In this episode, we talk with Mark Williams who has run two very successful insurance brokerage companies. You will understand what mid-level leaders should be doing and how they can become effective in the business they are running. Learn how to set up your core values as a leader, to properly lead people instead of just focusing on sales.
A thought leader in the financial and insurance sectors, Mark’s been muscling his way up the ladder since age 16 when he asked a local business owner to grant him a job. No experience. No resume. Just guts and an enviable work ethic.
Today, Mark Williams is the CEO of Brokers International, earning his seat at the table every day. And expecting others to do the same. He’s known for saying, ‘if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working very hard.’ Mistakes are just as important as wins in his book.
Narrator: Welcome to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where you'll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You'll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when emergency strikes, fully fund a growth program, and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you will have a sale‑ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want, in the way you want.
In Cracking the Cash Flow Code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he's learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning, and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh Patrick: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. And you're at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. You're in for a treat today. We're going to have a whole lot of fun with this conversation. We have Mark Williams with us. You can find him at www.markwwilliams.com.
For people who are not watching us on Facebook and YouTube, Mark has been the founder and just recently sold a very, very, very large insurance brokerage, RIA, wealth management shop, insurance business. But we're not going to talk about the sales process. We're going to talk about how you can take your life as a business owner and think like a middle manager.
You know, too often I think that smaller private businesses, those who have under 25 employees, they get stuck there. And the reason they get stuck there is because they haven't ever learned how to be good leaders and managers. They're good doers. So, we're going to talk to Mark today about what you might want to do to be making some changes to become a better manager and leader. And he's got some really good stuff on that. So, let's bring mark on.
Hey, Mark. How are you today?
Mark Williams: Hey. Doing great, Josh. Thanks. And thanks for having me on the show.
Josh: My pleasure. So, let's start off with this. I kind of think that a lot of times where private business owners get stuck. And you deal with insurance agents, and brokers, and all that kind of stuff. So, most of the people who you've done business with over the years have less than 10 employees in their shops.
Mark: That’s correct.
Josh: And they all have a real problem. It’s that they don't really learn how to expand their scope of management so they can have more people working for them. And I think it's something we might want to spend a little bit of time talking about. Do you have some thoughts about that?
So, one of the things that we do, at Brokers International, we do business with smaller agencies, about 70 of them. And you're 100% correct. On average, those agencies were started by very good salespeople who wanted to build a business. And so, they started to hire and, lo and behold, they realized that they're maybe lacking in management skills or, because they are great salespeople and they're good at managing emotions and relationships on the sales side, they feel that often they have the gift of management. And I have found that oftentimes they need a little bit of work around the management part of running a business because the sales they do well but what doesn't come naturally is leading people often enough.
So, I spent some time and I put down some thoughts of that in a book about leading people, how it's not just about getting people to do what you want to do. It's helping them get where they want to go. And it's setting up core values. And it's reward and recognition. And all of the things that we think of as a leader but doesn't necessarily come naturally.
Josh: Yeah. I love that, that you help them set up core values because, in my opinion, that is the number one thing if you want to have a personally sustainable business. You can have an economically sustainable business and not have any values whatsoever. But you're not going to have a personally sustainable business because you're going to find you have people in your company have values mismatches. At least, that’s my experience.
Mark: You bet.
Josh: So why do you start with values?
Mark: Well, I start with values because I believe a business has to exist for a little bit more than just making money. We can all make money doing something. But, if you exist for a greater purpose, I find that your employees are more driven. They're more invested in the business. And so, you start by describing your business and what's important - the values that are important to you.
So, for example, let's say it's ethics or doing the right thing. If that's an important thing that you want-- that permeates from your personality and that's the business. The business is you and your personality. You want to make sure that that's emphasized. So you want to hire people that have high integrity. You want people that care about the customers who have integrity. So, you have to start with those things that mean something to you. And those, usually, are our core values.
Even if you don't own a business, Josh, and I'll ask you about your family, you'll tell me the things that are important to you - the relationships with your kids or your extended family. That's an important thing for you so you might say you’re family oriented. And then you build the culture around those things you find important. And that, I find, is your core values. That's why we start there.
Josh: That makes a lot of sense.
Now, when someone says, “I have a value of integrity,” for example. You know, the challenge with that is my definition of integrity and your definition of integrity, very possibly, are two completely different things. Maybe it’s--
Mark: You bet.
Josh: So, how do you get people--
I have an answer for this, by the way, but I'm curious. I want you to think about this. How do you get people to know what you're thinking when you say, “My core value is integrity” or “One of my core values is integrity”?
Mark: Yep. Great question.
So, literally, on a piece of paper, I would invite you to define your definition of your core value. So, not only do we say it’s integrity. It might be doing the right thing at the right time. Now, if that's my definition of integrity, I'm going to describe it to my customer or to my employees. And not only that, I'm then going to provide an example.
So, envision literally a spreadsheet that on the left‑hand side, it has their core value, in the middle has the expression, right? Do the right thing, always with the right intention in mind. And then, finally, an example. It's five minutes of 5:00. You're on the phone with a customer. The customer speaks for 15 minutes. You are now past closing time, but you remain on the phone, and you fulfill that customer's need after hours. That's doing the right thing.
So, now, I've provided the core value, I've defined the core value. And then, I've even given you an example of what I find is the right action to that core value. And if you do that across three to five core values, your employees and your customers will understand exactly what you mean.
Josh: So, why don't you want to go past five values?
Mark: I think it's like a buffet. The more you have, the tougher it is to decide. I think, with most things, even when I look at my tasks for the day or the quarter, I try not to give myself too much. It gets watered down. There's too many things. We've defined too much. So, I say to narrow it down to three to five things that people can associate with because the longer that list, the more watered down or the less impactful those three to five things are, in my opinion.
Josh: Well, I happen to agree with you 100% on both. I'm also no more than-- I never let people have more than five core values. You may have more than five values, but they can't be core.
Josh: You're right on the money as far as I can see, when it comes to talking about how values you want to be values led. In my opinion, it is the keystone, the cornerstone of what it takes to create a sustainable business. Without values, you can't have a sustainable business.
Mark: And the second step to that which is probably equally as important is now you have to have the business live and breathe those core values. And what do I mean by that? You should be hiring based on those core values. People that instill those core values, whatever they may be. You should be rewarding and recognizing those core values on a regular basis.
So, I love the expression rewards and recognition is like religion. If you only do it, you know, once a year, it doesn't really soak in. I feel the same way about rewards and recognition. And the way you emphasize your core values is by rewarding your staff on the work they do that exemplifies their core value. But you also don't allow people to not live by the core values in your organization. So, you have to manage up and/or manage out based on those same core values. And then your company will start to live and breathe-- in my opinion, live and breathe those values and your customers will feel that.
Josh: Yeah, that makes perfectly good sense to me. And that's my experience over the years. Companies that use values and use them in a regular basis do better than companies that don't. It’s that's simple.
Mark: You bet, 100% agree. In fact, on one of the chapters I write on is performance reviews. I believe it's incredibly important to provide feedback to those that work with us. And that feedback can be geared towards your core values. I'm going to reward and recognize the things that you've done that are core value‑based like working with a team, providing excellent service. But I'm also going to give you constructive criticism based on those core values. “Hey, I'd like to see you do a little bit more of this.” Or, you know, one of our values is ethics and this situation was kind of suspect. And so, I'm going to talk, and I'm going to review, and I'm going to constantly emphasize those values within our organization. And that's when you really feel your company start to live and breathe them, in my opinion.
Josh: Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of performance reviews. I’d rather do performance coaching. My problem with reviews is I'm looking back over the last 12 months and, if I do that once a year, it's kind of a useless activity. If I can do it on a regular basis, it becomes something that's more useful.
So, let me ask you this question. If I'm doing a review or I'm doing a coaching session with somebody who's working with me, do I want to help them improve what they do well or improve what they do poorly?
Mark: Oh, great question. And I’d probably say both, if we can do both. And the best analogy for those that are sports fans. Every single play in a game, and I don't care what sport you follow, is watched and reviewed not only for the things you do well. “Hey, you executed the pass to your teammate fantastically well. Let's do more of that.” But they also criticize the things you don't do well so you can learn next time.
So, hopefully, if your process for sitting down with your employees is weekly one‑on‑one’s or monthly one‑on‑one’s, it should be regularly frequent. And I believe it should focus on both. “Hey, you're doing this great. And, in fact, we can make it even greater by doing X.” And/or, “These are the things where, 90% of the time, your performance is fantastic but in these two or three areas, you could use a little bit of work. And I'm going to provide you examples of that.” That is actually hitting on both of them - making you better at what you're good at and making you better at what you're not so good at.
Josh: Yeah. Well, I kind of like it. I'm definitely a better‑at‑what‑you're‑good‑at sort of guy. I'm an appreciative inquiry fan of positive psychology, depending on how you talk about it, because I have always said to myself, “You know, I'd rather be world class than mediocre.” So, if I'm focusing on what I do really, really well, I can get to world class. And if I focus on what I do not so well and get up all the way up to mediocre, then what I'd rather do is manage what I didn’t do well which brings me to the next phase of where we want to take this conversation which is I'm the owner of a company. I'm going to be playing middle manager. And middle managers tend to be focusing on improving what you're doing poorly, not what you're doing well, and you need to learn to manage what you do poorly, in my opinion.
Mark: I would agree.
There's a chapter in my book called managing like a sports team. And, again, I'll go back to sports because I think there's a lot of lessons in sports.
Josh: There’s a lot.
Mark: We look at a position - we need positions filled on the team. Very similar to a company, there are positions that need to be filled. And those positions start with whatever you're going to pay someone to do the accountabilities are holding them accountable for.
And, again, I'll go back to the three to five. You may do a hundred things during the day, but I'm paying you to do these main three to five things. These are the things we focus on. These are the things that need to be executed well. That's why I hired you. That's why I'm paying you. I'm going to focus on those three to five things. Now, that's not to say that there are other areas that, Josh, you could work on but, remember, we're focused and I'm paying you to do X.
So, if you're a hostess in my restaurant, I want you to greet people the right way. I want you to seat them to their table. I want you to make sure that the tables and the map is up to date and ready for the next customer. Those are the things I'm paying you for. On occasion, you might roll silverware. If you do that mediocre, that's one thing, but I need you to do the three to five things that a hostess does extremely well. It might seem like a simple example but you can break that down to almost every position in your company and have that same conversation.
Josh: Yeah, I call that success factors. I think this is a big mistake that people make. When I see job descriptions, I often see a laundry list of activities you have to do - do Excel, understand Word. Yeah, you might have to do those but those have really very little to do with your success in the job. There are other things that are success factors. And if you have those three or five things, and I measure you on those three to five things, there's a really good chance you're going to actually know what you need to do to be great at your job.
Mark: You bet. You bet. Focus.
And especially in small companies, where most people have to wear multiple hats. Listen, if you're in a small company and there's trash on the floor, it's your job to pick up the trash. It's also your job to answer a phone when it's ringing. It's your job to lock the doors at night. It's your job to make sure that computers are turned on or turned off. That's tough in a job description but it's other duties as assigned. But I'm still focusing on the three to five to six things that, ultimately, your job is responsible for. The others are ancillary, but I hired you to do X. Let's do X a hundred percent.
Josh: So, let's talk a little about the biggest bugaboo, I think, when someone goes from being a supervisor to a middle manager which is-- or an owner of a small company. And that big bugaboo that I keep seeing where people fall on their face and they give up is in learning the fine art of delegation.
Mark: Oh, I knew you were going there. You bet.
I just had this conversation, this past weekend, with a very dear friend of mine. I believe that everything that leaves my company, because I'm the president, has my name on it. So, of course, I want it to be 100%, right? I want it to be perfect.
But if I am controlling everything that leaves my company, it's going to be very difficult for me to (1) grow and (2) gain the respect of my employees. So, at some point in time, in order to grow, I have to let go. And I think that's the toughest thing for someone who's running a new business - any business, actually, new or old, it's very difficult to delegate and trust that the output will still remain at the level in which you want it to. So, oftentimes, yes, that new leader becomes the bottleneck and the source of frustration for your downline employees because of that control and lack of delegation,
Josh: And what they tend to do-- at least, this was my role, and it seems to be almost anyone else's role that I've ever seen, who learns how to delegate, is they go back and forth between being a micromanager to a macro abdicator. And, at some point, there's this sort of, you know, middle ground. And to get to that middle ground requires two things, in my opinion, one is you have to learn how to trust the people that you work with and you have to learn how to work in a culture of mistakes. So--
Mark: This is literally like talking inside my head. There is a quote on my wall, outside of my office, that says, “If you're not making mistakes, you're not working.” It's impossible to be perfect. And unless you embrace, and allow, and empower your employees to mess up every so often, you'll struggle, and it'll get worse. So, I one hundred percent agree with you. And that is an incredibly big challenge.
And what I share with most people is take it one day at a time. Give up something easy to give up, right? So, maybe it's making introductory calls to your brand‑new customers. Let someone else on the team handle that and monitor the feedback. Start with baby steps. Give up the smaller things first and you'll feel how natural and your employees will actually love the fact that you're entrusting them with more and more, but it is a slow process. It's a process that needs to be learned and I would say relatively quickly, but you have to start on the smaller things first. Otherwise, you won't let yourself get there.
Josh: That's really good advice. The thing I hear a lot of times is, “Well, I can't let my employees do this because they're going to make a mistake and, if they make a mistake, everyone's going to hate us.
My experience is I always ask people. I push back on this. I say, you know, “Tell me what your employees could do which would seriously impact the success of your business.”
Mark: Outside of stealing, almost nothing, probably.
Josh: They’ve been stealing. I can tell you how hundreds of thousands of dollars in theft. I used to be in the food service and vending business which was a cash business. And I think, over my 20 years, we have way over $2 million stolen. And we still managed to make it through and pay our bills every year. So, even with theft, you can make it through. But the truth is, there are very few decisions that anybody who works for us can do anything that’s going to really majorly negatively impact our business.
Mark: I agree. And I have also found that some of the most endearing moments I've had in my career is when I admitted I did something incorrectly or made a mistake, even as the president of the company. And I have found it endears employees to me. It endears customers to me, when I literally tell them, “You know what? I made a mistake. This is something that I either thought incorrectly, or I miscalculated.” And, actually, it's genuinely I believe, appreciated when you admit that. And it does make you seem a little more human. And it does make your employees feel, in my opinion, like you're much more accepting and gracious about those types of mistakes.
Josh: Yeah. Well, that brings up a word which is not used in business nearly enough which is vulnerability. And I can tell you from going through a metamorphosis, where I was invulnerable, where I presented like I was perfect to being someone who, on a regular basis, screws things up, it makes you more real and a lot more approachable. And I'm 6’5” and kind of big and mean, and curmudgeonly. So, I needed all the help I can do with becoming approachable.
Mark: You bet.
And I love that word. And I can't agree more. And I would submit that, in almost any relationship that you have - whether that's work or personal, showing that vulnerability is a very endearing quality. And much to what you said, it does make you feel much more approachable and much more like a human being. And I think that goes a long way.
Josh: Yeah. No question about that.
So, let's talk about motivation for a minute. I mean, one of the things you wrote down here is motivation is more than money. Talk about that for a second.
Mark: Yeah. There's an old Zig Ziglar quote, “If I can help you get where you want to go, I'll get where I want to go.” And most of us have different definitions or destinations we'd like to go.
And, in my career, I have found, as an example, I have some employees that don't live to work. They work to live. This is a job for them, not a career. And they're very good at their job. And I need people like that. They might work in new business, or at my front desk, or the facilities people. They want to come to a good working environment. They don't want to rise up. They have no aspirations of being managers, or presidents, or vice‑presidents. They are motivated by their family, by spending time with their family. So, offering them an increase in salary, although sometimes they're appreciative of that, oftentimes, it's another day off, maybe it's five or six more days off a year, so they can spend it with their family, maybe it's a personalized gift instead of just the normal.
So, what we tend to do is believe that people are driven the way we are. And so, we mirror ourselves and what motivates us and we portray that on others. And that isn't always the case. And I have found that, if we can learn what others are motivated by, it oftentimes isn't money. It's something either intangible or a different tangible that produces the same effect - loyalty, a little more hard work, appreciative of the business and what you do for them. And it isn't always money.
Josh: It's actually rarely money.
Once you get somebody in the door, money is only a motivating factor when you're trying to hire somebody. And all that is a screen. Are you going to pay me enough so I can be happy? And after that, all the research has shown that money goes down to like number eight or nine on the list of employee satisfaction over the years. And, for some reason, business owners seem to ignore that every single time.
We have a staff here of 110 which is a decent‑size company. And I have found that many of our employees, when given the opportunity to take-- a great example, a holiday party. We do a holiday party every year. We offer a small holiday bonus in cash and then we do a party. Given the choice, I would tell you that the majority of our employees would prefer the party than additional cash. It's viewed as a holiday weekend. We really do it up. And the feedback we get is that it's part of the culture and giving the money won't create the same feeling. And that's literally responses that we've gotten from surveys from our employees about that specific event and how motivating it is and culture driven that is. And that beats money. And that's a great example of what we have found internally.
Josh: Mark, you are a fascinating guy probably because you agree with everything I say.
Mark: Probably not everything but for business, for sure.
Josh: Well, you know, maybe we can go offline and figure the rest of that out.
But you've built yourself one heck of a great organization. Just to let our listeners know, 110 people in the insurance brokerage business isn't big. It is huge.
Mark: Thank you.
Josh: I think, Mark, you told me that you're doing several billion dollars in annuity sales a year. That's a lot of money.
Mark: Yeah. So, Brokers International. We're out of Des Moines, Iowa. Thank you very much. We are distributors of life insurance and annuities. We work with over 50 carriers. And, yes, we write a good amount of both life insurance and annuities. So, thank you very much.
You can find us at Brokers International or biltd.com. You can find me at markwwilliams.com. I'm also on LinkedIn. So, please feel free to look up Brokers International or markwilliams@bi on LinkedIn. And love to have a conversation with any of your listeners.
And I've got two things I want you to do. The first thing is a really pretty easy thing to do. It’s really important for the podcast. I would love to have you please give us an honest and, I mean, an honest rating review. If you love us, say you love us. And if you don't, I guess, you can say you hate us. But please say you love us because that's more fun for me.
The second thing is I have just last-- well, I was recording this last Tuesday, my second book has been released, The Sale Ready Company. It's a continuation of my friends, the Aardvark’s. And John Aardvark is getting ready to leave his business.
It's really easy to get the book. We have it discounted for $7.95 which means you just pay shipping and handling. I've got a whole bunch of bonuses, on a special site, that will help you create a sale‑ready company yourself. It’s easy to get. You just go to www.salereadycompany.com. That’s www.salereadycompany.com. You can get the book there. You get the bonuses there. And you can let me know what you think about the book and even review that too.
Hey, this is Josh Patrick. We're with Mark Williams. You're at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You've been listening to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?”
If you've liked what you've heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102, or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.