Matt Mallory is CEO of Mallory Agency, a property and casualty insurance brokerage serving clients both domestic and internationally.
Before the pandemic, it seems we only talked about change and evolution. Corporate America used to hire “strategists” and “consultants” to tell businesses what to do with whiteboards full of matrixes. That process could take months or years. Then, as abrupt as a car wreck, we were forced to change in ways we never imagined.
Some would say the pandemic only accelerated the inevitable, which is probably true. Others would say this is merely a season and everything will go back to “normal” soon. True?
Two (of many) lessons learned in recent years revolve around change itself: Most of us are almost terrified of change, but we want others to change for our benefit. Why? If you sell a product or service, and that product or service has competition, the client has to say no to someone else before saying yes to you. They have to change. We want them to change, don’t we? However, when we are asked to change our ways—adapt, evolve, pivot, etc.—our response is usually, “No, no, no. I don’t like change!” We don’t like change at all.
Behavioral science and psychology have taught us that our brain has the same muscle memory as our physiology. If we stay in a constant mental pattern for longer periods of time, we reduce our cognitive ability to change or grow. (Interesting thought: No one says that growth is scary, but we will say change is scary.) Like atrophy in an injured or unused muscle, parts of our brain will respond accordingly.
Interestingly, before the pandemic, we would almost roll our eyes at video conferencing platforms like Skype, and now meeting invites are never sent without a Zoom or Teams link. Control freak managers insisted their employees work from the office; now we can work from anywhere. Employee benefits used to be only associated with health insurance, and now employers must be more creative and imaginative in how and what they offer the best talent. Before, some would get annoyed with a call to their mobile device; now we live in the most wireless and mobile world known to man. Before, “work-life balance” was a buzzword that never had a consistent definition. Now that can mean gently working from the ball field on an iPhone while watching your kids play or at the beach as your kids boogie-board. Or—wait for it—not working at all from either place with a restful mind knowing the client is okay with you responding later. Translation: We’re becoming human again.
This supports the importance of embracing change. Maybe that is reading more, working out more, or using technology at work more. It could also mean changing the overall ways in how you operate your business. You might think: “Whoa, absolutely not!” Keep in mind that the client doesn’t care how attached you are to your ways or “how you’ve always done it.” The client only cares about what is best for them in every sense of the word. If you want the client to change, shouldn’t we lead by example?
Like most, our firm was first forced to implement significant changes with the pandemic. However, now we embrace and look for change (and then change again, and again—get the idea?). Through this change, we’ve recognized a deeper question: Do we trust our team, and how do we care for them? If you trust your team, then you must treat them like you trust and care for them. Back up your words with actions.
Internally, we have incorporated virtual meetings that focus on the person and not the position. We have company-wide team meetings where we amplify the need for a healthy mind, body and spirit. We send personal notes or small items of gratitude to our team members. They need to know we care. We stopped worrying about working until 5 p.m. and encourage family time and finding ways to enjoy “good medicine”—a walk while taking a call, eating outside and enjoying the sunshine, half days, and real, actual breaks during the day that aren’t just trips to the kitchen for more coffee.
I also recommend encouraging team members to change their environment to become more successful. Changing the landscape and scenery is powerful. Externally, you can ask the client how they want to meet and communicate, and then meet that need. (Friendly FYI: The client will usually give you the answer to the test. Ask them what they want; never assume or speculate.) We also started engaging the client on a personal level. Ask them how they’re doing. It can be lonely at the top and everyone deserves to be asked about. Yes, you can have a business meeting and not talk about business. (It’s fun, please try it.)
We need to demonstrate our commitment to changing how we operate—essentially leaning into the hybrid virtual world rather than anxiously waiting for 1995 to come back and three-piece suits to be popular again. Other than Zoom, we have explored what technology we need to invest in to communicate better with our clients. How could we present information and find and use relevant and emerging technologies to better position our clients for success? No, none of this (unfortunately) was happening before the pandemic. How much more proactive could we become, and how? Hard questions, right?
Get ready for another gasp: Something is only valuable if it can be communicated clearly and is relevant to the client. Translation: If you think something is valuable and the client doesn’t, either it wasn’t communicated well or it’s not valuable.
The new normal isn’t scary; it’s liberating.