Pearn Kandola has been working with NFU Mutual since 2012 on an ambitious programme to develop its agents into strong leaders. Many of the participants have said it is the best training they have ever experienced, and it is producing tangible results in terms of attendees taking action to improve their businesses.
Determining why agencies perform well
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) exists to champion the cause of farmers, while NFU Mutual (NFUM) is the country’s market-leader in rural insurance. The NFU and NFUM are both represented by a network of 630 agents in 300 agencies around the UK.
In 2011, NFUM conducted rigorous, scientific research into what makes particular agencies outperform others by comparing individual practices to business results. NFUM found that its better-performing agencies had several factors in common – and most significantly, that strong leadership had the biggest impact on an agency’s performance.
As a result, NFUM decided to run a leadership development programme for all of its agents and appointed Pearn Kandola to create and run it. The Business Leadership Development Centres (BLDC) programme was launched in February 2013 and is ongoing.
A comprehensive programme
We designed a unique programme to be delivered entirely by our coaches, thereby maintaining complete confidentiality for agents and allowing them to discuss any business issues openly.
The programme includes:
- Pre-course work, including a 180-degree feedback questionnaire and a personality questionnaire.
- A coach talking to each agent individually before the course about their current business issues.
- A two-day development course for groups of 12 agents.
- Ongoing mentoring by our coaches.
- A one-day follow-up assessment six months later.
We faced a range of challenges in creating this programme, which we overcame together with NFUM. For example, the agents and their businesses vary widely in nature and size, so we had to produce a programme that would appeal to all of them and could be highly tailored to their individual needs.
As many of the agents had received little or no leadership development, some were also anxious and/or sceptical about the programme. Therefore, our coaches had to work hard to allay any fears before the start of the course.
It is difficult to quantify the impact of the programme on the agents’ financial results because they can be affected by a wide range of factors, including the economic climate and NFUM’s rates. Having said that, NFUM’s overall results have improved over the past two years, with growth in gross written premium moving from less than 1% to 4%.
In addition, independent research was carried out in 2014 to assess what changes have occurred as a result of the programme. The results showed that the agents’ management of their businesses had improved, with benefits to:
- Individual agents, including: stronger clarity of goals; increased self-confidence; higher levels of control; reduced stress; and significantly increased innovation, goal-achievement and forward-planning.
- The agents’ businesses, including: increases in productivity; higher turnover of products; and a significant increase in advice-giving campaigns.
- Agents’ employees, including: stronger perceptions of teamwork; significantly improved communication; increased involvement of staff in decision-making; and improved staff morale.
One of the most compelling aspects of the results is that every agent has taken action. A number of agents even directly attribute specific sales of large accounts to the programme increasing their confidence. The training has been very successful in terms of encouraging ongoing action because we incorporate a follow-up session six months on, keeping agents focused and on track.
The most important result of this programme is the profound impact it has had on NFUM’s agents. NFUM has seen genuine changes in their behaviour and attitude, and in how they interact with NFUM, their teams and their customers.
Feedback from attendees includes:
“The course was excellent. It is the most valuable workshop that I have attended in my 26-year career with the Mutual.”
“I returned from the BLDC and the first thing I did was work on the business strategy and planning with my partner. This is the first time we have really discussed strategy for a number of years. It has helped us move the sales process forward with the team and we have been much more creative in the way we look to grow the business. The business is currently at 6% growth.”
“I have gained so much from this training course, I can say it has been life-changing.”