Tuesday, March 3, 2009

(No.19) Executive status: written on water

Executive status is written not in stone but on water. With some exceptions it lasts only as long as the job, until the water evaporates. It is absurd when it is used as a de facto substitute in the executive's day-to-day business life for credential or qualification. But it often is.

Is one, for example, qualified to represent commonsensical views on financial services distribution if one arrives in a corporate executive role unburdened by knowledge or experience, qualified principally for the role by a self-proclaimed or borrowed 'vision' of how things need to be changed? Translation: "in order to show 'leadership and vision', whatever exists within the business unit to which I am appointed must be changed in order to demonstrate my superior abilities".

Such career management self-interest can generate decision-making about a company's financial product distribution that may appear to boost sales productivity in the short run while eroding it in the longer term. Senior management conclusions about the supposed  'failure' of this or that active agency system (i.e., one that SELLS product) tend often to focus not on the real causes but on symptoms, a prime example of a cause being company failure to invest adequately in supporting and enhancing the distribution system.

Over the years I have observed, interviewed, chatted and worked with life insurance company executives without agency experience who, notwithstanding this handicap, were prepared -- even eager -- to mandate their intuitive (or consultant-derived) ideas about how life insurance distribution generally and agency operations in particular should be changed -- or sometimes reduced or even eliminated altogether. 

The decline of the active (i.e.,prospecting & selling) agency system in all its variations in North America owes much to such executive combinations of self-interest, ignorance and arrogance.

Alastair Rickard,