The Top Four Talent Blind Spots That Limit Agency Improvement and Growth

Agency team operating with blindfolds

 I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news. Last year, our industry saw record organic growth, with numbers in the double digits. This is unprecedented, which should be great news for agencies.

Now for the bad news: Much of that growth is being driven by inflation and rising market rates. As you know, inflation and market conditions are both beyond agencies’ control.

Recently, I spoke with Harrison Brooks, a consultant with Reagan Consulting, who warned me about the possible perils of double-digit organic growth in an industry that for years has seen growth rates of 4% to 6%. Brooks says that most of that growth is being driven by inflation and a hard market. “So if inflation slows down and the market slows down, agencies could see black-line growth or negative growth.” He didn’t say “reduced” growth or stagnation, but negative growth!

As hard as that is to imagine in the current robust market, we must prepare for conditions to change. If we don’t, as Warren Buffet famously said, “When the tide rolls out, we will know who has been swimming naked.”

Since we all know it’s impossible to control the tide, it’s critical that you know what your agency will do when, not if, the tide ebbs. One of the best ways is to invest in your number one asset—your people. Surprisingly, few agencies make it a priority, as revealed in a recent Best Practices report. It showed that, on average, today’s best practice agencies reinvest only about 0.25% of their revenue in employee training and development.

Investing insufficiently in training and development not only shortchanges an agency’s best people, but also its bottom line. Usually, agencies that don’t invest in their people are lacking in four critical areas, making recruitment and retention difficult. We call them Talent Blind Spots because they keep agencies and their team members from improving and growing.

They include: Lack of Talent Advancement, Lack of Talent Alignment, Lack of Talent Allocation, and Lack of Talent Accountability.

Left unaddressed, any one of these may cause team members to go elsewhere, resulting in the agency’s negative growth.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the talent blind spots.


Are your people growing professionally? At too many agencies, we see a lack of talent development among its most important people, namely the producers, service staff and sales leaders. Why is this important? Besides being the right thing to do, research shows that investing in people has a significant impact on recruitment and retention. In a recent Gallup study, 59% of millennials indicated that the opportunity to learn and grow professionally was a major factor in their employment decisions.

It’s about helping your people excel in key areas, including:

Attitude. How do they think? Are they thinking with a mindset of growth and abundance or is their mindset more negative and focused on scarcity?

Skills. How are they improving key skills, such as listening and questioning? What are they doing to enhance how they communicate/speak? Are they cultivating a comprehensive understanding of insurance terms and language?

Results. Are they meeting or exceeding goals that have been set? Some agencies either don’t set them or they set arbitrary goals that are difficult to measure. Others set them and either ignore them or forget about them, much like an unkept New Year’s resolution. Regardless, you can’t know if you’re advancing if you’re not keeping score.

If you’re still not convinced that training and development are valuable, you might want to think again. According to a recent Accenture study, every dollar spent on training generates a return of approximately $4.53. That’s a 353% ROI!

Of course, not every agency can expect such a stellar ROI, especially those that invest less than one percent of their revenue in their people. But it’s important to note that “investing” in people transcends dollars and cents.

In today’s competitive employment environment, agencies that offer opportunities for personal and professional growth are going to draw the best candidates. They’re finding that traditional benefits such as 401(k) matches and life insurance just don’t cut it with younger workers, who are more attracted by perks such as flexible hours, continuing education, or assistance with student loans. In fact, PWC reports that millennial job seekers cite learning and development as their number one benefit choice, with 35% noting that excellent training and development programs make an employer attractive.


In addition to cultivating and advancing talent, agencies must ensure that team members are on the same page.

First and foremost, sales, service, and leadership should be in sync. This doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything or operate in lockstep to accomplish a common goal. That’s not going to happen! Everyone has different functions and responsibilities, as well as different ways of thinking and working. Also, there’s nothing wrong with having different perspectives and occasional disagreements. As long as your strategies and vision are aligned, your team will be able to accomplish your agency mission.

If you’ve ever played a sport, you understand the importance of teamwork. Although each team member has a unique position based on their specific talents, the collective goal is to win the game. Let’s use football as an example. In practice, we might be discussing a play that doesn’t work for everyone. Maybe it’s a matter of misaligned processes or strategic differences. That’s why we take time during practice to find alignment. We discuss what plays we are running and whether we’re on the same page before we hit the field. You don’t wait until the game has started to decide not to run the play.

The same is true of aligning with your agency team. Despite the different roles of sales and service, their goal is the same: to retain and obtain ideal clients. Even though there will be disagreements at times, there are practical ways to keep your team aligned:

HPT meetings. Are your high-performance teams (HPT) meeting weekly to be proactive in key areas? Is leadership holding producers and service members accountable to attend these meetings? Are participants prepared to add value to these meetings? To quote John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” so it’s up to leaders to set the tone.

Service Hand-Up (SHU). Are you consistently introducing your new clients to the service team and vice-versa? Doing so empowers your service people and clarifies their role to clients. In addition to allowing them to operate more efficiently, the SHU keeps producers out of the service trap.

Buy-in. Unless leadership is leading the charge to implement a new idea, sales and service are not going to buy in. Conversely, if sales or service staff have a great idea but leadership isn’t involved, the idea will fizzle. It’s up to leadership to consistently communicate with their HPTs and hold them accountable.


Are people in your agency consistently doing what they were hired to do? Jim Collins addresses this question in his book Good to Great, which introduces the concept of First Who, Then What. Collins writes, “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus. They always think first about who and then about what.” Besides getting the right people in the right seats, it’s important to remove those who don’t belong on the bus, such as marginally productive team members.

People often stay busy by doing a lot of “stuff” when they’re at work, but is it of value? Because time is our only diminishing asset, it’s important that agency leaders know where their people are investing this precious resource. It’s just as important to know if their activities are yielding results. For example, the producer’s job is to produce results. Accordingly, they need to invest the bulk of their time producing, not servicing accounts.

The truth is, most producers don’t allocate the majority of their time to producing, making them part-time producers, at best. One of the main reasons is because they’re either stuck with service work or they’re hiding behind it. Although they always appear to be busy, they actually do minimal work. Another reason for under-producing is complacency. It’s tempting to slack off and start coasting when you’re making enough to live well without working too hard. Often, those who are “good enough” aren’t motivated to do more.

Similarly, some service professionals may not be focusing on the activities that will have the greatest impact on their clients and agency. They allow interruptions to distract them from addressing their top clients’ most pressing needs. Being prompt and professional is important, but to provide superior service, they must be able to distinguish vital activities from busywork. That means mitigating random and unintentional communication that disrupts productivity, such as non-essential conversations, emails and phone calls.

I’ve read that it takes 23 minutes for people to regain their train of thought once they’ve been interrupted and asked to focus on something else, even temporarily. That’s significant! While disruptions are going to occur, service professionals must recognize what’s most important and limit interruptions.

Leadership is not exempt from prudent time allocation. If their number one responsibility is to grow and develop their people, their time should be spent primarily keeping their team aligned and accountable. However, if agency leaders are also producers who prefer selling over supervising, they need to hire someone to teach and train their people. Just because someone is an outstanding player doesn’t mean they can coach!


No matter how talented your team is, your agency is unlikely to benefit if team members are not accountable in specific areas. There are various types of accountability:

Accountability to oneself. This refers to personal responsibility. How can you personally help solve the problem?

Accountability to the culture. Is the culture of your agency one that takes personal responsibility for outcomes? Or is it one that blames others when results fall short? As a parent, I am well acquainted with the typical excuses for not doing things: “I forgot,” “I thought someone else was supposed to do it,” or “I didn’t feel like doing it.” I understand that some things are beyond our control, so this is not about perfection.
However, being a perpetual victim often indicates a culture that shifts blame and eschews accountability. Agencies with a culture of accountability accept responsibility for problems and work to resolve them. Is yours a culture that finds fault or finds solutions?

Accountability to the agency. Is there an appreciation, respect, and trust in the roles of others in the agency? If you think you’re better or more qualified than other team members, or above doing certain things, that’s a problem.

Accountability to the clients. This comes down to promise-making and promise-keeping. Have you made a commitment to your clients to do certain things? If so, your agency must keep it. It’s a matter of integrity.

In closing

Like so many businesses, ours is heavily influenced by market conditions and, therefore, always changing. While interest rates, inflation, and other factors are beyond your control, your agency and your people are not. How (and how much) you invest in their growth and development is the key to retaining top talent in a competitive environment.

Do your people feel appreciated? Does the agency recognize their achievements? Are they utilized in a way that capitalizes on their strengths? Are they aligned and accountable? What is your agency doing to help them improve and perform at the highest level?

Team members who don’t feel valued and don’t see a path for professional growth are going to seek an environment where they can get ahead. As a leader, it’s up to you to ensure that doesn’t happen.


The author

Brent Kelly, president of 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. 

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

Helping independent insurance agencies achieve their dreams for over 40 years.





5237 Summerlin Commons Blvd
Suite 107
Fort Myers, FL 33907
239.337.2555 | 877.SIT.KINS