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Benefits Growth Strategies

10 steps to attract the best agency talent

Leadership is not a luxury—it's a vital necessity

By Kevin Trokey

As an industry, we are at a crossroads. The path that agency principals choose to follow will no longer just determine the degree of success they enjoy; it will determine their ability to survive. While it may be tempting to sit back and try to learn from the successes and failures of others, this is not a time to be playing "follow the leader." Now is the time to lead.

A recent Forbes magazine article presented a disturbing truth: Despite the fact that leaders tend to think they have their attraction and retention of talent under control, interviews of their employees tell another story.

• More than 30% believe they'll be working someplace else inside of 12 months (and, according to a MetLife study, 60% of the high performers feel that way).

• More than 40% don't respect the person they report to.

• More than 50% say they have different values than their employer.

• More than 60% don't think that their career goals are aligned with the plans their employers have for them.

• More than 70% don't feel appreciated or valued by their employer.

Those statistics should be alarming to leaders in every industry. Given the challenges being faced by independent insurance agencies, they should be downright terrifying. Never before has the ability to attract and retain the highest level of talent been more critical than it is right now. This is no longer just about the degree of success; it is about survival.

Those agencies that survive, and that will find unprecedented levels of new opportunities, will be those whose leaders understand the needs of their best talent in the following ways:

1. Know what drives them—Make sure that your key players have at least one part of their job that totally gets them fired up. Find this passion and encourage its pursuit, and you will create a situation that it's almost impossible to walk away from.

2. Challenge them intellectually—Have you ever noticed that some of the most invigorating conversations you have ride the fine line between a debate and an argument? That's because we thrive on the intellectual stimulation of a lively conversation/debate. Create an environment that challenges your best talent intellectually, and you'll find them engaged at levels higher than you ever imagined.

3. Seek their help in building the solutions—Employees all love having the opportunity to put their personal stamp on the final product. We all believe more in something we helped to create than in something that was just dropped on our desk.

4. Develop their skills—No skill is a final destination; it's a constant journey. The best talent thrives on the opportunity to continually improve. Think of yourself as a personal trainer; even the most internally driven individuals still want someone to push them further.

5. Listen—Those with the strongest talent likely also have the strongest opinions. It takes a strong leader to give every person in the organization a legitimate voice. Build the backbone to allow this to happen in your agency, and you will have the admiration of everyone in it. This doesn't mean you make decisions by consensus; it simply means you listen before you decide.

6. Know each team member as a person—Take a genuine interest in each person and use what you learn to build a strong foundation of loyalty. Know the individual as a person first and as an employee second, and you will earn his or her personal loyalty.

7. Give credit when credit is due—This is more than just not stealing credit from employees; it means taking the time to recognize the contributions of those on your team. Beyond that, it means knowing what kind of recognition each team member appreciates.

8. Raise your expectations—As much as they contribute to your success today, the best talent wants to contribute even more tomorrow. It's up to you to take the time to build a personal development path to show them how it will happen.

9. Do what you say you will do—There is nothing more critical to your ability to lead than protecting the trust people have in you. Be bold enough to state your intention, and you'll earn their admiration. Be convicted enough to deliver on that intention, and you'll earn their respect.

10. Lead—No matter how strong their talent, most people are hesitant about going somewhere new on their own. Have the courage to take your agency to new places, and you'll find that your team will follow you almost anywhere.

Tough but true

Building strong leadership may be the single biggest challenge facing independent agencies today—even more than health care reform, insurance exchanges, direct writers, or the soft market.

You may have heard me say this about our industry: The financial reward for mediocrity has been way too high. That dynamic has allowed some agencies to achieve success without strong leadership.

Today that dynamic is changing right before our eyes.

To survive and to find the unprecedented opportunities that I know are out there, agencies must be able to attract and retain the highest level of talent in the industry. The ability to do so rests in the strength of leadership.

The author

Kevin Trokey is president of Benefits Growth Network, a membership-based consulting firm for employee benefits agencies, departments and their producers. He can be reached at


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