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Disrupt of be disrupted

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What do 1995, 2003, 2009 and 2010 all have in common? They were the launch years of industry transformers: Amazon, Skype, Uber and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Amazon transformed retail, Skype transformed long distance calling, Uber is transforming urban transportation and the ACA is transforming health insurance. Disrupt or be disrupted. Are you disrupting the way you do business, taking a wait-and-see approach, or waiting for someone to disrupt it for you?

I recently attended the National Association of Health Underwriters annual convention in New Orleans with more than 800 other brokers, producers and agents from all across our great country. I talked with many of the attendees about their perspectives on Obamacare and how it has changed their world. Many of them said they were making less money, having less fun and working longer hours. They also expressed frustration with Obamacare’s focus on insurance regulation rather than the real challenge of rising health care costs.

As I listened, one central theme for survival and success emerged for me: Creativity and innovation are the currency of the future, disrupt or be disrupted. It’s a thought process that starts with accepting the reality that our industry will never be the same as it was before 2010 — Obamacare and the advancement of technology are changing our world like never before. Brokers, producers and agents must make the decision to embrace the new normal and evolve their business models or perish.

And yes, it really is that simple. Look no further than Uber for evidence of the “creative destruction” innovation can cause and just ask the taxi cab drivers who invested a million dollars to buy hack medallions that are now worthless how they feel about being transformed.

What can brokers, agents and producers do to disrupt their business and succeed in this new world? It depends on your thinking. How you think matters. Ask yourself this important question, “what is my business philosophy?” The answer usually falls in one of three categories: expense hawk, cautious optimist or innovator. There is no right or wrong answer, just different directions.

Hawks will reduce expenses to maintain the bottom line and “ride it out.” They are reactive in nature. Cautious optimists will make small changes and take a wait-and-see approach. They are reactive and proactive. Innovators create greater value for clients by anticipating their needs and making investments to transform the way you do business with them. They are industry transformers who bring the future back to the present to improve their capabilities and deliver greater value to their clients. I make no judgment either way and simply want to acknowledge that each has a different shelf life.

Positive progress

I suspect many of you are innovators, or at least moving in that direction. Here are five things you can do to help you make positive progress:

  1. Make time to work ON your business rather than in it — and make time to get away
  2. Diversify what you read—think about how those ideas and content can apply to your business
  3. Honestly and objectively think about your business — what works, doesn’t or would change?
  4. Build a culture of innovation and creativity by asking your team for their ideas
  5. Talk to other brokers, agents and producers who are experiencing success and pick their brain

Are you disrupting the way you do business or waiting for someone to disrupt it for you? Disrupt or be disrupted. Your success is only limited by your imagination.

Creating a culture with an attitude of gratitude

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This month’s blog entry has nothing to do with employee benefits and everything to do with putting things in proper perspective.

As an employee benefits adviser with a major share of your business in health insurance, it is easy to focus on all the challenges in front of you. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; the Presidential election ensured PPACA is here to stay; federal income taxes are going up and the economy continues to struggle. How can you turn lemons into lemonade? Live an attitude of gratitude and try to remember challenges bring opportunities and no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else usually has it worse.

Together with my business partner, we are building a culture of gratitude in our employee benefits agency. Starting five years ago, we created a holiday tradition called The Random Act of Kindness. How does it work?

Approximately two weeks before our agency holiday celebration we give each of our employees a $100 bill and ask them to go out into the community and pay it forward. The rules are simple and straight forward. Use the money to make a difference in someone’s life and come to the holiday celebration and share your story with the team. The stories are incredibly touching and there usually isn’t a dry eye in the house by the time all is said and done.

What are a few examples of these Random Acts of Kindness? One employee secretly followed a senior citizen around a grocery store and stood in line behind that person to pay for their groceries at the checkout counter. Another went to a coffee shop, gave the money to the store manager and sat in the store watching as one customer after another got a free cup of coffee and/or morning breakfast to start the day. Another went to the emergency room and paid the co-pay for a family who couldn’t afford it. And another used the money to help pay some of the funeral expenses for a family that just lost a child to sudden death.

Talk about making a difference in someone’s life and putting your “challenges” in proper perspective. So, the next time you lament about all the difficulties we are facing as an industry and focus on what’s wrong — remember it could be worse and break out of your “funk” by paying it forward – the ripple effect is simply amazing.

Why is it essential to be a leader if you want to grow?

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Leadership is described as the process of social influence in which one person enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task, according to Wiki.  Said another way, leadership is organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.  Management is the effective and efficient use of available resources and processes to achieve goals and objectives. Leadership is different than management in one significant way – “you lead people, manage process.”

Why is it essential to be a leader if you want to grow? Complexities are situations that are not clear; they use up time and energy and divert scarce resources without producing any useful progress or results. As leaders in our industry, experts in our field and the steward of the 2nd largest expense for our clients (benefits), our role is to be the strategic adviser to our clients, to simplify their complexities and lead them into clarity. In the absence of clarity, paralysis often sets in and without forward progress businesses don’t last long.

What does all this mean to you?  It has been said that negativity and creativity cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And negativity is often brought about by complexity that hasn’t been solved.  It is easy to fall prey to negativity in such an uncertain time – the impact of PPACA, the floundering economy, the potential for higher taxes and a tight presidential election – they all have a BIG impact on your business…and the business of your clients.

How can you be an effective leader?  Start by understanding the intellectual capital you create is your real value, not the products and services you sell.  Embrace the notion that you help your clients create great places to work – and with some estimate showing 60% of the workforce “hating” their jobs, that role can make a significant impact on morale, productivity and the bottom-line.

Being a leader means asking the right questions and focusing on the right things – always asking “what and why” rather than “how and when.” Leaders create a vision for their teams and inspire them to achieve ambitious dreams and goals.  Leaders place a premium on innovation and a constant thirst for new and better ways of doing things.  And most importantly, leaders understand that sometimes it’s lonely out in front – and they always remember the old adage that the view never changes in 2nd place!

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