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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Changes in your business after the pandemic don’t have to be terrifying

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Matt Mallory is CEO of Mallory Agencya property and casualty insurance brokerage serving clients at home and abroad.

Before the pandemic, it seems we were only talking about change and evolution. Corporate America used to hire “strategists” and “advisors” to tell companies what to do with whiteboards full of matrices. That process can take months or years. Then, as abruptly as a car accident, we were forced to change in ways we could never have imagined.

Some would say that the pandemic has only accelerated the inevitable, which is probably true. Others would say that this is just one season and everything will go back to “normal” soon. WHERE?

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’re selling a product or service and that product or service has competition, then the customer 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 the way we act — adapt, evolve, rotate, 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 brains have the same thing muscle memory as our physiology. If we stay in a constant mental pattern for any length of time, we diminish our cognitive ability to change or grow. (Interesting thought: No one says growth is scary, but we’ll 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 invitations are never sent without a Zoom or Teams link. Control freak managers insisted that their employees work from the office; now we can work anywhere. Previously, benefits were associated only with health insurance, and now employers must be more creative and resourceful in how and what they offer the best talent. In the past, some people were annoyed by a phone call to their mobile device; now we live in the most wireless and mobile world known to man. Back in the day, “work-life balance” was a buzzword that never had a consistent definition. That could mean working gently on an iPhone from the ball court while watching your kids play or on the beach while your kids boogie boarding. Or – wait for it – not work at all from either place with peace of mind knowing the customer is okay with you responding later. Translation: We become human again.

This supports the importance of embracing change. Maybe that’s reading more, exercising more, or using more technology at work. It may also mean changing the general way you run your business. You might be thinking, “Hey, absolutely not!” Keep in mind that the client doesn’t care how attached you are to your manners or “how you’ve always done it”. The customer only cares about what is best for him or her in every sense of the word. If you want the customer to change, shouldn’t we lead by example?

Like most, our company was first forced to make significant changes with the pandemic. But now we embrace and seek change (and then change again, and again – get it?). With this change, we have recognized a deeper question: do we trust our team and how do we take care of them? If you trust your team, you should treat them the way you trust them and take care of them. Back up your words with deeds.

Internally, we have built in virtual meetings that focus on the person and not the position. We have company-wide team meetings where we reinforce the need for a healthy mind, body and spirit. We send personal notes or small thank you notes to our team members. They need to know that we care about them. We stopped worrying about working until 5pm and encouraged family time and finding ways to enjoy “good medicine” – a walk while taking a phone call, eating outside and enjoying the sun, half days and real, real breaks during the day that aren’t just going to the kitchen for more coffee.

I also recommend encouraging team members to change their environment to become more successful. Changing the landscape and landscape is powerful. Externally, you can ask the customer how they want to meet and communicate, and then meet that need. (Friendly FYI: The customer usually gives you the answer to the test. Ask them what they want; never assume or speculate.) We also started involving the customer on a personal level. Ask how they are. It can be lonely at the top and everyone deserves to be asked. Yes, you can have a business meeting and not talk about business. (It’s fun, please try.)

We need to show that we’re committed to changing the way we work — essentially leaning on the hybrid virtual world instead of anxiously waiting for 1995 to come back and three-piece suits to become popular again. In addition to Zoom, we examined which technology we should invest in to better communicate with our customers. How can we present information and find and use relevant and emerging technologies to better position our customers for success? No, this (unfortunately) didn’t happen before the pandemic. How much more proactive can we become, and how? Difficult questions, right?

Get ready for another sigh: something is only valuable if it can be clearly communicated and is relevant to the customer. Translation: If you think something is valuable and the customer isn’t, then it’s either not communicated well or it isn’t valuable.

The new normal isn’t scary; it’s liberating.


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