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How APP Agencies Tackle Employee Buy-In

Posted on September 24, 2019 by Kelly Donahue Piro

One common thing we see in insurance agencies is the struggle to obtain team buy-in on key objectives within the agency. Buy-in is critical not just for long-term growth, but also for time management. I’m sure we have all seen how much time can get wasted when we focus on the people who just don’t buy-in. For many agency owners, the time and energy to convert a non-believer turns into a surrender, and we revert back to business as usual. 

For this blog, we polled some of our top clients on how they handle buy-in and provide our commentary to help other agencies struggling with this topic. Before we proceed, I will state my formal opinion on the matter. Buy-in most certainly takes “two to tango.” You need a dedicated and strong leader at the top who is guiding the troops to move outside of their comfort zones to embrace change. When the leader is disengaged or doesn’t make the matter a priority, people will be people and they will revert back to their comfort zones. With that being said, team members who buck the system are insubordinate. Simply put: Owners cannot allow the inmates to run the prison, and they cannot make accommodations for one person who is not giving it an honest effort. As we review the following statements, you will quickly see how leadership plays a large role in obtaining buy-in. You will also see that part of leadership is understanding who you need on your team and how to build a winning team. 

Clevenger Insurance, Indiana

3 Locations 

Owners: Joe & Gina Clevenger

Joe and Gina purchased the agency, Clevenger Insurance, from Joe’s dad a few years back. One of their first objectives was to earn the team’s buy-in to employ more modern strategies. In addition, they quickly purchased a few other agencies that needed to start doing things the Clevenger way. As some of the readers may know, purchasing an agency can mean a lot of changes all at once — change in leadership, companies, systems, and philosophies. Joe and Gina took the bull by the horns and went through the difficult transition from just being an agency to having a team of insurance superheroes:

Gina Clevenger comments: “We tell our team that we believe in external partnerships to help build our business. Just like we use an accountant to do our taxes and payroll, we use an insurance consultant to help streamline our processes and catapult our success. We show the blog during team meetings, and then have an open discussion about it. But the best buy-in is when Kelly calls into our team meetings and builds rapport and talks about the video we will show later on in the meeting.” 

By sharing the best practices of sales, service, and marketing, the agency starts the discussion to earn the team’s buy-in. The team has become students, so instead of feeling like change is being pressed on them, they understand the bigger picture. 

Joe comments: “One thing I think Gina and I do a good job on is referring issues or successes back to our core values and mission. If we make a mistake, call the insured and ‘keep it real.’ Call them, let them know we made the mistake, and we will fix it. Believing in the core values and mission are a big part of team buy-in, and referring back to them is key to success for a team long-term.”

The agency quickly developed a core mission and values that appear in posters all over their agency. This helps fuel the guiding principles for the team. When there is a conflict or challenge, they pull up the mission and values to help lead the discussion on how to navigate the situation. 

Sava Insurance, Connecticut

1 Location 

Owner: Donna Yother

Rough Notes Agency of the Year

One benefit that Donna Yother has in her agency, Sava Insurance Group, Inc., is that she has done every single role within the business. Donna started as a part-time receptionist and worked her way into becoming a CSR, producer, manager, and then, owner. The benefit of that is understanding not only the difficulties of each role, but also the need for change and development for the health of the business. Sava’s tagline is “Guided By Heart” — and that’s how they treat their team, clients, and community. Donna will be the first to say that leading with your heart is not giving in to all requests or making people always feel comfortable. It’s doing what’s right and maximizing your resources so you can do the best for everyone today and in the long run. 

Donna comments: “I love change. In our interview process, we talk about the need to be adaptable to change. Each year, we invest in new technology and training to be the best we can be. When team members don’t buy-in, it’s addressed individually so we can understand what is holding them back. We work with APP not just for training, but also to hold them and us accountable to committing to what is best for everyone. We also review the metrics because they are the great equalizer. This allows us to celebrate success and discuss challenges.”

At the core, the discussion is the part that helps the team earn buy-in. 

Holley Insurance, Virginia

3 Locations 

Owner: Steve Holley

Holley Insurance has been growing rapidly in the past 5 years. He’s gone from 1 location to purchasing 2 other agencies and moving into a new office building. You don’t grow that fast without having commitment from your team. Steve will be the first to admit that when the agency was smaller, buy-in was actually more challenging. Over time, the agency outgrew some people who were holding back progress. Now, as new team members join, they are coming into a culture that has buy-in, and people assimilate to that better. It’s no longer Steve pushing for buy-in, but the more tenured staff helping fuel the buy-in because they can tell the story of why the plans work. 

From Steve: “I think that getting the team involved and giving them input into decisions, especially those that affect their job directly, is important to get them to buy-in.  When they are personally involved in building the process, they believe in it.” 

Oftentimes leaders try to make everything perfect for the team. But let’s face it: In leadership roles, we often have some blind spots to the day-to-day operations. By getting everyone’s input (not opinion), you can avoid the inevitable speedbumps of progress. 

We hope this blog has provided you some great feedback on how you can drive engagement in your agency. Our agency assessment specializes in helping agencies obtain engagement from their team.