Interview med Morten Bach, Marketing manager at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension, Randers.

It is a myth that efficiency improvement leads to lower employee satisfaction.The efficiency improvement process lead to the best environment survey – ever.

– We moved a lot in one stroke. Our goal was a revenue of 12 million Danish kroner and we reached 18 million Danish kroner. That is 50 percent higher than the planned goal and one year ago I honestly didn’t believe that would be possible.

Morten Bach, marketing manager at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension in eastern Jutland in Denmark adopted Race®concept out of necessity and ended up with a substantial success. The ultimate goal even came to be way above the planned goal.

The 48-year-old businessman is the marketing manager for Region East Jutland, one of the five regions of Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension.   Approximately 30 employees refer to him. The largest business area comprises private and commercial insurance and pension schemes. Throughout Denmark, Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension has 15 sales offices focusing on this area.

– Nine years ago we acquired a German insurance company, Provinzial. It came with agencies that in different ways turned into the sales offices we see today, typically with five employees at each location.

The tall, friendly businessman radiates self-awareness, determination and success but he flatly admits that the track record the last couple of years has been grim and hard at times.

– Alm. Brand has lost a total of three billion Danish kroner during the financial crisis.

But as many other companies we have experienced that a financial crisis is not only a bad thing. I myself have become a better and fiercer manager because of the adversity.

ResultPartner entered the picture. That happened after the sales offices in Glostrup and Elsinore had achieved success by means of Race®concept.

– By necessity we were forced to make an effort far better than the one we had grown accustomed to during the latest years of the boom.

A lot of strict initiatives were implemented. Lars Moeller from ResultPartner was one of them.

The sales office in Randers had to improve results by the means of Race®concept.

The office is manned with one office manager, three insurance agents and one insurance advisor acting as a kind of anchorman who practically runs the store, sells insurances by phone and services the customers who come from the street.

– It is a fun and challenging kind of sales office. A lot of rival companies have shut down that type of smaller sales offices.

It is the general position of Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension that our hallmark is the roots in the local community and the possibility of meeting us directly from street – even if such a decision entails a risk of the sales office being too small to get the expenses covered.

However, there is no doubt about the fact that the solution is the best one for the customers. It makes a difference that we can ensure new customers that we are close by in case of a fire or flood, says Morten Bach.

– Without quantifying I can tell you that things weren’t going well in Randers in any way.

We hadn’t managed to produce the results that would justify the existence of a sales office of this size.

It is not just temporary

Lars Moeller had just been with Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension in Copenhagen and then he went to Randers. Here he was received with some opposition.

– I have met skilled consultants – and some who are not as skilled. And to put it bluntly; I was naturally skeptical when I was introduced to Lars Moeller and his Race®concept.

But I chose to be positive. After all, my starting point was a humble role. A role I was forced into, although I find it difficult to be humble.

– Today, I can say that the concept came to affect me in every way. Lars Moeller changed me and us a lot. He contains quite a lot and is not afraid to stick the knife in the places where it hurts the most.

– At the first meeting, his whole manner was about to blow us all down. There was opposition. To begin with, some people thought of him as being “smarter than smart” and as a chatterbox from the “Devil’s Island” also know as Copenhagen. He was also quite the provocateur. However, he didn’t use the provocation to be smart but to answer the necessary questions and to make us realize the true state of the situation.

He used a detailed approach and asked about every single activity of each employee in the sales office.

– Personally, I’m very proud person and I let him know that we most certainly had the situation under control. That just resulted in a shower of questions beginning with how, what, where, who and so on.  Lars Moeller never gave up. He constantly tried to identify our level of ambition. As an example he often asked: “How important is this to you?”

– It was most certainly important but perhaps not important enough. It made us think. I apologized and argued and said to him: “90 percent’s fulfillment of the goals is a pretty good result. There is a crisis going on and there things aren’t improving in the society. Maybe the budgets have been set too high resulting in slightly unrealistic revenue.”

– In a time with financial crisis you quickly start to compare yourself to the outside world in order to defend yourself, and then the results will supposedly become good enough. But during the last couple of seasons, we had not actually reached our goals. That was the fact of the matter.

Morten Bach held a meeting with his manager and a schedule was planned.

– Personally, I had not succeeded in finding the philosopher’s stone, so I decided to welcome Lars Moeller and ResultPartner’s Race®concept.

We humans are usually motivated by desire or need, but I also had a good connection with the man and felt that I could trust him. It was an important element. But I admit that he startled us to begin with. He holds a mirror up to your face. You are forced to look at yourself. Is the reflection good enough? Are you consistent enough?

The intense confrontation with oneself couldn’t do it alone. The entire sales team was also benched for 24 hours in a summer cottage. It went on from 10 am one day to 10 am the following day.

– This was a group of inveterate Jutlanders and people who had been with the company for a number of years. Folded arms and a laid-back skepticism were therefore present from the beginning. I myself am probably a bit like Lars Moeller as I believe that one can evolve a great deal in one stroke. But naturally there were also some people who didn’t feel that way. Lars Moeller started out by saying:”I can sense that you are thinking that this is just temporary, but it is never just temporary.”

– And that was after all the truth. There had been a tendency to believe that the bad times and figures are just temporary. But that wasn’t the workday that came about.

Execute management

– Race®concept is not a major science on a higher level from the business college. It is all about being really close to people and seeing them through. And it works when we are constantly asked the questions of whether we did as we were supposed to do and whether we reached the planned goals.

– Couldn’t you have asked yourself and each other these questions?

– In principle, yes, but during a process of change, outside assistance is needed. I too had to see the light.

A light that especially came to deal with leadership.

– Actually, it was just about executing management. And management is about “being in touch” with people. To put it bluntly, we weren’t close enough to our employees. We didn’t really know how the employees were doing.

According to himself, Morten Bach has a huge network and within it he sees that the managerial colleagues experience the exact same thing.

– The managers – especially the supervisors – therefore needed to spend much more time getting to know their employees. We often experience a fear of contact and this must be stopped. We must stop thinking: “They should be able to take care of things themselves.” The opposite is actually the case. People appreciate it if you notice how they are doing.

The marketing manager at Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension in Region East Jutland is proud of the process and the subsequent progress.

– After a few months I was able to put the sales office in Randers in the spotlight. It was an amazing feeling, because they deliver some great results. It has been difficult at times. Some would even say very difficult, as it is not fun to report every Monday at the Race Meeting. You are vain and it is strenuous to reveal that things didn’t go so well this week.

– But it is not about exposing people. It is about lending a helping hand to people and assist them to rectify their plan, if they haven’t managed to achieve good results.

Protect the core business

Morten Bach also became more aware of the fact that he had to create results through very different people.

– I have realized and learned a lot from one of the key points of Race®concept – you have to carefully look into what evolves each employee. It is a different puzzle to solve from one person to another. If you treat people the same way, you basically treat them differently. I have been very aware of this fact. It sounds simple, and I knew perfectly well that it worked that way before we began using Race®concept. But I had been too far away. I was only aware of the connection on a theoretical level.

– As a manager you need to keep track of the employees. You need to know their personal life and be able to sense where in life they are at the moment and how they are doing. A lot of managers at a higher level, the senior management, could benefit from learning something from the mindset behind loosing the fear of contact.

– According to leading American management experts, a manager should only have 10-15 people below him or her. It is true that I have 30, but this process has really caused me to change horses and find a set-up that works.

Today, Morten Bach is extremely structured when it comes to prioritizing the tasks. His calendar is clearly defined a year ahead and “a great deal” of things are being turned down. He has also been forced to break with the large companies’ many activities, expectations and new initiatives.

– You are often asked to teach or make a presentation here and there or to contribute experience to a project in another department.

This is a classic situation that all CEOs know by heart. As a manager at a lower level, you also wish to be involved in all the initiatives. We all know it. You don’t want to miss anything. But you have to think carefully about it. Today, I couldn’t dream of saying yes to anything which does not contribute to my core business. I – and many other managers for that matter – have failed the core business too many times.

Star performance

– You have to get out of your fine office and put your hands to work. I had to reinvent the pioneer spirit. We are after all backed by a reasonable brand. We will gain undreamt-of ground if we believe in it ourselves. It is all about getting rid of the entire attitude of sitting behind closed doors. We need to get out more and make more visits. The instruments consist of so many layers. And they hold many layers of management. Lars Moeller made it work for us.

To Morten Bach it is essential that Lars Moeller from ResultPartner is not acting automatically, but obviously believes that things can succeed.

– Problems naturally occurred along the way. In the beginning, some felt they were under surveillance and therefore thought that enough was enough. I will not hide the fact that there were several situations where the insurance agents wanted to “cut his head off.” He is ultra-consistent, and although I connected with him, it is a fact that some also felt unsafe. Later, they more or less realized that his actions are based on the right reasons. And that his manner as a consultant is the way it is. He doesn’t dissemble himself. You can also say a lot of stuff to him. It comes with the job.

There was no barrier of courtesy between ResultPartner’s Lars Moeller and the insurance agents in the Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension sales office in Randers.

– Otherwise, we wouldn’t have progressed. It was necessary to talk honestly in a direct tone. Sales representatives are typically emotional enthusiasts with a high self-esteem. It is precisely those qualities we are looking for when choosing a sales representative, but it is also qualities that are difficult to handle. The fact that we are incarnated Jutlanders limits the number of prima donnas you get in such a place – even when talking about sales representatives. Nevertheless, sales representatives will always be characterized by a high professional status.

Several of the insurance sellers in the sales office in Randers also objected with statements such as: “You don’t seriously expect me to go visit a large pile of customers, do you?!” However, this was exactly what they got to do.

– Because it is not that awesome to attend the Race Meeting and admit that you didn’t quite came around to visit the number of customers you had planned to visit. It was an extremely hard process as the trivial elements proved to be the difficult part – just doing what you had decided to do. Deep down inside, they all had to acknowledge that this had to be done on a completely different level. And then they had to act upon it. A great joy and satisfaction emerged after the “fight” with Race®concept.

– I noticed it clearly once when I asked one of the insurance agents: “Isn’t it great to be the superstar you’ve always thought you were?”

The sales office in Randers achieved an increase of 50 percent – planned revenue of 12 million Danish kroner turned into 18 million Danish kroner. 

But how was the condition of the employees’ well-being after that tough struggle? The employee satisfaction surveys after the ride with Race®concept was a surprise. We are speaking of a 360-degree leadership measurement on 10 leader characteristics.

Employee satisfaction survey peaked

The office manager achieved the best-ever survey and my own survey was absolutely fantastic. It is no secret that we were very anxious before the first survey following all the changes. We thought: “How will they repay us?” And it turned out just fine in the first survey. It shows that people are crying out for attention. It especially matters to the young people that you are interested in what they are doing.

Morten Bach strongly recommends other managers to undergo the same process he and his employees in Randers went through.

– I can’t emphasize it enough: reach out to your employees immediately. You can be close to come capsizing. Then there is nothing else to do than peel of the surface and do something about it inside yourself. Get rid of all the excuses. It is just a waste of time, says Morten Bach.

Figures motivate

It does not surprise ResultPartner that the employee satisfaction survey turned out as it did in the Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension sales office in Randers.

– After all, Race®concept is based on a structured and humanistic approach. The humanistic part dictates that you must know your employees, you must know what level they are at and you must be able to figure out how to deal with each of them should. Meanwhile, the structural part of Race is mostly aimed at the figures. And people are happy about that. This is precisely what the good survey from the insurance employees in Randers shows.

– Normally, managers don’t make a big effort to regularly update the employees on figures and results, while they are implementing a change of strategy. But they underestimate the great motivation that lies in the figures. Employees want to know the goals and results. They want to know what they should achieve – what they are working towards. Goals and results are always important, says Lars Moeller from ResultPartner.

A new Danish study ”What eats into and nourishes the Danish employees’ motivation” conducted by the consultant agency PS4 A/S is targeting the factors that nourishes and eats into employee motivation. The study confirms that efficiency and having contributed to a performance out of the ordinary are the two most nutritious factors of motivation.

– It breaks with the myth that the implementation of changes for managers and employees is uncomfortable and leads to unmotivated staff and poor environment surveys. The situation is actually the opposite. When you organize a process and a change in the right way, you will be able to implement the strategy execution and change and at the same time improve the organization’s motivation. And then the employee survey will naturally only turn out well.

– When you have to implement a strategy it is essential that you are able to involve the managers and employees and be close to them, as in the case with Morten Bach and his office manager, James Christiansen, during the process.

Managers and employees can be very different – depending on where you are in the country. That was another important factor which ResultPartner had to take into account, when carrying out changes in the various offices of Alm. Brand Insurance and Pension.

– As an example I experienced that the mentality was very different in the other side of the country. This leads to an interesting observation. It was certainly easier to get people to go along with the big ambitions in Glostrup and Elsinore than it was in Randers. In return, when you made an agreement that something had to be done, you felt more confident that things would actually get done in Randers. This fact of course means that you have to coach people differently.

In Jutland, it was mostly about getting them to dare to set the bar higher and talk about ambitions. And in Glostrup and Elsinore it was mostly about being structured and persistent to ensure that they actually completed the planned activities, says Lars Moeller.

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