No matter their strengths, insurance businesses, like people, are always at risk.

Some dangers to your business are so blatant, they dare being ignored.

Others are far less obvious but can cause untold — and even fatal — damage by eating away at and undermining a company’s best efforts. These issues can be insidious and relentless, going unnoticed until it’s too late.

And it can all happen without anyone ever breaking a sweat.

Even so, there are clear indicators that a business is in trouble. Here are nine to consider:

9. Burying your head in the sand

Business people don’t like bad news. They reject it as they would an unwanted solicitor. And then they quickly add: “I want to be around positive people.”

New York Times writer Jim Holt comes close to the truth in his review of Chuck Kloserman’s book, “But What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past” (Blue Rider Press). “Most of what we believe is likely to be wrong,” Holt writes when characgterizing the book’s premise.

If that’s true, then doubt, not certainty, is the only positive action.

8. Ignoring details

A lack of productivity imperils businesses, caused by the extraordinary amount of time that’s lost by following up on what’s being ignored. We assume that someone will come along and clean up our mess.

That, however, is not the way at Apple, as Michael Gartenberg discovered on his first day there. He sent someone an email. “I got it back, and at the end of it, It said, ‘P.S. spelling counts here.’”

Gartenberg’s fatal typo: using “hte” instead of “the.”

The way we manage details reveals how we regard others and what we view as important.

You could be strangling your insurance business.

Managers who fail to encourage a free exchange of ideas may be slowly strangling their business. (Photo: iStock)

7. Small thinking

Many business owners and managers believe it’s their role to be Decider-in-Chief. They have firm — cast in concrete — opinions on everything. Research, surveys, studies, facts, knowledge, and the experience of others don’t count. They proudly trust their gut.

Employees learn quickly that discussion is useless, and new ideas are on an “Unwanted List.” It’s a perfect way to strangle a business.

6. Poor planning

Sure, it’s fun to talk about big-picture ideas. They can create excitement and energy. But sometimes these conversations result in little or no action, even though that’s what makes a difference. Everyone goes away and nothing happens. It’s the same the next time.

To keep a business on track and growing, there’s only one question that gets the wheels moving, that generates fire, not smoke. There’s only one question that gets results: “Who’s going to do what, why, and when?” Nothing else matters. It’s nailed down. No loose ends. Some call it taking responsibility, while for others it’s accountability. It’s all the same; it’s about getting things done.

5. Data blindness

When asked why his insurance agency couldn’t launch an eNewsletter for its clients and prospects, the principal, a smart client-oriented and capable underwriter, said, “We can’t do it until we get our database straightened out.”

He’s not alone. Good businesses fall behind and others die or merge because they’re gridlocked, unable to develop and implement an effective plan to gather the information they need.

Related: Insurance consumers: We’ll give up our data for personalized service

Too many agents and advisors suffer from a debilitating case of data blindness, or the inability to recognize that their survival depends on the accuracy and completeness of updated, relevant, reliable, and accessible information.

Life and health insurance agents must adapt to changing consumer tastes to survive.

Are you successfully adapting to consumer tastes? If not, that could be a red flag for your business. (Photo: iStock)

4. Failure to adapt to customer behavior

Consider this success story: After launching Nest Cam, a smartphone-monitored security device, parent company Nest found that many customers were pointing the device out the window to keep track of frolicking kids, according to IoT Daily’s Chuck Martin. So rather than letting a competitor run with the idea of marketing an outdoor security device, Nest launched a weatherproof version of its own to appease their inventive customers.

In short, the company moved quickly to capture the market.

Unfortunately, “Maybe we should wait and see what happens” is a more common workplace reaction. That’s often followed by “Why didn’t we do that?”

3. A confusing culture

It seems to happen at entrepreneurial-type companies where management is highly motivated and hard driving. Along with it is a lassiez faire attitude that everyone can be left alone and they will automatically do their jobs. When that doesn’t happen, there’s disappointment that people didn’t live up to the challenge.

Instead of setting people in a direction with agreed upon expectations, they are set adrift. All the while, they think they’re doing what’s required. A confusing culture causes havoc.

2. Failure to educate customers

A recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index indicates that consumers view Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn “more negatively” than in past years. It set off alarms at Twitter. The company found 90 percent of people worldwide know the Twitter name, but only those who use it get what it’s all about.

Twitter now has a campaign to educate people on how the platform works and the benefits of using it.

Every company faces a similar problem. Satisfied to drink their own Kool-Aid, they fail, often miserably, at telling their story consistently. And it always catches up to them.

Related: Instagram is the new Twitter for insurance agents

1. Misunderstanding branding

The usual focus of branding is a logo and a tagline. But the clothes, as some say, “don’t make the man,” and a new logo and a tagline don’t make a brand. That’s just putting on a new suit.

Branding is about questions: Why are we doing this? What do we value, and how do we show it? Who are our customers? What do we offer them that makes a difference? What sets us apart from our competitors? The answers to these questions are the brand.

Messing up a business is easy. It doesn’t take effort. There’s no need to break into a sweat. It occurs without taking notice, even though the signs are all along the road. 

We should never drink our own Kool-Aid. It puts us to sleep. But the anecdote is simple: Always worry. Look over your shoulder. Never get comfortable.

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