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Don’t Allow Slackers to ‘Watch the Bay’

Otis Redding’s biography doesn’t include his talents as a clairvoyant, but this whimsical slice of life reminds us that right now your team likely includes some wonderful people who are watching the tide roll away. Guess what? They’re also collecting a paycheck.

Slackers exist in most sectors of our economy: public, private and nonprofit. Many studies have been conducted by organizational behavior specialists about who they are, how they morph into agencies and organizations, and how they survive under the radar of management. Their cost to your business can be enormous. As part of a recent research project on behalf of an insurance company, nearly 30 agency managers were brutally honest when they were asked to evaluate those employees who watch the tide and those who challenge to sail the tide. Here is what they said.

Slackers Can Be Actors

In recruiting talent, we know that many applicants can emanate a false sense of confidence and talent that charms us into hiring them. Some agencies hire these folks in a belief that “some will make it, and the others will be filtered out” after six to nine months of sales effort. Even though many agency leaders have low confidence in various personality and competency tests that are used in the hiring process, they still use the tests in a belief that “they must be useful or the industry wouldn’t embrace them.” 


My insight is that the interview, and specifically three separate interviews with different people, is emerging as the best method you will have to detect a candidate’s consistent behavior and personality, a candidate’s passion for the insurance industry, and whether a candidate has the ability to embrace your culture. Look for more than eye contact and a firm handshake. Were they punctual? Did they do more research after the first meeting or none at all? Did they send thank-you notes to those they met in the first and second interviews? You won’t find any of these issues raised in a “fit test.”

The consensus is that the cost of a new hire in the life and health insurance industry can exceed $70,000 when one considers recruiting, screening, onboarding, and a minimum of six months of effort and expenses. 

Replace a Slacker

Some agency leaders acknowledge that their mid- to lower-level performers are retained because of an innate fear that the talent pool to replace these folks could be weaker. What? Consider all the returning military veterans who are great patriots, talented, fierce in their devotion to duty. I’d consider them to be priority candidates to become licensed and to sell the very products that insure life because they placed their own lives on the line in the defense of others. Then consider those whose careers were derailed merely because the companies they worked for could not weather the storms in the marketplace. Although these employees may have had exceptional talent and performance, their companies’ leadership stunk. Find those ex-employees. They are looking to join your organization – now.

Then say good-bye to a slacker as you bring new talent on board. This sends a message to all – the high performers as well as those watching the tides – that says, “I will not tolerate someone who collects a paycheck while not having fire in the belly every day.”

The Family Slacker

Finally, our interviews with various general agents reflected remarkable honesty about a sensitive issue: Sometimes the biggest slackers may be our sons and daughters. 

Sure, we love them. They were so adorable as kids. We also sometimes recognize that the likelihood of their finding a sizzling career elsewhere is moderate at best. In other cases, we see real opportunity for success, and we are right – the next generation is stronger than we are, more astute in building client relationships. But for many, the phones are answered and the back room is managed by – well – underachievers. In these cases, love is not only blind, it’s also expensive. 

Three agency managers acknowledged that they rarely if ever tell clients that Janet at the front desk or Manuel in claims processing is a family member. There may be incredibly good reasons to mask that information, but I’m still scratching my head about why you wouldn’t want to celebrate a family-owned, family-driven, successful agency. That’s the pride of a community and what so many seek to achieve.

Beware of those who allow their kids to “watch the bay,” escaping accountability. And shame on them for not driving each person in the organization to be accountable and help the clients who need our products and insight more than ever.

Larry Barton, Ph.D., CAP, is Chancellor of The American College. Larry may be contacted at [email protected] [email protected].

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