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Planning: How important is it to you and your agency?

PIA members and insurance company representatives working together through "The Partnership" have carefully studied this question. Through discussion and interviews with agencies of various...
February 26, 2008

Practical Guide to Successful Planning

Bill JenkinsBy Bill Jenkins
Vice President, Business Development and Marketing PIA National

PIA members and insurance company representatives working together through "The Partnership" have carefully studied this question. Through discussion and interviews with agencies of various sizes and descriptions, we have come up with some interesting answers and observations. One thing is clear: While the most successful agencies (regardless of size) vary in their approaches to success, the element they most commonly share is having a plan and following through.

Another important observation about planning is that when asked if they plan, many agencies will answer NO. However, when asked additional questions, they will often say the following:

  • As owners or principals, they do have goals for their agencies and methods for reaching those goals.
  • They have regular meetings with staff (whether that is 2 people or 20 people) and communicate those goals and methods either directly or indirectly.
  • They have ways of measuring, tracking and comparing their agency's results whether through their management system or through their accounting.
  • When results are negative, they understand the need to make changes and adjustments.
  • When results are positive they appreciate the opportunity to build on these results and achieve even greater success.
  • Based on results they meet with staff to discuss what these results mean and what changes can be made.

What this indicates is that while many agencies may say they don't plan, in fact they have all of the elements of planning already built into the day-to-day management of their agencies. The opportunity for these agencies is to build on the ways in which they are already planning as a part of management.
As The Partnership further studied how agencies plan, we also interviewed those who were already actively engaged in planning. These ranged from simple plans involving a few annual key goals to agencies which were using more involved methods for various reasons. In some cases, agencies were large - with dozens of employees and multiple departments or divisions. For them, planning was a necessity to keep everything running smoothly. In other cases, agencies had already gone through or were anticipating major changes - such as mergers, ownership transfers or leadership changes.

For agencies already involved in planning, their questions centered around approaches being used. Could they be improved or adapted to better meet their needs. What are valid planning options? Often a different approach to the agency operations or changes in the marketplace can be exactly what's needed to further enhance success.

The Partnership Goes to Florida

The importance of planning to an agency was tested during a recent session held in conjunction with a meeting of The Partnership in Tampa Florida. This special session was put together by the PIA of Florida and involved more than 30 agents from across the state. A special thanks goes to Bob Fowinkle, immediate past president of the PIA of Florida, Mark O'Connell, Executive Vice President of the PIA of Florida, along with Mary Frederick and Annette Smith from the PIA of Florida office.

Each agent attending this meeting was given an opportunity to express their opinions and "cast their vote" on a series of questions, which focused on various topics. In the area of planning, the charts displayed here [below] show their responses on 2 key questions: First, they were asked how their agency currently plans. As you'll see in these charts 35% employ a "seat of the pants" owner driven, or simple approach to planning. The next most common method involves having one or two general goals.

Next, they were asked how they would like to plan. Looking at the last three bars in the chart, 65% of these agents indicated they would prefer either to develop a broader plan, which is implemented, measured and adjusted, employ complete strategic planning or develop a detailed plan which is integrated with carrier plans.

These results not only point to the gap between what these agents wanted to do and what they were able to do. They also point to a strong desire to be able to plan more effectively. In fact they indicate a desire to not just plan within their agencies - but to be able to coordinate their plans with the companies they represent.

Guide to Successful Planning

Partnership Companies

AIG Agency Auto
The Central Insurance Companies
Hanover
Harleysville
The Hartford
Main Street America Group
MetLife Auto & Home
Motorists Insurance Group
Liberty Mutual Agency Markets
Progressive
State Auto
Travelers
Zurich

Successful Planning, produced by The Partnership, is a new online tool which is designed to assist an agency with planning. It is designed to be effective in any agency, no matter how large or small the agency and no matter how an agency is currently planning or would like to plan.

Successful Planning is available to PIA members via the PIA National website, here. Or, simply look for the tab labeled "The Partnership" on the side of the page. Since Successful Planning is located in a section of the website which can be accessed only by PIA members, you will need your PIA National member id number and password.  If you have questions about accessing this "members only" section of the PIA website, you will find additional instructions on the login page.

Once you access Successful Planning on the PIA National website, you will find a main menu with five major sections.

The first section "Choosing to Plan" discusses planning in general and provides an overview. It includes information on planning in general and discusses the benefits it can bring to you agency.

In the "How to Plan" section of the website, you choose the method in which you currently plan or would like to plan. If this list sounds familiar, that's because these were the choices offered to agents during our special session in Tampa. Their response was based on the choices which are actually offered in the Successful Planning website tool.

Once you have chosen the closest match to your individual situation, you are presented with narratives, white papers forms and other resources tailored for use in an agency. That's because this tool has been designed by agents - for agents!

"Coordinating with Carriers" offers suggestions and tools to help you work with your carriers through planning, cooperation and mutual agreement. It can help you plan in ways which can help you both achieve mutual success.

The "resources" section is our library. It has reference materials on a variety of topics including:

  • Simple Planning Processes 
  • Smart Goals 
  • SWOT - (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)
  • Goals for your agency
  • Your Approach to Planning
  • Anticipating Change
  • Vision and Mission Statements
  • Values and Vision
  • Your Value Proposition
  • Strategic Planning
  • Strategic Market Planning
  • Planning Retreats
  • Balanced Scorecards
  • Change Management
  • Operational Flexibility and
  • Budgeting

In the conclusion section, we ask for your input. It's an opportunity to share success stories and offer your comments and suggestions

While successful planning takes time and effort, it can also be an important investment for you and your agency - with results that are well worth the effort. The PIA and "The Partnership" have created this new tool to assist you in successful planning.

Bill Jenkins billje@pianet.org is Vice President of Business Development and Marketing for PIA National.

PIA Connection

This article originally appeared in the Feburary 2008 issue of PIA Connection.

 

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