Is your company built for success or conflict avoidance?
An extremely simple, common experience upon which you can assess yourself and your managers are these scenarios:
At the agency/broker level, if you have a producer who everyone likes but is mostly incompetent at increasing sales, will you fire them within a year? Ninety percent of agencies will not fire that person.
At the carrier level, if you have a marketing representative who everyone really likes, agents included, but nothing ever gets done, will you fire them? It almost never happens.
Flipping the tables:
At the agency level, if you have an opportunity to increase productivity by 20% but the middle manager, a person who has loyally but incompetently served the agency for 15 years, must be fired, will you fire this person? 100% of the time, the answer is "no."
At the carrier level, If you have a marketing representative or underwriter who is petitioning to improve how things are done and they have a workable solution with only one "flaw," which is under performers will be exposed necessitating action by management, will their recommendations be acted upon? The answer is almost always never. Action will happen only at the last minute when the company is sinking.
I have worked for, consulted with, and testified about thousands of carriers, agents, brokers, and IT firms. In this industry, systems are built to avoid conflict. Often the conflict that is avoided is imaginary. I have seen that often because the leader has no idea how to lead so they see every conflict as a confrontation. Constructive leaders see opportunities in these situations rather than conflict.
Going along and getting along is important and society pays a high price for all the ineffectiveness and ineptitude that goes with conflict avoidance systems. It is why companies and agencies do not improve until a massive sense of urgency exists. That sense of urgency often comes too late. It is why businesses buy other businesses rather than improving their own performance. Acquisitions generate little conflict at the very top. One infamous insurance company has purchased multiple other carriers and ruined each one in turn. Their IT systems never worked so they bought companies with better systems and then ruined those too. It is a company that has lost billions of dollars over the last five years, yet nothing has changed internally because that would mean conflict.
Competent people are designed to see things differently from one another. They bring different life experiences, different educations, and they are in different positions (even if one underwriter is underwriting Minnesota and another is underwriting New York City), so they see the situations differently. With quality leadership, these differences among competent people are a strength.
Lacking quality leadership skills, the leaders simply do not want to listen to the different perspectives. They do not want to harness these differences and as a result the differences become arguments, and nothing gets done because no one can agree on anything. Therefore, group think is initiated. It is easier to go along to get along. So even with competent employees, most agency and carrier internal systems are designed to achieve, at least at the surface level, group think.
The human need to avoid conflict is strong and usually dominant, especially in sales organizations where salespeople just want to make everyone HAPPY! If you want to make your organization successful, only two options exist. The first is, if you are the leader but have fallen into the conflict avoidance trap, to obtain counseling. Psychologists have named conflict avoidance as a known issue requiring counseling. Life is easier too when you are not always afraid of causing conflict.
The second solution is to hire managers who are not afraid of conflict and who possess conflict management skills. This may seem like an obvious point, but many people who are conflict avoiders cannot fathom people who do not avoid conflict. Conflict avoiders have a difficult time imagining how a leader who is not afraid of conflict can deal with conflict with the result being a decrease in conflict. They think that dealing with conflict results in bigger or more conflict. People who are unafraid of conflict and skilled in dealing with conflict know how to harness situations and create accountability, which results is an extremely productive environment. Better yet, the conflict that exists becomes collaboration. These types of departments, agencies, and divisions are the best places in the world to work, and they have the most success.
Is your company or agency built to succeed or avoid conflict? If the latter, what improvements will you make?
NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.
None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.