing for producer recruiting?

Brent Kelly:

IF you have some ideas or things you've seen working, certainly this is a networking event, you can type up in the chat box, or we can share it in the open networking here in a little bit. Todd, I want to go to you. TCL today, you kind of mentioned a little bit of some of the challenges, but what's the biggest challenge you're facing today?

Todd Lykke:

Just managing the growth. Everything is being challenged, obviously we're trying to grow our organic growth, at the same time, managing the service team, and management, and it's difficult.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Todd Lykke:

Between hiring and then people wanting to take on a different career or whatever the case, the waters are always rough, and it's difficult. It's just one thing to write business, and wouldn't it be nice if everything on the back end was smooth, but it's just not. That's a challenge and we're working through that. Once again, it's just pressing every day to do everything that we can do and make wise decisions.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. And Todd, as you were saying that, I was talking to the agency leader this week and I probably said it to some of you on the call at some point. I said, I see agencies all get, they can get stuck. See agencies are stuck at a million, 3 million, 10 million, 30 million, 50 million. What hits me on this is, again, there's always going to be issues and things are always going to happen. It's never, oh, got it all figured out now, but it's what got you here is not going to be the same thing that's going to get you there. That's a really important mindset. What got us the 3 million is not going to be the exact same thing. Now the basics aren't going to change; some of the basic principles, but there are nuances to that, is we got to think a little more abundantly.

Brent Kelly:

We've got to think a little different. We've got, I'll talk about in the last session, we've got to think more like how to develop more leaders within our organization, not just followers. What does that look like? Thank you, Todd, for sharing that.

Brent Kelly:

I've got one more technical question, and again, if you have questions from the group here, please feel free to type it in the chat. If you want to raise your hand and again, we'll get to our networking lunch after this.

Brent Kelly:

It's really more of a personal leadership question. If you listen to my podcast, The Agent Leader podcast, the interviews that I do, I always ask this question. You may have heard it before, but it's one of my favorite questions to ask because I think it's a very empowering question, and it's a thoughtful question, I hope, is this. If you could give one piece of advice to the younger version of you, your younger self..." So now I know we've got different ages here, but if you had to look back as a new baby leader, new baby professional, getting in the game and that new baby professional was looking up at the current you, and said, "Hey older you, what's one piece of advice that you could give me that's going to help me be more successful in business and life?" Could be both, either, or whatever it is.

Brent Kelly:

This time I'm going to flip and Todd, no pressure, but I'm going to start with you on this one.

Todd Lykke:

Okay. To my younger self, maybe there's more than one thing I would say. One is to think bigger. Where we started having a larger plan in place and then learn to earn. Those are the two things. I see so many of my peers, let's say friends, that have agencies and they're not in... They think small, they behave like they're small, and they all talk about wanting to grow, but what are they going to do? What are they going to do besides what they've done 10 years ago, and five years ago? Their growth is anemic.

Todd Lykke:

Well, they would say the same thing. Well, I learned. Sure, I learn. I read things. No, but there's a difference. There's a difference in really thinking large and having a much bigger plan, and then enthusiastically learning what it's going to take to get there, and then taking action. That's what I would tell my younger self, those two or three things, and just say, gosh, don't let your own thinking slow you down.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. We've talked about that in many cases, I just have to share one thought, because you just reminded me, Todd, of the conversation I had on an Uber ride with another speaker that I was heading back to the airport with. I just love asking people questions, because you learn a lot. This guy was a very, very successful person. I just said, "Okay, if you had one piece of advice to tell me, what would it be?" He referenced his father and he said, "My dad told me at a young age, he goes, the amount of your success will depend on what type of denomination you think in." He goes, "Some people think at hundred, some people think in thousands, some people think in 10,000, some people have been hundred, thousands. Some people think of millions." And he goes, "The difference isn't their talent, it's how they think."

Brent Kelly:

I applaud you Todd for that. It's great. Great. Great response. All right. Let's go to... I'll work backwards here from where I started. So Dan, what about you? What would you tell your younger self?

Dan Elliott:

I really have two different ones too. Then I shared this with you on the podcast I did. The one is definitely just be a sponge, whether it's in this industry, in life, there's so much knowledge out there. Just think about the different people we have on this networking event today that you've had in your different sessions, that you have in your agency, that you have in your community. There's just so much you can learn from other people and take advantage of that.

Dan Elliott:

The second one is just when it comes to having conversations is, you spend so much time preparing, and this is something we focus on in our agency, is just spending so much time focusing on what you're going to tell people when really, why don't we spend more time on what we should ask people, and trying to just change that mindset, whether it's a conversation with a client, with an employee, with your spouse... It doesn't really matter, but just how much more you get out of asking good questions.

Brent Kelly:

That's great. I put great. That's what I put, ask more questions, ask more questions. Love that, Dan. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. All right, Mike, last but not least. What would you tell the younger Mike?

Mike Malinowski:

Well, think even kind of Dan hit on it, but make yourself uncomfortable. If it's too easy, then it's too easy. Make yourself uncomfortable. Model successful behavior. We have so many good people in this industry that have been very successful, and model the successful behavior, but also learn from those who don't do it the right way too, because there's a lot of those out there too.

Mike Malinowski:

Challenging yourself to make yourself uncomfortable is hard for people. People don't like to be uncomfortable and probably the first 10 years in this business, I didn't make myself uncomfortable enough, because stuff was happening right for me. If I would've made myself a little more uncomfortable, I think it could even have made me grow even more. That's what I would tell myself if I could go back 25 years ago and do that, I would definitely try to preach that concept, and I think Dan and Todd hit on it too.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Awesome. Well, I want to thank all three of you for answering these questions. Round of applause for our awesome panelists. Appreciate it. Hope you... I learned stuff. I love asking questions and learning. I know you all did as well. Again, if you got a question we're going to move into a networking lunch here for a while in just a minute.

Brent Kelly:

I do want to add one thing though on that, as you said this, Mike, it reminds me of my favorite laws. The law of the rubber band; got this from John Maxwell. The law of the rubber band. The only way we grow is if we do what, same as our rubber band, stretch, otherwise we're not useful. And [Jim Rone 00:45:17] said it so well. He said, how tall will an oak tree grow? We look around, I don't know; as tall as it can. Humans have the amazing ability to say, "Eh, it's pretty good. Good right here. I think I'll just take a park right here for the next 25 years."

Brent Kelly:

Again, I'll challenge you all myself, find joy sounds crazy, but find joy in the discomfort, because it's where you'll find growth. When you find growth, you find results. When you get your results, you begin to create the freedom and lifestyle that you've always dreamed about.

 

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