How to Build an Award-Winning Agency Culture

Agency Culture, Agent Experts, Personal Lines, Small Commercial Lines

RISKSOURCE Clark-Theders won the 2020 National Agent for the Future Award. Here, the agency’s CEO shares how the agency has intentionally crafted their award-winning company culture.

At RISKSOURCE Clark-Theders, we have a plan for everything, including our workplace culture. Every year, we create an annual culture plan, based around a theme. For example, in 2020, our theme was all about 20/20 clarity and vision. We did not understand pre-COVID-19 how critical this theme would be not only for our business priorities, but also for our team, especially since part of the theme included breaking down taboos and stigmas around mental health.

Our culture plan includes big-picture themes as well as regular check-ins that help us care for employees on an individual level. These things help us move the needle in building a culture where employees feel valued.

Our hard work and planning has paid off. Our agency has been voted a best place to work by the Cincinnati Business Courier for six years in a row, and our culture helped us win the Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance 2020 National Agent for the Future Award.

So, where should agencies begin with crafting their workplace culture?

Start with the purpose: identify your company’s core values

Building a great workplace culture takes intentionality. This starts with getting clear about why and how you do what you do.

You can start by looking at how your agency currently operates and how your staff interact with clients and with each other.

What’s most important to you and your employees? What kinds of values guide you when you have to make tough decisions? What qualities do you look for when you’re hiring new staff members?

We built our agency’s culture around six core values. Three of these include:

  • Service – We make a conscious choice every day to serve others. We’re here for others, not just ourselves.
  • Teamwork – We never let a team member fall. When you see somebody struggling or you see somebody that’s got a challenge or is behind in their work, it is actually your specific duty to go help that co-worker.
  • Authenticity – We have a saying: “Go ugly fast.” We tell our team, “Hey look, we can solve problems, but we have to know how people feel about things. Muster up the courage to say what’s on your mind, and then let’s figure out what to do about it.”

Empower your team: rethink the annual performance review

Several years ago, we eliminated the annual performance review.

Instead, we have what we call talent development check-ins six times a year. These are a mix of team-based check-ins and one-on-one talks between an employee and their supervisor.

Each check-in is focused on a different topic, such as professional development, training or job satisfaction. Usually, the supervisor and employee will discuss four or five questions. At the end, the supervisor will ask, “How can I better support you?” The goal is to create an ongoing conversation and give the employee a chance to share what they need.

We also separated the compensation conversation from those check-ins. There is a separate compensation review that is specifically set aside to talk about the employee’s current compensation, annual raise, bonuses, benefits, and so on, so they can see their total compensation picture.

In addition, we do an annual “stay” interview where we ask employees what they would change if they were in charge. That helps us get the pulse of the culture, gives us insights into what’s trending amongst our team and reveals where we may need to make changes.

Keep evolving: use technology to reduce busy work

Since service is a core part of our agency culture, we want to be there for customers when they need us. We’ve seen that using digital tools helps us meet client needs while also maintaining personal connections.

When we first started introducing new technology in our agency, some staff members voiced concerns that the technology might replace them. We talked through changes and explained that the point of technology isn’t to replace jobs, it’s to enhance the value we bring to our clients.

We’re investing in technology that simplifies the transactional work. We’ve been looking at those repeatable processes that take a lot of time – like the paperwork required to submit an automobile change, for example. Done manually, it may take eight to 10 touches for a person to go in and input the change into multiple systems, submit it to the carrier, upload the paperwork to our portal, and so on. We’re looking into technology that could cut that down to one or two touches. That would free up time that our staff could spend proactively with the client instead of dealing with the paperwork.

That’s a win-win. Clients get an easy, streamlined experience and more time interacting with their agent. And staff get to spend more time doing the things they enjoy most about their job – helping clients proactively manage their risk, interacting with co-workers and serving with excellence.

Jonathan Theders

CEO of RISKSOURCE Clark-Theders

Jonathan Theders is the CEO of RISKSOURCE Clark-Theders. Since joining his father’s agency in 1998, he’s thrived on getting to know his clients’ unique business situations and providing them with smart solutions to help propel their success. It was Jonathan’s vision to develop RiskSOURCE Cares, the agency’s community outreach program. 

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