High-performing sales associates typically leave organizations because of money, a change in company emphasis or field leadership, or unsolicited help. GAMA International, a nonprofit association that researches and promotes professional development for field management in the insurance and financial services industry, recently launched an online assessment center to help managers pinpoint why top performers leave and avert that by building a culture to sustain, retain and develop them.
“As part of the toolkit, we utilize a 360-assessment based upon feedback that managers received from their sales associates to what extent certain conditions exist in the agency that either detract from high retention and agent satisfaction or contribute to and add to agent satisfaction and thus retention,” said Jeffrey Hughes, CEO, GAMA International. “This is a tool that the management team accesses. The findings and results are shared exclusively with that management team, so there’s a high degree of security and proprietary to that field leadership team, and utilizing this anonymous input from their sales associates to help determine where the gaps in their offerings exist.” Hughes said that GAMA also has used the 360-degree assessment tool to help companies do broader-scale management analysis of development needs and individual personal development planning against identified core competencies for both the enterprise and the job specific to the employee being assessed.
“Recently we’ve introduced a new tool called e-Reference,” Hughes said. “E-Reference utilizes the need for objectivity in gathering references and also honors the anonymity of individuals who provide reference back to us or to the employer on job candidates. The candidate can select up to a certain number of references, and an e-mail message is sent to each one. The reference then can provide feedback against the questions that the prospective employer is interested in capturing, and then provide some analysis on that group of feedback to give the employer a profile of what the references in aggregate have said about this particular individual.”
E-Reference is one of six online tools available in the toolkit at the assessment center. Others include printed studies, an automated new reference-checking tool and three 360-degree online assessments to evaluate organizational climate, individual leadership skills and team leadership skills.
“There’s a high degree of control by the client rather than us,” Hughes said. “We’re basically the conduit for the information. We develop the assessments or instruments. We then make those instruments available working with a third party who validates the information, collects the data and who analyzes the data and provides appropriate reports and measurements back to the client.” SkillSurvey helps develop 360-degree assessments, questionnaires or surveys based on requested criteria, then administers the survey to the candidates or participants, collects and analyzes the data, and generates and submits reports.
The studies in the toolkit are compiled with research data collected from interviews with high-performing agency managers throughout the country. The studies outline best practices—those things companies do every day to ensure a high retention level for top-quality performers. “We can help these managers assess whether or not their organization of field sales associates feel that they have these particular capabilities built into the system of their agencies,” Hughes said. “Where it’s determined that they don’t, the ‘Keeping the Right People’ toolkit provides them with some prescriptive actions that they can take to close those particular performance or competency gaps.”
Some of the prescriptive actions include determining the sequence of events that could lead to a departure, identifying business support that impacts retention, developing and coaching successful associates, and offering personal support that builds retention.
GAMA helps management teams develop skills with tools based on the “voice of the practitioner,” such as CD-ROMs, workbooks and the online 360-degree readiness assessment/gap analysis that gathers feedback from the associates. For example, each topic offered in the workbook is an “as is” assessment of how the agency is doing on a particular topic. GAMA provides an action plan for what the agency will do differently, how they will do it, when and who will be responsible for it.
“While knowledge clearly is a component of the process, at the end of the day our managers have little time to spend reading and studying theory,” Hughes said. “What they want to do is quickly determine where the problems are and to fix them. Our job is to provide the tools that allow them to identify where the real problems lie and then be able to attack those problems with proven, leading practices solutions, and then move on to the next business issue. Our job is to attract and collect information, and provide it back in ways that are very tactile, quick to digest, understand and then apply to the business.”