President & Coach, Benefits Growth Network
Kevin Trokey is a coach and an implementer of business strategies. He works with agency leadership, department managers, and producers of benefits agencies to craft strategies and lead them to successful transformations by breaking down the complexity into manageable steps.
Continuing in a series of posts that touch on 10 challenges for you to consider as you embrace a 2012 that is more productive for yourself, as well as for those around you. As I do so, I am borrowing from a book I read last year, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Stories for New Leaders by Michael Watkins.
Read previous challenge articles:
First Challenge – Promote yourself
If your success depends on the support of people outside your direct line of command (and it almost always does), it is critical for you to create coalitions in order to get the necessary things done. Building your influence among your colleagues is important to get backing for new ideas and goals. While it is natural to focus on those individuals in your silo (above and below you in the reporting chain), remember that your silo is a part of a larger organization and building those horizontal connections is important.
I especially see this ignored in our industry, which is ripe with silos. There are silos separating P&C from benefits, silos separating one production team from another, and silos separating sales from service.
If you are going to be a change agent within your agency, it is critical to force yourself out of your natural silo and work to build support and conversations around new ideas and initiatives throughout the whole agency. Your coworkers will always appreciate having the opportunity to be a part of a new solution. Not provided that opportunity, don't be surprised when they fight against a new directive for which they had no input, even if they will directly benefit. Besides, good ideas become great ideas when enhanced with the benefit of multiple perspectives.
Even as you work to include others in the conversation, be prepared for pushback. It will happen for any of the following reasons:
Whatever the reason for pushback, it has to be expected. The important thing to remember is the earlier you get it on the table, allow people to voice their concerns, and address those concerns, the faster you can get on with effective implementation.
Remember, you will rarely, if ever, get full consensus, and full consensus should never be your expectation. Fortunately, most people are reasonable and, as long as they believe their opinions and ideas have been taken into consideration, will eventually give you their support (or at least stop fighting you).
Never underestimate the conviction of an existing culture to maintain status quo and to fight against new ideas, so be careful about the way you approach this change. I often see individuals who are so convinced they are right that they try to bully their ideas into place, but nobody likes a bully. Effective change is most often brought about as an evolution rather than a revolution.
Photo by Zach Taylor.
You are all aware of MetLife's commercials talking about the "ifs" in life, right? Well, I think it's long past time for us to start thinking about the "what ifs" in our business.
I'm talking about those exciting conversations that start with "What if . . .?" I think that those two words are almost magical when used correctly. Think about it, kids use them all the time:
What if the sky was orange? What if turtles spoke French and could fly?
Starting a question with "what if..." immediately unlocks our imagination and envisions exciting new possibilities.
Unfortunately, somewhere between being a 5 year old with unlimited "what if" scenarios and our strategy sessions in the office, we lose the magic.
Now as unimaginative adults, instead of starting with "what if...", we start with "maybe we could . . ." or "I'd sure like to . . ."
Now instead of focusing on some great new possibility with our question, our "creativity" is immediately surrounded with self-doubt, and we look for all the reasons why our idea couldn't really happen.
Force yourselves to regularly have "what if" sessions. Use "what ifs" to imagine ideal as well as doomsday scenarios. Whatever you insert after these two words and the way you ultimately respond will largely determine your future success. By engaging in these conversations as a team, you are much more likely to create the ideal scenarios while at the same time ensuring your ability to survive the doomsday scenarios.
A couple of suggestions to get you started.
What if you brought your team together and put one of these questions up on the table? What kind of conversation would follow? What would describing the outcome do for your level of excitement? What kind of confidence would develop by being able to describe that future reality?
You see, when you start with "what if..." you're not even asking yourself if the idea is possible. It is assumed that it has already happened. You get to focus on the exciting new reality and all of the great outcomes that go along with it.
It's funny how the energy and excitement resulting from the conversation will allow you to make things a reality that would/could never happen if you had started with "maybe we could . . ."
We would love to hear your "what if" scenarios.
Adding value in everything you do
It is so hard to believe that our fourth BGNLive has come and gone. I made the comment at the end of the conference how it sort of feels like it passes as quickly as a Christmas morning. You spend months shopping, buying gifts, and wrapping the presents and then the packages are torn open in mere moments.
It was much the same for us as we prepared for last week. Literally, months of planning, content creation, the building of supporting documents, and countless hours of practicing our presentations went into the preparation for last week. A week that, for us, seemed to pass in a flash.
However, for all of that preparation to be productive, last week can't be seen as the finish line. Just the opposite; it has to be the beginning for all of those in attendance. If we did our job effectively in preparation, everyone should have left our conference better prepared for their own success. And hopefully, everyone left with a commitment to put lessons learned into practice.
A huge thank you from Wendy and myself for the pleasure of spending the week with some of our best friends. As I said there more than once, it is an honor and pleasure we will never take for granted.
We have already started the planning for BGNLive5. We know, among other things, it will be an exciting reunion with old friends, as well as an introduction to new friends. See you there!
Every nine months we have the great pleasure to spend some fabulous face-to-face time with a group of our favorite people in the world - the members of Benefits Growth Network. While there may not be much fishin’ going on, you can rest assured we are working hard, making new friends, getting re-acquainted with old ones, and having fun with old and new alike.
We are very fortunate to do what we do and to be able to do it with some truly amazing people!
And since there will be many sales people in the room, there probably will be a “fish story” or two told. Just sayin’.