Hope is Not a Strategy – Investing in Your New Producers

Millennials view loyalty differently, and many have a tendency to not stay in the same job as long as previous generations did. Surveys have found that we view 11 months as a “long-term job”. In an industry like insurance, which only 4% of millennials say they’re interested in, a host of issues are borne of this attitude. This lack of competition is great news for young insurance professionals with great jobs within reach! However, books of business take years to build up, so if a company hires a producer, and they leave in just one to two years, there is not enough revenue to make up for what the company invested. If a company does manage to luck into an employee that goes against the grain and stays for years, there are more than enough that leave early to make staying the minority, especially in the agency world where building a book is hard and commission based pay makes it hard to stick around unless you’re very successful.

There are two ways to approach the issue. The first is to not address it and hope that you will engage enough employees that some end up staying. A company can stay stuck in the past, a caveman wielding their club triumphantly, stout with the idea that their particular culture should be enough to get the “right” people.

The second strategy is to accept the situation and work on proactive and creative solutions to get younger employees to remain. This is a much more difficult route, as it requires accepting the idea that millennials are different without assigning blame.

The company I work for, Brown & Brown’s wholesale division, decided to take the second route. They proactively set up multiple events and groups that are specifically designed to get new producers engaged and invested in their new company. The first, Brown & Brown University, is a week-long conference where first-year producers meet their peers and spend time learning about specifics of insurance. It’s an insurance boot-camp of sorts that introduces new producers to the company culture. I was there last year and learned about the company’s slogans, the history and structure of the company, and a slew of information that should be (and might one day) an article unto itself.

That said, BBU was an introduction. It accomplished its goals of getting employees engaged, but it didn’t end there. The wholesale division went on to create Next Generation, a yearly 3-day conference that producers attend their first 2 years at the company in a producer role. At this point, it’s assumed that you know about insurance and much less of an introduction. It focuses on networking, mentorship, and honest feedback from the corporate level, experienced producers, and peers.

The event pushes producers to be “on” at all times, which is not easy as this means from 7am-12am or later you have to be outgoing, thoughtful, and personable. Each part of the day has a work component to it, including the cocktail events that encourage connecting with the mentors. Days are filled with discussions on sales tactics, tough roleplay scenarios, and lots of public speaking with little notice.

The schedule itself speaks to how much someone can learn at this event, but the organizers take it ten steps farther. A sense of complete accessibility and honesty permeates the environment. Titles involving “corporate” or “profit center leader” are intimidating – I imagined myself being extremely nervous to interact with such important people – but each of them makes it clear that there are very few walls up. Questions are encouraged from any business-focused aspect, including those on work-life balance, and the answers are never guarded. That openness is so clear that it’s impossible not to reciprocate, which leads to more in-depth questions and conversations.

What’s further, the organizers are essentially donating their time. These are full-on producers with busy schedules, but they make time to plan and then attend this event. That demonstrates how  invested each individual is in the success of their younger colleagues, regardless of whether the profit of that individual affects the mentor’s office. Further, the company as a whole shows that they are willing to potentially lose out on some revenue in order to provide an intense and effective learning experience. It’s not just this event either, as they encourage us to reach out to them with any issues in the future, and schedule calls for their designated groups of mentees throughout the year.

Lastly, it gives each producer a sense of the larger whole. It’s very easy to get lost in a single office, or whatever coworkers you interact with most often. By bringing a large number of producers from all over the country together, employees can step out of their typical day and get a glimpse of how others treat the business, processes, and issues they encounter.

All of these things work because, at the core, they show that the company is actively committed to improve their employees and give them resources. Studies show that millennials deeply care about these issues. They want to improve and have access to higher levels of the career ladder and for that ladder to be entirely visible. The mentors are typically producers that have 10+ years of experience, some of them are managers, and all do all that they can to make it clear what is needed to succeed, which is exactly the type of resource millennials crave.

Additionally, information is something to be openly presented and shared, should anyone ask. I did not hear a single question go unanswered for the whole event, and there were many questions on a myriad of topics. Millennials don’t accept the idea of guarding information unless there’s a good reason, and when it comes to improvement there isn’t any good reason to avoid helping. By embracing this notion, higher-ups can dispel the worry that only the chosen ones are allowed to speak, to move forward, to attain their goals. Everyone has a right to speak and, ideally, the only thing that separates a new producer from a manager is time.

Millennials also want feedback from their mentors. They want to know what they’re doing well and what they’re failing at, without waiting for a revenue report that pares it all down to numbers. By roleplaying difficult situations, we can pick apart what worked and what didn’t on the spot. These comments are not just coming from mentors as well; peers are encouraged to chime in often on what could be improved or what they liked.  In fact, there were no lectures at any point, which put everyone on a level playing field in discussion. Even when presenting information, it wasn’t an “I know what I’m doing; you have to do it this way” style. This meant feedback could be taken without a feeling of inadequacy or despondency.

Roleplaying? No, not that kind of roleplaying! Taryn and Tony are both gamers so we had to include some gamer reference 😀

As mentioned previously, this is a 2-year program. The company isn’t doing this with the expectation that a single event is enough. They know that it takes years to grow into a successful producer and are willing to invest more than one or even two events to provide growth opportunities. Consequently, it was easy for me to feel like I should reciprocate. We, generally, are not producing enough revenue to warrant the thousands of dollars that are invested in us to get to a productive spot, but the faith that we can get there is astounding. Companies that aren’t eliciting this type of response by their events, that let potentially great employees leave out of lack of engagement, are going to lose their employees to somewhere that takes their career seriously.

About Taryn Haas

I'm a philosophy nerd turned Associate Underwriter at Vermont Mutual. While I won't find Wittgenstein in CG forms, the language and logical constructs make both studies interesting to decipher. Occasionally, you'll find me playing my keyboard and singing passionately with my fiance at local cafes, or tucked into a corner writing sci-fi/fantasy stories.

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