Sunday, July 5, 2009

(No.37) Google progressivism

The view that everything is changing for the better has been (at least until the onset of the world recession and financial system meltdown) an effective form of marketing propaganda within the financial services industry and from big business generally to the consuming public. It's also been a message much beloved by countless executives as a way of demonstrating their forward thinking and positive, constructive attitudes. This sort of thing has been called 'Google progressivism'.

If one seeks a good example of Google progressivism many are at hand but none I consider more on point than one provided by those life insurance companies and the members of their senior managements who abandoned career agency distribution systems using an excuse which boiled down to 'we have to change for the better with the times'. More often than not this manifestation of Google progressivism was camouflage for executive incompetence and lack of commitment to a system which they found more difficult to operate successfully  than some form of brokerage.

This sort of executive posturing has become increasingly common as companies both appoint and promote to senior management people who are unburdened by real knowledge and experience involving insurance distribution generally and the agency system in particular. These are the sort of executives who search for buzz words to use to describe -- as if indicative of something they had just thought up -- what is not new. An excellent current example is 'holistic selling', a phrase actually indicating an approach which amounts to little more than what is commonly referred to as cross-selling and needs-based selling. 

When I was still with Sun Life of Canada I remarked that if I heard once more an invocation of holistic selling (when what was actually being discussed was simply a well established aspect of agency distribution) I would succumb to an irresistible impulse to buy a pair of Birkenstocks and start singing Kumbaya. I had no patience then for demonstrations of Google progressivism dressed up as marketing creativity. I still don't.

Sophisticated leadership in business requires senior executives who understand that no matter how vocationally fashionable it may be to act as if 'change' is a synonym for 'progress', it isn't. They know that decay is also change. A demonstration of this level of understanding has not loomed large in the financial services meltdown in the US and elsewhere nor for that matter has it been universally evident in the Canadian life insurance business; see for example the serious reverses at Manulife. 

Alastair Rickard