Brokerage Ops the Jan/Feb 2015 issue

Have You Got What it Takes?

Innovative leadership training will help brokers accomplish what they never thought possible.
By Leslie Werstein Hann Posted on January 22, 2015

Recognizing that talent development is the No. 1 priority for the majority of its members (if not all of them), The Council is launching a robust leadership program that includes compelling workshops with a targeted curriculum for emerging leaders, mid-level leaders and senior leaders. The program also will include monthly webinars, online tool kits and a peer advisory group, LEAD, that is designed specifically for CEOs and presidents of member firms.

“What we have set out to do is build a leadership and management training program that would have a real impact on the profitability of member firms and that is tailored toward their needs,” says Ken Crerar, president and CEO of The Council.

To do that, The Council sought the person responsible for one of the most respected talent-development programs in the insurance industry. Elizabeth McDaid joined The Council in June as senior vice president of leadership and management resources. The longtime New Jersey resident spent a 30-year career in broker talent development, the last 23 years of that at Chubb, where she built the carrier’s Agents and Brokers Academy. Before Chubb, McDaid worked at Alexander & Alexander, a large brokerage acquired by Aon in the mid-1990s.

“Elizabeth has been a leader in this industry around leadership and management,” Crerar says. “No one in the industry has built more programs that have had more impact.”

The Council has offered management-training programs over the last two decades, but business and demographic trends have increased the stakes for member firms, prompting The Council to invest in leadership development on a much larger scale. 

Once dominated by small firms led by their owners, the industry is structured differently with much larger firms and many more outside investors.

“Organizations that 25 years ago were $10 million firms are now $1 billion firms,” Crerar says. “It takes a different kind of leader to build and run them.”

What we have set out to do is build a leadership and management training program that would have a real impact on the profitability of member firms.

There’s another trend driving this effort: the impending talent crisis brought about by retiring baby boomers and the rise of a generation that has grown up with an unfavorable view of the insurance industry. With nearly half the employees in the insurance industry over the age of 45, there is a growing imperative to recruit and develop the next generation of leaders.

“We know the talent gap is coming,” McDaid says. “The only way we will fill that gap is to attract the millennials, and we work in an industry that is not typically at the top of any millennials’ list of the places they want to work.”

And once insurers attract millennials, she says, “it is critical that our folks understand how to coach them, how to motivate them and how to really ensure they succeed.”

Studies show the insurance industry is losing millennials faster than other industries. “If growth is your goal, you have to have talent to help you achieve that, and millennials are that talent,” McDaid says, and coaching and developing millennials requires a subtly different approach. “Maybe it’s a small shift in how you give feedback and how you lay out what your plan is for someone. It’s not major changes. It’s minor shifts that will make a difference in your ability to hold onto this generation.”

Learning how to attract and retain the next generation of talent is just one aspect of The Council’s multifaceted leadership development program. Part of the challenge for insurance brokers is that “many folks have been promoted for their ability to be individual contributors around production and sales, and so what we need to do is then build in the leadership competencies,” McDaid says. “There are competencies that you need at every leadership development state, and while I don’t expect any leader to be a talent-development expert, they need to be thinking about how they can help their team coach and develop the folks who are under them.”

The curriculum will be tailored to three distinct levels of leadership.

  • Emerging leaders are those with high potential who have been a leader for less than five years. “They have sets of competencies they need to develop at the foundational level,” McDaid says, including business acumen, communication and interpersonal skills, creative problem solving, and analytical decision making.
  • Mid-level leaders have been in a leadership role for five to 10 years. The curriculum for them will focus on visioning, assessing situations quickly and accurately, creating and leading teams and conflict resolution.
  • For C-suite leaders, The Council is working with The Wharton School to create a certificate in insurance leadership excellence. Other programs for this group will focus on strategic visioning, executing strategy and conducting a leadership audit to identify development needs for their team.
We know the talent gap is coming. The only way we will fill that gap is to attract the millennials.

“Everything we do will be based very strongly on adult learning principles,” McDaid says. “Adults learn by doing. They have to be engaged. The building blocks of our program will be interactive, experiential learning. We want to develop programs that create relentless learners—people who keep coming back for more.”

The slate of instructor-led workshops ranges from competition in a computer-simulated business battle to learning strategic and leadership lessons from the very real battles of Gettysburg and Monte Cassino.

The “Broker Smackdown” workshop for emerging leaders, for example, “appeals to the competitive nature of our brokers,” McDaid says. Firms send teams who compete on their ability to run a successful brokerage. In the process, they are introduced to the business tools needed to achieve long-term profitability. During the competition rounds, participants will have the opportunity to see the entire insurance value chain, think strategically and analyze complex business issues, develop effective business plans, discuss the lifetime value of a customer; create and interpret financial reports and measure success using financial and operational metrics.

“They will be making decisions around marketing, financial investments, staffing and development and the markets they will use—all of the decisions emerging leaders will ultimately have to make,” McDaid says.

In between the four rounds, the teams will tackle a challenge that is or will be facing the insurance industry, such as the collaborative economy, the role of analytics in strategy and sales or how to make insurance brokerage a magnet industry for millennials. The winning team has its name inscribed on the trophy, a mention in Leader’s Edge magazine and bragging rights for one year.

Mid-level leaders will take their leadership lessons from a general from the U.S. Army War College, who will take them back in time and explore crucial leadership lessons from the site of the turning point in the Civil War. Under blistering attack from Confederate soldiers on the second day in the Battle of Gettysburg, Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain faced a dire ammunition shortage as he sought to defend Little Round Top, a hill he knew to be strategically crucial. As participants study the challenges and decisions Chamberlain faced, they will consider their relevance to their own issues and challenges: dealing with limited resources; communicating a strategy and ensuring that everyone is aligned with that strategy; planning for succession in case the leader cannot continue his or her duties.

“It really brings these issues to life in a different way,” McDaid says.

One of the highlights of the program is the focus on C-suite leaders. To conclude an 18-month program toward a certificate in insurance excellence from The Wharton School, CEOs and presidents will gather in Italy at the site of four World War II battles fraught, McDaid says, “with a whole lot of strategic missteps,” as the Allies sought to capture Rome from the Axis forces. “The Battle of Monte Cassino is an example of experiential learning that is all about the setting and executing of strategy,” she says.

The building blocks of our program will be interactive, experiential learning. We want to develop programs that create relentless learners—people who keep coming back for more.

C-suite executives will also benefit from a program called LEAD, a peer advisory group designed to “support them in their goals of accelerating growth and profitability for their firms,” McDaid says. Besides providing a networking group of fellow executives with whom CEOs and presidents can learn how others are handling similar challenges, LEAD will infuse the group with new ideas by inviting world-class thought leaders to work with them.

The Council also will offer online classes, monthly webinars and “train-the-trainer” workshops that will enable brokers to bring programs back to their own offices.

“If a firm already has a talent development program, our programs might fill some gaps they have in their own curriculum,” McDaid says. “If they don’t have their own resources, our programs can become the foundation they build upon.”

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