Managing Success

By Jack Bobo

The job of a field manager is a lot more difficult than is often realized. Whether as a general agent or managing partner, the job requires multiple skills, a mountain of patience, and, perhaps most of all, good judgment. Is it any wonder that good ones are so hard to come by?

The job starts with the selection process of finding viable candidates and recognizing that there are exceptions to virtually every rule. That is where judgment comes in, because, despite all the testing, successful candidates do not fit a standard pattern. Lifting a neophyte to success requires individual consideration and direction in finding just the right path to success and sustaining it over the long pull.

One of the more difficult aspects of field management is that of properly managing the failure, and the judgment to know when it is best for all parties concerned to pull the plug. It is not helpful to our business to have a lot of bitter ex-agents bad-mouthing the companies and our products as an excuse for their failure. Properly managed, such people can leave with the feeling that they tried, but this is just not their cup of tea.

I recall an agent in our office who was hired from a men’s clothing store and who after two years concluded the business was not for him. I ran into him some months later where he was working as the manager of the men’s department of one of our largest department stores. He seemed very happy in his new job and I said to him that he was fortunate to have a background in men’s clothing to qualify him in his new position. He replied, “I was not hired because of my clothing experience. I was hired because of my experience as an insurance agent.” A happy ending for one who didn’t make it with us and a testimony to the respect his new employer had for insurance agent training as opposed to the training of retail salespeople.

As difficult as managing those who grow normally and those who do not make it is perhaps the most vexing of all–managing the instant success. A couple of examples will illustrate my point.

The first case that comes to mind is an attractive young man who was recruited from a local bakery. He had for about five years driven a bread truck, delivering and stocking the shelves of local grocery stores. He was thrilled with his new job as an agent. It was the only job he had ever had where he wore a shirt and tie, and he took the business very seriously. He was an instant success and produced 10 apps a month right off the bat. He was the kind of agent the business could be proud of.

After about 18 months he was so successful he bought a new house and furnishings all on the installment plan. He also upgraded his car. I might add that this was somewhat encouraged by management that subscribed to the philosophy that the best way to increase agent productivity was to get the agent in debt and he would have to produce more to meet those obligations. Well, it didn’t work; a few lapses and a couple months’ dry spell and he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Because he needed a steady income, he retreated back to the bread truck. This should never have happened. We lost a future star because he did not manage his income properly.

At the same time in another top agency in town the general agent understood that helping a new person manage finances was crucial to future success. I watched him bring along many successful agents and I don’t believe he ever lost one because of financial mismanagement. His agents learned early on not to spend future commissions when you are new.

The other case that I remember so well (though there have been many others) was that of a man who left ranching to become an agent in an office in the southern part of our state. He was even more an instant success than my first example. He qualified for his company’s highest production club in his first year, earned the right to a private office and the title of “rookie of the year” for his region by a wide margin.
When he came into the business, he was one of the most affable persons I had ever met, humble and eager to learn. But he was no “flash in the pan”: his success continued and he prospered well beyond his expectations. He was touted by management and pointed to with pride as a great example of that company’s career program.

However, after about five years of great success things began to fall apart because along the way he acquired a tremendous ego. He became insufferable around the office–rude to employees and fellow agents. It got so bad that even his wife could not handle it and filed for divorce. Management was unable to cope with such an unbridled ego and soon there was a parting of the ways. He tried company jumping after that, taking his business with him each time. But that didn’t work either, and after several lawsuits he disappeared from our ranks. Another star lost because someone did not catch this flaw soon enough to bring it under control.

Too often the successful agent is taken for granted and left alone. I had a great manager in my early years, one who could spot a problem almost as soon as it arose, and more importantly, knew how to deal with it on an individual basis. I truly believe I survived because my manager was an expert in managing both the successful, established agent as well as those struggling to get started.

As difficult as managing those who grow normally and those who do not make it is perhaps the most vexing of all–managing the instant success.” -Jack Bobo