“There is no such thing as permanent, second-line management. I’m not grooming second-line managers. I’m growing future leaders and managers–people who will want my job.”
For many of the more than 2,100 attendees at GAMA International’s LAMP 2006 convention, this declaration of Quincy Crawford seemed to crystallize the theme of the annual event for general agents and managers: “leaders growing leaders.”
Crawford, GAMA International’s 2006 Management Hall of Fame Inductee and, until Dec. 31, 2005, president of a top-performing Guardian Life agency, was one of a dozen general session speakers at the four-day gathering, held here March 19-22.
The focus on growth was not only for the benefit of attendees. GAMA itself is keen to expand its charter to serving managers beyond its core membership of life insurance professionals. To attract company leaders throughout the financial services community, GAMA has broadened the focus of the conference and initiatives that the organization sponsors.
The changes are reflected in the LAMP moniker. Formerly the Life Agency Management Program, the acronym now stands for Leadership and Management Program.
“To continue to grow and thrive as GAMA has in the past, we have to expand our outreach efforts and align our capabilities to meeting the needs of other constituencies in the insurance and financial services spaces,” said GAMA International President Robert Baccigalupi. “We have to cast a wider net.”
The conference’s expanded reach was evident in the event’s 30-plus educational sessions. Among other topics, the 90-minute workshops explored ways to recruit multiline agents and how to build an investment and fee-based planning unit within a life insurance or multiline organization. Also featured was a panel discussion on coaching women in financial services.
GAMA also revamped its signature training program, Essentials of Management Leadership. The course now includes content targeted to three audiences: life insurance professionals, property-casualty agents and fee-based financial planners. Reflecting the increasingly diverse responsibilities of managers, the program also incorporates content on collaborating with sales teams and specialists, in particular individuals charged with recruiting, marketing and compliance tasks.
To advance the association’s outreach efforts, GAMA CEO Jeff Hughes told National Underwriter during a press conference that the organization is eyeing partnerships with other entities that serve financial services professionals. Currently, GAMA collaborates with the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the Million Dollar Round Table, The American College and LIMRA International on legislative, educational and research efforts.
“We’re certainly interested in exploring alliances with, for example, the Financial Planning Association and various banking associations,” said Hughes. “But before we can move forward, we have to know more about their core constituencies, their missions and the extent to which some percentage of their members are field leaders.”
Unveiled at LAMP 2006 were several products for “Finding the Right People,” the third in a series of the GAMA Foundation’s System for Success Studies. The four products–a guidebook, audio guidebook, an applications booklet and an online reference-checking tool–aim to help agency managers apply successful recruiting strategies to their organizations.
Finding the Right People builds on the GAMA Foundation’s “Agency Recruiting & Selection Practices,” released in 1995. Leveraging best practices applied at top-ranking firms and agencies, the study explores primary and secondary recruiting sources, the selection process, tools used to assess a candidate’s fit, willingness to succeed, abilities, and other topics.
Guardian Life representatives detailed the report’s findings, and its applications within the company, during an afternoon conference session. Other sessions covered company implementations of earlier releases of the System for Success Studies, including “Building the Right People” and “Keeping the Right People,” which focus, respectively, on agent development and retention.
Slated for release in 2007 is a GAMA Foundation report focusing on local marketing methods used by successful field organizations to achieve productivity.
“All the GAMA Foundation research studies deal with process-driven, interlocking systems and accountability that great managers use to execute on agency growth objectives,” said Hughes. “Agencies that are committed to implementing these systems can replicate [these managers'] successes.”
In conjunction with the Systems for Success tools, GAMA developed GAMA eReference, a web-based reference-checking tool to help field leaders ensure the appropriateness of references provided by a candidate. The tool additionally ensures confidentiality by consolidating responses and providing a validity check on the candidate’s employment history.
GAMA executives were unable to say how many insurance agencies have adopted the organization’s best practices. But Baccigalupi observed a “groundswell of interest” is developing as GAMA creates tools for implementing the foundation research. He added that GAMA now is experimenting with single-day seminars that focus on the research. A pilot seminar, held last September, produced “very positive feedback,” he said.