Accelerating producer development and performance
Mentors play a vital role in producer success
By Gary Abram
About 25 years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Bob.He had built one of the largest employee benefit agencies in the country and, luckily for me, welcomed my occasional requests for lunches that became life and business lessons. When Bob decided to retire, I suggested that the stories he had shared could be game changers for others.
He agreed and we co-authored Distance to the Green, a golf parable that retold those lessons through the eyes of a young caddie. Writing the book led me to examine the phenomenon of a true mentoring relationship and its potent value for both the mentor and the protégé.
As Bob's protégé, I received an advanced degree in entrepreneurship, leadership, sales management, goal attainment and risk management. Bob's unselfish sharing of his accumulated wisdom was equally rewarding to him. I realized that this reciprocity was the engine that drove a healthy mentoring relationship.
Leveraging the mentoring engine
If your agency has one or more veterans like Bob, you have a reservoir of wisdom that can accelerate the development and performance of your producer team.
Given the expense of unvalidated or underperforming producers, it makes sense to tap into this asset. To ensure success, consider these three important elements:
Let's look at each to discover strategies that can help you establish a sustaining tradition of producer development.
The Mentoring Culture (or lack of one)
"Nurturing" isn't always associated with the urgent world of agency production. The agency culture may be like that of other commission sales cultures: sink or swim. Of course the agency is rooting for its new producers, but the meter is running on this investment, so the culture is likely to be impatient.
Agency principals are painfully aware of the costs associated with developing new producers. With the right system to tap into their veterans' wisdom, the payoff can be surprisingly short.
The Mentoring Process
Making the time and culture commitment is the first step. As is usually the case, success will be about execution. Let's look at four key components of the process:
1. Identifying the mentor
2. Training the mentor
3. Training the protégé
4. Enabling the relationship
Identifying the Mentor. The ideal mentor possesses the following traits:
• Authenticity that is necessary to establish rapport and trust
• Listening skills that resist the need to lecture or fix
• Coaching skills that empower the protégé without hijacking the task or opportunity
• Openness and candor to create dialogue and reciprocity
• Patience to let the protégé learn by doing
• Trustworthiness to create confidence and accountability
Caution: Don't force it. If the mentor is unwilling, the pairing may be doomed.
Training the Mentor. The best mentors avoid slipping into the misguided role of being the "player" and relegating the protégé to the status of "caddie." It's vital that the mentor take the lead in establishing roles. Consider the following levels of engagement:
• Mentor is available to advise and counsel—a fairly passive role suggesting an open door if the protégé needs help.
• Mentor functions as the "scorekeeper" and the protégé reports his or her results on a periodic basis. The mentor is attempting to create a level of accountability.
• Mentor plays an active role and accompanies the protégé on sales calls initiated by either the mentor or the protégé.
• All of the above. The mentor blends levels of engagement (active to passive) to accelerate the protégé's development, knowledge, techniques, confidence and independence.
Training the Protégé. The protégé's role is not a passive one. To fully leverage the mentor's wisdom, the protégé must be inquisitive, eager, coachable and responsible—all of which are the characteristics of a great producer. Consider the following essential behaviors:
• Openness and lack of defensiveness
• Active business development strategies; not passive or waiting for the mentor to develop opportunities
• Eager and inquisitive attitude regarding professional development
• Willingness to report results without alibis
Enabling the Relationship. Now let's put the wheels on the mentoring engine with an example of a fully functioning mentor-protégé program. Addis Intellectual Capital is fortunate to work with a number of superb agencies around the country. One of those is Thomas McGee, L.C., in Kansas City, which in 2009 launched a mentoring initiative that effectively combines the elements of culture and process in the following structure:
The McGee culture is highly strategic, so its mentoring program was carefully structured. Principals chose mentors best suited to the personalities of the protégés, and mentor/protégé training began with study and dialogue about a short but powerful book called Mentoring 101 by John C. Maxwell. Rules of engagement were agreed upon through dialogue with both mentors and protégés present and then through separate meetings with each group.
The past year has been productive for McGee as the mentors and protégés have collaborated to stimulate business development, made joint calls, and conducted debriefings on the results of those meetings. Mentors have offered valuable suggestions on strategy and techniques to speed protégé development.
Each mentor-protégé team meets frequently daily, and the larger group of mentors and protégés meets monthly to report activity, discuss targeted prospects, and conduct role plays, "real" plays (review of actual meetings with prospects) and strategy sessions.
One of McGee's owners and mentors, Tom English, had this to say about the impact of this initiative on the agency: "We view the mentor-protégé as a structured platform that is a critical element in the development of our risk consultants." Tom went on to say, "It only works if both partners are committed to the program."
As with all initiatives, leadership is crucial to the success of a mentoring program. Without it, there's a high risk that the day-to-day urgencies will displace an important strategic program and mentoring will become one of those discarded efforts of the month. Should you choose to move forward, pick your mentors with care, have a well-conceived plan and, last, be patient. Mentor-protégé relationships aren't merely assigned; they're developed.
Gary Abram is the director of Agency Transformation at Addis Intellectual Capital. He coaches agencies that have adopted the Organic Growth Engine™ as a method to improve performance.