Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Technology

Responsibilities of change

When we speak about "change," we often talk about the pace of change or the challenge of change. Dr. Clint Sprott, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, wrote "... how great it is to be part of the first generation of humans for which the world will be a radically different place toward the end of our life than toward the beginning. The time-scale for change has suddenly become short compared to a human lifespan, which makes it an interesting (and in some ways fearful) time to live."

Are you fearful of change? Think about it. How much has your life changed in the last 25 years? And I'm not even talking about how differently you conduct business today than you did yesterday or even the change of technology, which Moore's Law tells us, and we know first hand, is incredibly fast.

No, I'm talking about everyday life, from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night. Do you have to remember to wind your alarm clock the night before so that it will have the power to wake you in the morning? What about that first cup of coffee: Is it brewed hot and waiting for you when you get to the kitchen? It wasn't always that way.

This past holiday season showed us lots of changes. "Black Friday," the busiest shopping day of the year, is slowly being overtaken by "Cyber Monday," the busiest online shopping day of the year, in the eyes of the retail market; and the fact that most people are doing this online shopping from work. Maybe that's not too different from using the office phone to call up Macy's to order that special gift for your spouse, but the scale of shopping doesn't compare, nor does the ease, reach or options.

One pundit called last holiday season "America's First Twitter Christmas," and I couldn't agree more. But what we are seeing is just the outline of the tip of the iceberg. Tracking sales on "Cyber Monday" will become a thing of the past as online shopping and finding discount and free coupons are an everyday occurrence.

What about information and correspondence? Not too long ago, people actually took pride in their handwritten letters. Business and personal correspondence was a craft, honed over years of practice, although few people looked at it that way. If you look back at American history as an example, a large percentage of the information we have today from our Founding Fathers was handed down through the correspondence and diaries they kept. Who keeps a diary anymore?

Don't get me wrong; we are certainly not short on information. In fact, some say we have too much information, much of it questionable. How much can you believe online? My 10-year-old son often asks me if what was said in the TV commercial is true; he doesn't ask so much about the veracity of online sites, although his mother and I make sure he understands the Internet can be a wondrous and sometimes dangerous place.

The greatest change

From my perspective, the greatest change we face is not the shift in behavior or technology, but the change in information--where it comes from and how quickly it affects our lives. Every decision we make, is based on information from family, friends, publications, television, radio and the Internet. And let's not forget the random gossip we pick up at the salons or grocery and hardware stores.

How we filter, prioritize and disseminate that information is part of what I describe as the "responsibilities of change." Let's face it, change happens. Unless you live in a cave somewhere in a remote part of an unpopulated continent of the globe, you will be confronted by change. How you handle change in your personal life is your business; how you handle it in your business life may be more problematic and not completely in your control.

As independent agents, how you manage your agency often has less to do with what you want and more to do with what your clients, prospects and markets expect. But that shouldn't surprise you. What about your expectations? Do you expect more from the people and businesses with whom you interact? Do they expect more from you? The likely answer to both is "yes."

For decades the insurance industry has been trying to achieve single entry, multiple company interface or SEMCI, the supposed Holy Grail for independent agents and their markets. But like a lot of goals we set, SEMCI morphed and took on a whole new persona that better fits the time and needs of the industry. It changed.

Real time

I won't begin to detail all the aspects of real time or the enormous amount of work that the Agents Council on Technology (ACT) and the ACORD User Groups Information Exchange (AUGIE) has done over the past few years; I just recommend that you visit www.getrealtime.org to learn all about it if you haven't already.

One point I will draw your attention to is their newest program--the Real Time 21-Day Challenge. As the Web site states, "Conventional wisdom says it takes 21 days to form a new habit--and break old ones. The Real Time/Download Campaign agrees. And we're here to help. By adopting new workflows that leverage real-time tools, you can boost sales and deliver better customer service."

AUGIE and ACT are not only giving you reasons to change your workflows, they are helping you take responsibility for those changes. The tools and case studies are all elements of that assistance, making the change and logic of it easier to adopt.

Some change is simple and a no-brainer because you're not the first one making it. You're following in the footsteps of others who have changed and succeeded. Other change is harder because it might require an investment or a change in thinking, which for most of us is the greatest difficulty. And then there's change that may be a pain to implement but, in reality, is a no-brainer. Each of these changes requires different degrees of responsibility.

As an example, keeping up with technology, loading the latest version of your management system, regularly upgrading your hardware or making sure you have the most secure servers are all pretty basic, but not all of us take the time to do it. Loading the latest version of the software requires implementation on numerous stations and training of all the appropriate staff. You know it should be done, but you don't have the resources right now; the version you're using is fine, so why bother? I'll tell you why: because it's one of the responsibilities of change.

Taking on that 21-Day Challenge is all about changing mindset and exploring the change of roles that various staffers play within the agency.

You can lead by example, and numerous books have been written on managing change from the top down, but that can't be the only approach. Change agents have to exist at all levels of an organization. Finding those people and giving them the responsibility to help manage change is, for the most part, more important for you to do than just managing change yourself.

It's your responsibility

I have found in the 20-plus years of listening to agents and CSRs that the biggest barrier to adopting technology is the change it represents.

Changes in technology often bring changes in workflow and behavior. For years, various industry groups have designed and launched programs to help agents manage change: People and Computers, the Power of Change and now, the Real Time 21-Day Challenge are just a few. I hope this latest one from AUGIE and ACT is as successful as the previous two.

Next month I'll look at the question of when is the right time to adopt a new technology. Timing, as they say, is everything and, like change, you can't stop time from happening. But you can choose when to step into the stream.

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