In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan talk about goals and strategic planning. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- What kinds of goals insurance agencies typically set for themselves
- Why goals break down in the absence of strategic planning
- How strategic planning works and how it helps you achieve your goals, even in the face of unexpected change
Are you familiar with the following scenario? You’re in an all-hands meeting to discuss the future of the agency: how are you going to grow revenue, cut losses, overhaul certain routines and make space for new ones? Your employees are sharing ideas, setting benchmarks for themselves. Goals are emerging. You commit the agency to achieve some of them within three to five years. Everybody’s on board. They leave the meeting feeling good about themselves and their work.
Come to the end of the fiscal year, it’s like the meeting never even happened. You’re no closer to achieving your goals than you were before the meeting started. Why? Everybody seemed so excited and sincere!
And they were. Dreaming up goals is easy and fun to do. Achieving them is a drawn-out and challenging process, a campaign against an onslaught of diversions, distractions, and surprises. Without some safeguards in place to guide the agency through this struggle, even the best-intentioned goal is likely to break down at the first obstacle. How do you keep this from happening?
This is where strategic planning comes in. (8:01) Setting goals and hoping for the best is not enough; you have to follow through, by figuring out what needs to be done the day after the goal-setting meeting is done, and the week after, and the month after, and so on, until the agency is where you want it to be.
Here is how it works. First, you make sure that your goals are realistic to begin with. Don’t give in to the widespread temptation to fit too many goals in one year or set grandiose expectations that defy your agency’s ability or past performance. After figuring out where you want to be and by when, you deconstruct your goals into a series of actionable steps and routines that span smaller units of time, down to the day-to-day. Three-year-plans thus become yearly plans, which can be deconstructed further into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily assignments. Finally, communicate this strategy to your staff and hold them accountable by checking in periodically. Your employees cannot get you where you need to be if they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do on a routine basis.
That’s strategic planning in a nutshell, yet many people resist it because it forces them to confront future uncertainties and make commitments. (11:02) What’s the point of working so hard to structure a goal across several years if you can’t even be sure what the world will look like in the next three to five years?
It is true that we live in a time of rapid change, but that’s no reason to avoid setting sensible goals and sticking to them. Making educated guesses about the future isn’t even as hard as you think. We’ve talked before about hard and soft trends; if you focus on the hard trends, you already have an impetus to strategize: how will you plan for what you know will happen? As for everything else, do not confuse objectives with tactics. Something in the future might affect the way you do business, but it’s hard to see growth rates going out of style.
No plan needs to be set in stone, of course. You’re better off accepting that something is going to get in the way, be it of internal or external origin. But that’s the whole point of checking in—to make sure goals aren’t breaking down and to revive them when it looks like they are. (16:19) Be sure to schedule a time to review goal progress at least quarterly. Involve everyone who is invested in the goal, so that they see you’re counting on them to pull this off. Ask questions. Where are we? Where did we say we’d be three months ago and are we there yet? If we aren’t, why not? What’s gotten in the way, and how do we deal with it to put the goal back on the right track?
This process is so dependable, you can use it in your personal life as well. (20:30) At the end of every year, Steve sketches out his goals for the next one. Some are business goals, others are more personal, but all are subject to the same strategic planning: spread out across quarters, subdivided into monthly, weekly, and daily assignments, and monitored for progress. As the months go by, it is okay to end up pushing certain goals into later quarters for lack of time or resources, as long as you’re staying consistent across everything else.
If your employees bring that attitude to work with them every day, your agency will be on fire. Contrary to the stereotype of people sitting around doing nothing, people love keeping busy at work when they know what they have to do and how it helps the big picture. It is exhilarating to look at the list of the top three things you were supposed to do that day and realize you did them all. Your employees come to work eager to feel that way. Do your part and give them guidance and direction.
One of our goals here at the Digital Broker is to grow our own community of listeners, achievers, and assorted enthusiasts of operational excellence. We congregate in one place to talk shop: the Digital Broker LinkedIn group. Do you plan strategically at your agency? If you were to rank it from 1 to 5, where would you put it and how would you get better? Join us and let us know.
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