Becoming a ‘Best Place to Work’
Operations | Katie Condon | Mar 4 2019
This article originally ran in the October 2018 print issue of Connections, “The Innovation Issue.”
The insurance industry, not unlike other professional services industries, is challenged to find and keep good employees. A recent Yoh survey found that, across the workforce, 75 percent of employees would leave their companies if something better came along. Even more alarming, a TinyPulse employee satisfaction survey discovered that, in the financial and insurance services sector, only 22 percent of employees indicated that they were truly happy at work. Although pay and job stability are traditionally huge benefits to working in the insurance industry, agency leaders must consider what more can be done to increase employee engagement, hire more motivated individuals and improve retention rates.
That said, there are a number of insurance agencies getting it right.
We talked to Applied Client Network members Mike Morey and Barbara Doerning from Bolton & Company, Amber Bosma from Prins Insurance, and Allison McEachern from Rogers & Gray about their successes and challenges with creating a great workplace culture and lowering turnover rates. Keep reading for great ideas on breaking your insurance agency out of the mold and building a strong, happy team.
What makes your agency a great place to work?
Allison McEachern (McEachern): Two words: our people. Our people are the heart of our business, and we are only as good as the people we employ. As a result, we work diligently to provide the best benefits, work environment and development opportunities in an effort to recruit and retain the best of the best. Despite our continued growth, we remain committed to the interconnectedness of our offices and our people, and we are mindful of technology and events to ensure that this remains front of mind. Of particular note is our community involvement, which tends to draw the most amount of accolade from our employees, especially new hires.
Amber Bosma (Bosma): When I walk into work every day, I want it to be a place where I want to spend time. I love being surrounded by a group of people who strive to do their best and who want to make an impact — at work, but also in the local community and industry. That’s what I hope people see when they come into our office. We are genuine and our people care, even in difficult situations. In the insurance industry, we truly have the chance to be the unsung hero, and I think we can all do a better job of communicating that out.
Mike Morey (Morey): We foster an environment where our employees are encouraged and empowered to grow in their professional roles. We want our employees to be healthy and happy, and that requires striking the right balance of work-life integration. It also requires having some fun in the process and taking time to reward our successes and achievements. Our company is like a big family, and we seek to build an environment where our employees — and their own families — can become friends, grow together and strengthen the local communities where we work, live and grow.
Barbara Doerning (Doerning): Our culture defines how we do business and how we make a difference in care of our employees, the community and our clients. We work hard and celebrate everything: anniversaries, birthdays (day off), volunteer days (used by employees for their volunteer needs), trips to Hawaii when we meet our financial goals, Halloween costume parties (including children), 12 Days of Christmas (lots of food), Christmas Party, Easter Egg Hunt, early dismissal on days before holidays, and baby and wedding showers.
Why do independent insurance agencies have so many issues with recruiting and retention? What strategies does your agency employ to overcome those barriers?
Bosma: Insurance doesn’t always have a positive connotation. There is a perception that we are “just collecting money.” It’s not all about sales, and there are a lot of different experiences and opportunities available at an agency, especially a bigger one. We need to put out a positive message about what insurance provides and communicate what kind of hero we can be.
McEachern: It’s not just insurance agencies that are struggling with recruitment and retention. It is an issue for all industries, but because insurance is perceived as “not as fun” as other industries, we have an even tougher time. Our view is that our competition for top talent is not other insurance agencies, but rather, other “best places to work,” so we really take a sales and marketing approach to our recruiting efforts. We use social media as a main platform for sharing our culture with potential candidates by posting fun and trending items, pictures of our employees doing fun things in and out of the office, community event participation, and internal promotions, new hires and earned designations. We have an internal position focused on recruitment, and she takes a pipeline sales approach to source and nurture applicants, including ones who might not be the right fit right now or perhaps we don’t have the right open position for them now but might in the future. We also have a strong employee referral bonus program, which has brought us many qualified candidates over the past few years, and we continually look at that program and make adjustments as needed.
Morey: The war on talent is a serious challenge, as the market is extremely competitive right now. A lot of companies hire people for what they know and tend to fire employees only after they learn who they are. That’s never a good problem to have. We would rather hire someone who might need some additional training or education and who may otherwise have all the professional traits that align with our approach toward service. A great employee can learn with and adapt to a role. It’s a lot harder to train someone how to be a great employee.
Doerning: We have multiple generations in the workplace. Training and development is not “one size fits all.” Mentorship programs, career path and bonus incentive programs are critical for attracting and retaining great employees. We have “Listening Tours” to ensure employees know we are interested in hearing about what is going well and what we may want to improve — from their perspective.
How do you define success for your agency, and how is that communicated out to all employees?
Morey: It begins with engaging your employees and ensuring that they have a clear understanding of your company’s strategy, goals and vision. Haphazardly pounding bottom-line objectives is not a motivating factor for anyone, and it can be downright disruptive without a working strategy. Employees need to understand the “why” behind their company’s objectives and have the potential to contribute to those efforts either directly or through the organization.
It is also crucial to recognize, communicate and celebrate success stories among our company. If there is an individual or team that did amazing work, we want to highlight those wins together — it keeps us motivated. We survey our clients regularly to see how we’re doing, and we’re eager to acknowledge (through our monthly email “shout outs”) employees who get recognized for the great work they’ve done.
Bosma: In order to be successful, everyone has to work together — from the owner to the receptionist and all of the sales and services teams in between. We like to show how the actions of one department can impact everyone and highlight that all of the departments add value. We share successes as one team, not in siloes.
McEachern: We measure success in several ways — best-in-class customer service, best places to work, organic growth and profitability. We are committed to transparency within our company and share organizational results of all key performance indicators on a quarterly basis, including revenue and expenses, growth, retention, customer intimacy, ratings and reviews. We also hold biannual divisional meetings, measure our customer service metrics through Net Promotor Score and hold an annual business meeting where we share annualized results and set goals for the following year.
Can you share a specific story, scenario or idea that exemplifies why your firm is a “best place to work”?
McEachern: When you ask team members what makes Rogers & Gray such a special place, so many will say, “It’s like a family.” That’s hard to quantify, but there are so many of these examples that help illustrate how we treat each other and our clients. For instance, we once had an employee who had to have emergency surgery and was out of work for some time. He had a wife and two daughters at home and was unable to do the landscaping that needed to be done (after winter!) at his house. One of his coworkers organized a team of employees to go do a spring clean-up for him and his family. Another employee had an out-of-state family emergency. Her coworker knew that the airplane ticket would be too expensive for her, so he personally bought it for her, and she was able to go see her family. We hire and retain the best people, not just employees, but people who care.
Bosma: We support each other in the organizations we participate in, both for personal and professional development. I could not serve as the Applied Client Network chair without Team Prins. I couldn’t be prouder of the team that I have here who supports me when I go out and volunteer with Applied Client Network to make an impact in the industry. Internally, we also do Casual for a Cause — we raise money for different organizations with donations in exchange for dressing down. It’s cool to see everyone come together for a cause.
Morey: We have a philanthropic arm called The Bolton Foundation, and it’s a true nonprofit organization that’s completely employee volunteer driven. For four consecutive years, we’ve hosted The Bolton Foundation Throw Down, a day-long cornhole tournament that helps raise funds for California nonprofits. The event invites local businesses, industry partners and employees to participate in the Bolton Foundation’s largest annual fundraising effort. In 2018, we had more than 150 teams participate to help us raise over $160,000. Each year, we’ve managed to increase the number of teams and total amount raised, and that success has been entirely dependent upon our employee volunteers and Foundation committee members. Seeing all of our employees come together during the Throw Down to support deserving nonprofits and the communities they serve is a living, breathing example of why we do what we do.
What is your #1 piece of advice for other agencies looking to have better employee engagement based on your experience at your firm?
McEachern: Be genuine and have a commitment from the top-down. Your owners, senior management and all leaders need to believe that your employees are valued partners in the organization. Without this buy-in, the employees have no reason to feel connected to or engaged with the organization. Additionally, the employees need to understand WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me?” It is human nature to want to know what your connection is to something. Answer the questions “Why do I work here?,” “Why should I work hard?,” “What is the value in what I do?” and “Why does it matter?” You should also solicit feedback from employees — the good, the bad, the ugly — and respond (professionally). Consider an employee committee that is focused on engagement and set goals focused on internal and external engagement.
Morey: Open your doors, open your ears and listen often. Transparency is ultimately the key. Our executive team is readily accessible to our employees, and we encourage an open-door policy throughout our company. Communication can be your company’s strongest asset or biggest detriment depending on how effective you are at it. When you stop thinking from the traditional top-down corporate arrangement and open the conversation up to your entire team, your perspectives become more informed and you have better resolution companywide. To openly and honestly dialog with your employees on your company’s goals, objectives and the reality of where your business currently stands is crucial.
Cultivating a Positive Work Experience
There are many ways to enhance the work culture at your agency. Start with clearly defined goals and values for all employees. Provide a framework for maintaining these values every day while also recognizing that there are pitfalls and challenges. Be open to changing processes and course-correcting by inviting feedback from all employees. Through education, training and open communication, your employees will feel like the organization cares about them as individuals and as a team. Don’t forget to add a little fun to long days with team-bonding activities and celebrations of personal and professional success. Change your work culture for the better and see employee and customer satisfaction multiply.
For tips and advice on improving employee satisfaction and retention, browse more articles in this section.
About the Interviewees
Mike Morey, CIC
Bolton & Company, Chief Operating Officer
With over 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Mike Morey is focused on the strategic growth and success of Bolton & Company as one of the nation’s leading privately held insurance brokerages. In addition, he helped launched and currently oversees the Bolton Foundation, Bolton’s nonprofit philanthropic arm that has helped raise over $500,000 for deserving nonprofits since its inception.
Bolton & Company, Director of Organizational Development, Leader of the People Team
Barbara joined Bolton & Company over 14 years ago. In her role as director of organizational development and leader of the people team, she and her team have contributed to the success of Bolton through a number of programs on employee-centered development, such as talent development, acquisition and retention. Her goal for those in Bolton’s leadership is to influence employees to be their best every day.
Rogers & Gray, Chief People Officer
Allison McEachern is responsible for Rogers & Gray’s most trusted asset — its people. As chief people officer, Allison oversees the agency’s hiring and training functions. Allison joined Rogers & Gray in 2011 as an account executive in the Employee Benefits division and most recently held the role of director of employee benefits. Prior to joining Rogers & Gray, Allison’s past HR experience included positions at Frito Lay, Inn Seasons Resorts and The Black Dog.
Amber Bosma, CIC, CISR
Prins Insurance, Principal Partner and Vice President
Amber Bosma, CIC, CISR, is a principal partner and vice president of business operations for Prins Insurance in Sanborn, Iowa, where she oversees operations, accounting, human resources, IT systems and LICA promotion. She both joined the company and became a member of Applied Client Network in the late 1990s.
Tags: Operations , Connections Magazine , workplace culture