There is no instant gratification in staffing – it takes time and effort to recruit and hire someone with the skills, work ethic, and personality that will jibe with your agency. When you’re in the throes of the interviewing process it can feel overwhelming. I have lost count of the number of agents over the years who have said to me, “There just aren’t any good people out there,” with the assumption being that if there were they would have found someone to fill their position more easily. To which I typically reply, “Really? Are you sure? There are NO good people who want to work in your agency?” Silence. Crickets. Because when those words are turned around it becomes apparent how ridiculous and self-defeating that thought is. The reality is that most agents habitually walk right into two big traps in their hiring practices, which make the whole exercise harder than it needs to be.
Trap #1: The “I can’t find good staff” mentality
The first and most obvious mistake is to assume a lack of available talent. Agents habitually look to replace like with like, searching for a candidate who has most, if not all, of the same skills and traits that the rest of their staff (or the person they just lost) has. However, when one considers how rapidly the world and the industry have changed in the past 5 to 10 years, it is apparent that the skills an agent needed back then are not the same skills they need today. Does your agency still need a solid level of insurance-product expertise? Absolutely – but the reality is that expertise is just a set of knowledge. Knowledge can be learned, gained, and grown. What can’t be learned are qualities such as adaptability, customer service acumen, and sales instincts that help your agency to compete now and into the future.
If you’ve just lost your most highly knowledgeable CSR you truly might need to consider staffing to replace that specific knowledge. However, it’s worth considering if you actually need that high level of knowledge throughout your organization. You may find that by shifting some roles and responsibility you can take advantage of the skills of your existing team and hire others with a different but complementary skillset to perform the non-insurance knowledge-specific tasks – candidates who may lack the hard skills you historically looked for but who have the value set to adapt to a changing marketplace. This frees up capacity for your highly knowledgeable staff and, if you create long-term training plans for your new hires, builds your farm system for the future – all while opening yourself up to a much larger pool of capable candidates. It’s not that there are no good people to be found, it’s that you’ve been looking for the wrong people.
Trap #2: The “stop the bleeding” mentality
The second mistake, and one that is just as meaningful to your hiring prospects, is hiring only under duress. An agency loses a key person and they move rapidly to replace that person. Immediately. Like, yesterday. When this happens, our survival instincts kick in and we look for the fastest route to self-preservation: the quick hire. I like to think of this scenario as being akin to when I go to the grocery store at 4:30 in the afternoon after skipping lunch with every intention of buying all the veggies but leaving with a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa con queso. It is most definitely not what I need – but it is incredibly tempting and it fills the void. My friends, please – resist the pull of the tortilla chips and salsa con queso! That person you want to hire tomorrow because you unexpectedly lost someone today is (most likely) not whom your agency needs in the long run. How do we avoid being stuck holding the bag (pun totally intended)? There are two potential solutions. One, as difficult as it may be, is to staff at a slightly higher level than you need. The other is to start outsourcing your non-client-facing activities to an outside party. Either way, you’re creating a capacity cushion so when someone leaves (because, inevitably, they will) you’re not stuck standing in the snack aisle looking for the best of the worst options.
These two staffing mistakes feed into and off of each other, making them incredibly difficult to overcome. The solution is to start with B to allow for A – create your capacity cushion today to afford yourself the flexibility to choose from a wider candidate pool tomorrow. Give yourself the freedom to look outside of the traditional staffing box to find the candidates you truly need. Your agency (and your stress levels) will be all the better for it.
Author Heather Cochrane Russo is the VP of Public Relations and Development at Renaissance Alliance. Renaissance Alliance is uniquely positioned to assist agencies as they navigate their way through succession and organizational change. We create operational efficiencies and provide an environment of growth that allows agencies to fortify their current financial position and provide the extra capital needed during these times of transition. For more information, contact Heather Cochrane Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org