Stop the Insanity

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Is corporate America choking on meetings?

I used to be employed in a (not so big) publicly traded company many years ago and I was frequently perplexed by the amount of meetings I had to attend, and the number of meetings I saw during the day. Meetings must be important; you always need to reserve the room. More often than not, people would schedule a meeting to discuss an upcoming meeting. Generally nothing gets accomplished in those sessions.

What became increasingly apparent was, the more meetings I attended – or was asked to attend – the less productive I became. I ultimately ran screaming from the building and leaped back into the familiar arms of my ex-lover. Entrepreneurship. Yes, it has many challenges, but one thing I like to do is make decisions quickly and act on them with the same alacrity. If they’re wrong decisions, I change them. Maybe someone else changes them. That’s fine too.

Business in 2016 continues to accelerate. Sitting around for hours in a conference room or on a conference call – worse yet – is complete torture and generally will accomplish little. Even if a decision is made, implementation could take weeks, or even months. By then, you’ll probably need to coordinate another meeting. And on and on and on…

A nimble corporation is an oxymoron. I’ll wager there’s a direct correlation between the size/age of a company and the frequency of meetings in any given week. Someone must have done productivity assessments. That would be an interesting study.

One consequence of this mindless routine is opportunity. Not for the lumbering corporation however, there’s gold in them there hills for disrupters. Why? Fertile ground. What’s the quote? “Disrupt or be disrupted.”

Maybe in some small way, companies will take proactive measures and use this as a best practice. http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-meeting-techniques-2015-8

P.S. The next time a co-worker one office away sends you an email, please get up, walk 10 feet and promptly unplug their computer. And while you’re at it, smack their iPhone, or Samsung, (or whatever mobile device they’re flirting with) out of their hands.

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Ding Ding Ding

Rocky

Another black eye. The Department of Labor came out with their ruling back on April 6, 2016. http://www.naifa.org/advocacy/federal-issues-positions/fiduciary-%28retirement-accounts%29

Everyone in the industry is – or should be – getting a pep talk from the trainer in their corner.

This is going to affect a lot of professionals who get up every morning, work hard and do a lot of good things for a lot of people. Yes, there are a few bad apples. But isn’t that true of every industry and human beings in general? Cable networks are flooded with “murder porn”…Wives With Knives, Nightmare Next Door, I Almost Got Away With It, Dateline, etc, and let’s not forget American Greed. And these people are the ones who got caught.

The point is, the industry already has a trust issue. People don’t like this business and have long been suspicious of the professionals in it. Truth be told, I was one of them. Years ago I was extremely reluctant to speak with any insurance or financial advisor. Why? I was certain they wanted to sell me something I didn’t need.

Times change. People change. And I have come to fully understand the benefit of these services and products. But, one reason the stereotype persists is that many advisors (continue to) lead with product. I know why they do it. Habits are hard to break and these folks are trained to death on “product” by product manufacturers and distributors. They are not trained on human behavior. The result? They will quickly, repeatedly offer the “solution” before that prospect or client has fully recognized there’s a problem to be fixed and who will be affected if they don’t. Human Nature 101: People only fix big problems.

Now, we’ve got the Department of Labor piling on and that’s going to amplify every suspicion. There’s a storm cloud gathering as well. Timothy Hauser, a deputy assistant secretary at the Labor Department said, the Department would closely monitor its implementation and welcomed feedback from the industry as the DoL has plans to publish further guidance on the rule’s nuances. That guidance may come on a rolling basis…

How many times can the industry get “tagged” and get back up off the mat? Not sure. What I am sure of is that the traditional solutions won’t work. This industry – insurance and financial services –  has to find a way to effectively counter punch. Clarify their message, improve their training and revise messaging to the field and public. Only firms with a nimble and embraced communication pipeline (that includes a robust audit trail for reporting) will stay ahead of the shifting sands of regulation.

There are tens of thousands of people, families, businesses that have benefited because some professional was articulate, honest and persistent enough to clarify the conversation, help their client understand and motivate them to take action. Nothing dishonest in that.

 

 

 

 

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Um, Ya Know and Like

Healthywealthy

The three stooges of the American vocabulary and three of my least favorite words. Yes, “um” is a word. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/um

Every day – sometimes several times an hour – people repeat these words. It’s kids, adults and everyone in between although I don’t remember my Dad or Mom using them. There are individuals who gravitate to one word or another, but if they’ve got the addiction it can be incessant. Now I find myself hyper-sensitized to it. When I’m in a business meeting, on a conference call or listening to a presenter I’ll actually start counting. (Heck, I do it at home.) I know that’s not constructive but it becomes extremely distracting and even if the person has valuable input, it’s somehow diminished.

I’ve used these words myself but I am trying to make a concerted effort to permanently remove all of them. I read it’s much better to pause and say nothing; that way you make yourself think before you speak. (I’m not trying to promote any stereotype here but the word “like” is incredibly prolific with my daughter and her friends. They’ll say it two or three times in one sentence. So, I try to “help” her as much as I can. At least she’s aware.)

People who don’t include um, ya know or like in their conversations appear to be more intelligent. At least I think so. Their thoughts are organized, well thought out and communicated deliberately. That is an excellent character trait and a skill I am working to master. Speaking with clients, prospects or friends I’d like them to always hear what I’m saying minus any empty, repetitive, verbal noise. Can someone tell me if the same three words exist in other languages and if the problem is as prevalent? I’m curious.

Yes, I have watched Three Stooges’ episodes a 1,000 times (over many years) and will likely watch again, often laughing out loud. Their antics were designed to be entertaining. Um, ya know and like are not.

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Belly to Belly

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A very successful (insurance) advisor who works with business owners once told me, “I do my best work belly to belly.” He went on to explain that the case design he does can be complicated. There are frequently many individuals involved, a lot of moving parts, and to do it right it has to be explored, discussed and corrected in person. They identify problems and objectives together. People speak. People listen. It’s an efficient way to get things done. He’s 68 by the way.

Does this professional use email, Facebook, or text messaging in his business? I asked. Email, yes and text messaging with his children (even adult kids?) Yes. Who doesn’t do that? Often there’s a quick text to the wife from the airport too. But Facebook, getting “likes”, sharing vacation images, food, opinions, etc is not where clients have found him in the past and not where new clients are likely to find him in the future. If he goes on vacation and any clients are also his friends…he tells them. There is no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest in his particular business model. Does he carry a smart phone? Indeed, an iPhone 6. It’s not that he doesn’t embrace technology, he just keeps it in its place.

There’s something else he articulated without saying a word. Humans interact most effectively face to face. Reading body language, expressions or inflections in a person’s voice are things you cannot do electronically and it’s a talent I think too many people don’t appreciate or master. Why? They don’t spend any time doing it.

I’m not only referring to younger generation(s). This non-personal (incessant) communication addiction has infected adults and corporations as much as teenagers. How many times have you called someone and gotten a voice message. But, if you email that same person you get a quick response. Where are they? Is their phone broken? Are they sick?

We all know there are individuals in companies who sit down the hall from each other yet they’ll trade a thousand email messages but never pick up the phone or take a walk to an office or desk.

This all started gradually not that many years ago but the momentum has accelerated. There’s so many casualties of this technology/internet avalanche: people have forgotten how to spell, they use their phone while dining with others, in meetings, driving, walking…and they’ll likely take it to bed too.

That smart phone – with all its power – is useless when it comes to old fashion conversation.

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Who’s Going to the Ball

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This blog is personal. Been there. Done that. And proudly describe myself as a serial entrepreneur.

We’ve all seen or read about the twenty something who is instantly transformed into a billionaire. Maybe his or her company has an idea but no actual revenue model or profits (yet)…and sometimes that still doesn’t stop investors. It’s a Cinderella Story for sure. Yes, there are legitimate companies that have enjoyed a meteoric rise – and valuation – and do generate profits but that’s the exception not the rule.

The same scenario can be seen in sports, music, and Hollywood; although in some cases these individuals do sweat it out for years and against all odds, make it. Then we see them on TV, the internet and in movies. What we almost never see are the failures and there’s a lot more of them. But that doesn’t make for good headlines and nobody wants to hear about broken dreams.

No matter what the pursuit, all this aspiring talent has different companions along the way: a parent, coach, mentor, teammate, guitar player, agent, friend, etc. Some help. Some do not. It varies. But every entrepreneur gets special attention from the same two people. Loneliness and Doubt. These are the evil step sisters of the business owner. They know where you live, move in immediately and can be extremely attentive. So it’s a good idea to get comfortable with both of them right away.

There are other more supportive “members” of your virtual family. However, this basic lesson in sibling rivalry should be taught in every school in America. Not to discourage future employers, but a little dose of reality will help them (better) prepare and perhaps, endure. Small business is indeed the engine that drives the US economy but there are many casualties along the way and few accolades for those who fail.

So while you chase the dream, build your empire and do your best to ignore the two sisters… look for great employees, strategic partners, experienced advisors, and maybe even a fairy godmother, prince or princess. Their help could be key.

There’s some luck involved in building a successful enterprise. But integrity, ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, and careful planning can deliver the magic of achievement that may last long after midnight.

 

 

 

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Unlikely Twins

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A staggering 2.9 billion graphite pencils are sold in the US each year. http://pencils.com/the-myth-of-the-yellow-pencil/. My guess is a bunch of them are the standard Yellow #2 Pencil we all know so well. I wonder what happens to them? How many wear out? Break? Get lost? Or thrown away… They’re easy to replace that’s for sure. And they all do the same thing.

I think every professional in the insurance industry – out in the field and more important in the Home Office – should carry a Yellow #2 Pencil or keep it on their desk. Any brand will do. The same goes for advisors and staff at BDs, IMOs, FMOs, BGAs, ABCDEFGs. Why? Pencils are a commodity and so is insurance for the most part. This reality doesn’t show favorites. The Life & Health side has little or no advantage over the P&C world. But the industry doesn’t appear to pay real attention to facts, competition, aging producers, or compressed margins.

There’s another problem. In 2015, venture capital dumped $2.6 billion into the insurance space. https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/insurance-tech-startup-funding-2015/. That’s a 30% increase over the previous year.  This money is driving the commodity engine a little harder and a lot faster; as technology continues to eat away at the human experience the insurance space looks yummy. I think a lot of people are happy “technology” can take them away from the stereotypical insurance agent. They can be annoying. Who wants to talk about insurance anyway?

Many people who come into the industry with the best of intentions quickly break, wear out or simply get thrown away. It’s hard work. And when you’re immersed in – focused on – “product” information, you lead with a product conversation. When you lead with the (traditional) product pitch you quickly appear skinny, tall, yellow…with a shiny collar and pink hat. A commodity. Easily replaced.

I suggest that the most effective training should begin with learning about human interaction. Not talk about it. Learn about it. Call it Human Behavior 101: Understand What Drives the Buying Decision. That curriculum is a far cry from the ubiquitous product propaganda. Understanding product detail and case design does require a lot of training and it is critically important, but that is not the foundation for success.

Executives who keep pencils in mind and re-think their training might accomplish what they need… top line revenue growth in a market crowded with too much noise, not enough talent and little differentiation.

With proper human behavior training, less pencils, I mean people, will wear out.

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Will The Real Risk Manager Please Stand Up

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I’ve worked with a lot of professionals over my career. The last 25 years have been focused on insurance and financial services. I’ve also worked with some people who do training with Audit Departments. When I first got involved with these IA authors/facilitators, I could not believe the size of some divisions. I suppose in their world, Risk has proven to be a super-villain. In either industry it’s all about carefully identifying, managing and mitigating risk.

On the Property Casualty side of this discussion, many of these professionals would call themselves risk managers. They help people identify and offload risk. Car insurance, home owners, umbrella coverage, etc. And for those agencies that have a Commercial Lines division their “charge” is more involved. Business owners have many additional areas to protect. Heck an owner can’t operate his or her company legitimately without these P&C policies in place. How proactive the producer gets in this discussion can vary. But for those who are successful, and I mean “successful” in that they took the time to help the business owner go through a discovery process to identify and address potential issues, there is one conversation that is (often) overlooked.

How many of us can tell a story of a sudden death, disability, divorce, or succession issue over a family dispute… any of these events can have a severe impact on the continued operation of a business. I’ve come to recognize these issues are not that uncommon and represent enormous problems. Most of it can be avoided which is the real tragedy.

The cultural divide between Property Casualty and Life and Health agencies still persists. Professionals who work on either side of this chasm may be equally to blame. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that both an individual and a business owner need a comprehensive plan for protection. A company (or family) can be devastated by a fire, but what happens if a person is suddenly disabled or dies? Doesn’t that represent an equal or even bigger issue? Aren’t the same people going to be affected? Maybe more?

The insurance and financial services industries haven’t ignored the problem completely, they just don’t know how or have not made a real commitment to fix it. Routine is a comfortable place. But for those who can. Those who do… There are rewards for everyone concerned: CEOs, spouses, employees, families, customers, advisors, insurance companies, banks…even the IRS.

I’m fairly certain an individual is far more likely to be disabled than to have their house burn down. http://www.disabilitycanhappen.org/chances_disability/disability_stats.asp Yet everyone with a mortgage has home owners insurance. Life insurance and/or disability coverage is often absent.

There is risk to human life. No “Superman” out there and even he had to worry about Kryptonite.

 

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Bottled Water

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You can get water essentially free in your home, apartment, office building…heck when I was a kid I used to drink it out of a hose. But we all know, people need bottled water and they’ll happily pay for it. Ten billion gallons in 2013. http://www.statista.com/topics/1302/bottled-water-market/ and about $6.6 billion in sales. I’m sure those numbers are higher today. Why?

The industry convinced the American public long ago that bottled water is better. Much better. We need it, so cost is not an issue. Bottle water is better for our bodies. Hydration. It protects us and keeps us healthy. Fit. Pretty.

I’m not an expect on health, fitness or beauty so who really knows. There was a commercial during the Super Bowl this year that said we waste water brushing out teeth…on that topic, I agree.

So if the Bottled Water Industry and advertisers can persuade the public to pay for something that they can get for free, why do insurance professionals and other advisors have so much difficulty convincing their clients – especially business owners – that they must protect what they have worked so hard to build, and they’ll have to spend some money to do it properly. Insurance products are incredibly effective in solving a variety of problems. But business owners are reluctant to even sit down and discuss it.

You can’t live long without water and a business cannot survive without proper “planning.”

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Factor V Leiden – A Lesson in Genetics

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Factor V Leiden thrombophilia is an inherited disorder of blood clotting. (It’s Factor five by the way not Factor “V”.) Factor V Leiden is the name of a specific gene mutation that results in thrombophilia, which is an increased tendency to form abnormal blood clots that can block blood vessels.

People with Factor V have a higher than average risk of developing a type of blood clot called a deep venous thrombosis (DVT). They generally form in the legs and quickly travel to the heart, lungs, etc. This is courtesy of several conversations with physicians and multiple Google queries. There’s plenty written on the subject if you look.

It’s a genetic mutation I knew nothing about until June 14th. But my 20-year old daughter’s late night visit to the Emergency Department with a sharp pain in her back and subsequent admission to the ICU made our family quickly aware of the problem. Yes, blood clots are a risk with oral contraceptives but when your daughter is one of the lucky few with the mutation, the risk factors change dramatically.

She never smoked, is in outstanding physical condition (former P90X disciple) and is the last person you would think would be at risk. We were never told about gene mutations, blood tests or the potential increased risk of clotting… But when the ED physician explained that “there are multiple blood clots in both lungs”, the science becomes compelling. (God bless the professionals who staff Emergency Departments.)

June 18 she was discharged from the hospital. And although she has been on a blood thinner for months, this story has a great ending. My daughter is recovering wonderfully. Exercising a little less aggressively but in great shape. There will be one follow up CT scan in December to determine if the clots have dissolved; if they’re gone we can stop the meds and say our goodbyes to the pulmonologist and hematologist.

I’m not a doctor or healthcare professional and I have zero medical training. But if you have a sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece, or friend on oral contraceptives or thinking about oral contraceptives (for any reason) I would at a minimum mention this story. A simple blood test can detect the mutation. If a person is heterozygous they have one copy of the gene. Homozygous indicates they have two. That’s worse. (My daughter is heterozygous, so it’s one parent carrying the mutation. We’re getting tested.)

One final thought, this is not just about blood clots and oral contraceptives. My son may also have the mutation and we were told that if he has any surgery, the hospital staff should be alerted on the family history.

Life is a precious gift and sometimes we are reminded that it is also fragile.

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BEACH BOYS and GIRLS

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I’ve seen this exact picture used many times as the poster for retirement. (I hope that couple is getting residuals. They sure deserve it.) Why does the insurance industry continually paint retirement with a beach and a couple dressed in white? Are they in heaven? I guess their retirement is in heaven? They look happy.

I know one thing, retirement doesn’t just appear. It’s something that needs to be worked on. Built. And if you’re luckily enough to get there with your health maybe you don’t want to spend your time walking on the beach. My good friend Jim hates the sand, seaweed, broken shells, and suntan lotion. Don’t get me wrong I love the beach and the ocean. There’s no place I’d rather be.

But when it comes to retirement and business owners…that’s an enormous challenge. Oh, this beach picture does nothing to help.

Leaving your company (perhaps an enterprise you’ve created) and walking away from your “identity”, is not something you decide on Monday and book your flight to the islands on Friday. It takes time, commitment and careful planning. Keep in mind there are countless other issues preoccupying business owners today: sales, rent, competition, receivables, payables, networks, regulation, infrastructure, supplies, cyber intrusion, lines of credit, payroll, taxes, employees, succession planning, exit planning, disability, health insurance, buy/sell, business interruption…and in many cases, the family. No wonder time is at a premium. It’s the one thing that cannot be manufactured.

So, planning for retirement is a complex task indeed and individuals who own companies need a lot of help, before they start shopping for their pretty white clothes and designer sunglasses. That’s where an advisor can demonstrate real value. Finding an effective way to get a busy person’s attention so they begin to understand “planning” must be a priority.

I don’t wear long pants (white or otherwise) on the beach. I’ll stick to a comfortable bathing suit, surfboard and my Costa Del Mar glasses. Even if I do retire.

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