Study Groups Can Help You Grow Personally And Professionally
I started in the insurance business in Fairbanks, Alaska, some 400 miles from my General Office in Anchorage and my fellow New York Life colleagues. I moved to Newport, Oregon 10 years ago and am still 100 miles away from my New York Life General Office and my fellow agents.
Over the years, I have attended countless seminars, meetings and conferences, and while these get-together have certainly helped me develop my career, I frequently found myself enjoying and benefiting from informal meetings with fellow agents from New York Life and other companies.
My interest in meeting with and learning from my fellow agents was so beneficial that I wanted to join a study group and did so several years ago. While my group has experienced several changes over the years it is now prospering and all 8 members have reached, in the past year, levels of personal and professional growth that none of us thought possible several years ago.
Our group is on “the road to the next level” and we are looking to accelerate the growth in the years ahead.
Types of Study Groups
It is important to point out that each study group is unique because it is tailored to meet the needs of its members. However, there are some broad categories of study groups and I’ll summarize them as follows:
Same-company support groups. These may comprise a group of agents who work together and meet on a regular basis to “compare notes,” and support each other’s progress.
Same-company or multi-company groups of agents. These are from the same town or city; from a geographic region, like New England or the Pacific Northwest; from across the country and therefore truly national; or from different countries and therefore international.
How to Get Started and Find Your Members
The size of study groups ranges from a low of 2 members to a high of 30 members. By far the most popular size is 8 members. After 8, the most popular size is 4 members.
The key to success is to start small and build with experience. It is better to start as a group of 2 or 3, and then build toward, say, 6 to 8 members as you gain experience and feel more comfortable with each other.
It is equally important that the members of the group get along and share similar goals and experience. Agents who have been in the business a similar length of time and represent different markets can be the nucleus of a successful study group.
How to find potential members? First decide whether you want your study group to be local, interstate or national, and then talk to potential members on that basis. Talk to agents with your company, that you meet at other meetings or at this Million Dollar Round Table meeting. Seek the advice of agents already in study groups. Ask for referrals for prospective members.
Sound familiar? Looking for potential study group members is similar to looking for new clients. The goal is the sameto establish long-term rewarding relationships with people that we enjoy and respect.
Organizing Your Meetings and Handling Expenses
The majority of study groups meet 1 or 2 times a year, and the average length of a meeting is 2 to 3 days, a survey by the MDRT shows. Your group may wish to meet at one of your offices and then rotate future meetings so that each member has the opportunity to host the group. Meetings may also be held at your company’s offices or at resort locations, such as Hawaii.
My group meets twice a year. We plan to arrive at our meetings on a Wednesday evening so that discussions and presentations can occupy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings. We set aside time for relaxing, golf, and exploring the community that we are visiting.
We have also held meetings at our company service center and included our servicing personnel and underwriters in our meetings. In June 2000, we met in San Francisco for two days prior to the MDRT meeting.
The key is that length, locations and dates of meetings are to be determined by the group and should accommodate the goals and budgets of the members.
Expenses can be handled several ways. Members can pay for all of their own travel and accommodation expenses, and share the expenses of, say, a guest speaker. Or they pay an assessment into the Study Group bank account and thereby share all expenses equally.
It is important that expenses be equalized as much as possible so that the member who has to travel the furthest doesn’t feel penalized, or drops out of the group because of the high cost of attendance.
Remember, study group meetings are for sharing of information and ideas, but they should also be fun and provide for the members and spouses, if included, to get to know each other. Study groups provided personal enrichment as well as professional development.
Arranging Your Agenda
A chairperson should be appointed or volunteer for each group meeting. That person is responsible for setting the agenda and location of the meeting, and should be encouraged to solicit input from the other members. The location and timing of the meeting may influence the agenda items, e.g., a meeting in your insurance company’s regional office may be enhanced by presentations from corporate personnel.
An agenda is a must, and should clearly indicate times of events, topics to be discussed and who is to make presentations. Members should be prepared to make their presentations, have copies to hand out, and participate in all activities of the meeting.
The agenda should also indicate social and recreational activities and when and where they are to occur.
One area of considerable value is to compare our individual administrative operations and office expenses. These office expenses can consume 30%-50% of our income, so careful management of expenses can be the difference of success or failure in your agency.
This involves a “BARE ALL” discussion when we reveal details on secretarial support and their compensation, computer systems, office layout, purchase versus lease of office space, etc. This is a subject that is critical to us all, but rarely covered at company or industry seminars.
It is recommended that each meeting be chaired by a different member. This will keep the meetings fresh and prevent them from being dominated by one member.
Setting Personal and Group Goals
One of the key benefits of membership in a study group is the opportunity to improve yourself both personally and professionally.
In your initial meeting identify what you have accomplished and what you want to achieve. Then commit to your group what you are going to do to meet those unmet goals, and how and when you are going to get there. Examples of professional goals may be:
1. Qualifying for MDRT each year.
2. Completing your CLU, ChFC, CFP, MSFS, etc.
3. Reaching Court of the Table, Top of the Table, or the next level of council, etc.
4. Writing 100 cases per year, or 10 apps every month.
Examples of personal goals may be:
1. Becoming president of your local service club or chamber.
2. Taking a more active role helping youth in your community.
3. Helping local non-profits meet their goals.
4. Taking that trip you and family have wanted to take.
5. Taking an active role in leadership of your local professional association.
A study group will only be successful if all members are committed to it and their collective growth. Problems may arise, however, and there should be a procedure in place to address them.
By-laws: A set of by-laws is advisable because it sets the ground rules for the operations of the group. They should address key items such as who is qualified for membership, meetings, attendance and expenses, as well as identify the goals of the group.
Membership: It is inevitable that a member will withdraw from the group or may be requested to leave for any number of reasons. The group should have a procedure in place to accept the withdrawal and pursue a replacement if so desired.
Last, but not least, I recommend to you an excellent publication from MDRT on study groups, STUDY GROUPS 101 AND THEN SOME, “All you Need to Know About Study Groups.”
I am an insurance agent and I think you will agree that this can be a lonely business. Being a member of a study group generates a closeness, a level of respect, increased trust, empathy and encouragement with your fellow members. A successful study group is like a familyit is warm, friendly, supportive and unconditional.
Membership in my study group has been very valuable to me and has helped me redirect and lift my career to levels of performance that I did not think possible. While corporate and association meetings are good and informative, I have found the one-on-one communications with my fellow agents to be very enriching and supportive.
Study groups may not be for everyone, but you will never know unless you climb on board and embark on the next level of success.
Digby H. Cook, CLU, LUTCF, is a detached agent with New York Life in Newport, Oregon. He can be reached at email@example.com. This article is an abridged version of a presentation he gave at the MDRT annual meeting in Toronto.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 22, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.