“We believe that in order to be successful in recruiting and retaining high-quality people, it starts upfront in terms of you always are recruiting,” says the president and CEO of Brown & Brown Inc. “You don’t sort of do it when you need somebody. We’re always looking for people, and we’re investing in new people coming into our business in all cycles of an economy. So, my point is, in each community that we participate in, we are always trying to look for the most talented people.”
Everybody at the insurance company is a salesperson in some way, shape or form. If you can sell, you can succeed. Brown always wants producers, someone at the front end trying to develop new relationships.
That’s why Brown doesn’t limit himself in who he or his employees recruit for the company, which employs 5,400 people and posted more than $977 million in 2008 revenue, up from $959 million the previous year.
Talent can be found at the competition, from a similar industry or from out of nowhere.
“Not unlike many other businesses, it’s about the ability to take action,” he says. “Meaning, pick up the phone and go and see somebody or talk to somebody and set up an appointment to talk to them about their insurance,” he says. “(It’s) the ability you have to break an existing relationship because people are already buying insurance from somebody else.”
Always keep an eye out
Brown is so serious about recruiting the best talent that he allocates a portion of corporate revenue each year for new recruits. If a Brown & Brown office finds a recruit that it wants to hire but doesn’t have money in the budget, the allocated money can be used to solve that problem.
“Because when we come across really high-quality people to advance the company down the road, we want to invest in that talent,” he says.
Depending on the position, Brown and his staff devote 25 percent to 40 percent of their time recruiting.
“It’s a full-time job,” he says. “Meaning, in addition to all the other things, you’ve got to allocate a percentage of your time to recruiting high-quality people.”
Brown uses every opportunity to recruit. If he’s having a friendly conversation, he talks about his company a little and asks if that person knows anyone who might fit with the organization. If he or she doesn’t, then it’s no big deal for Brown. But if the person does, it can lead to finding a gem all from one simple question.
Brown will then pick the person’s brain about the potential candidate, and if he likes what he hears, then he meets with the candidate in person. However, there is always a chance that the person isn’t really in the market for a new job. Don’t view a meeting with a recruit that didn’t result in a hire as a failure.
“We don’t ever want to go into a meeting thinking it’s a waste of time, but sometimes you meet with people and they’re just not a fit,” he says.
While Brown & Brown allocates money for numerous new recruits, not every company can do that. Sometimes you might have two recruits that you really like but only have room for one. If that happens, let the second choice know that you really like him or her, but the candidate needs to be patient. You don’t want the candidate walking away with a bad feeling about your company.
“If you thought the second person was really good, I would be really open and honest with them and say, ‘Listen, we just don’t have the opportunity for you right now. We really like you. We’d like to stay in touch because we think that we have another opportunity in the next six months or nine months or three months, and we’d like to continue talking to you,’” he says.
There are essentially three layers of management at Brown & Brown.
There are managers who run the local offices around the country, and they report to regional executive vice presidents, who report to Brown and his team.
Since Brown & Brown is big on promoting employees, a lot of those managers have grown through the company. That’s why the interview process is so important at the company. If they find the right person at a producer position, that person can be molded into a manager.
“We have lots of opportunities for leadership in our organization,” he says. “If somebody comes in and shows they can sell insurance and, more importantly, they can help recruit more good people to our organization, which is what all of our leaders have to do, then we can find an opportunity for them.”
Qualified candidates are given a personality profile test. From there, they proceed on to the interview, while the test is graded after the day of interviews.
“We think the personality profile is a very important indicator of potential success,” he says. “If it basically says that we think there is a potential match, then you get significantly into the interview process. If the thing says we don’t think there’s a match, then we might basically say, ‘We just don’t think that there is a fit.’
“Remember, we’ve probably already interviewed them one time anyway. So, any personality test is not a surefire way in successfully hiring people. We think of it as a tool to help qualify potential talented candidates. So, it doesn’t say, ‘Here is a potential candidate and they’ll make it.’ It’ll say, ‘Here is a potential candidate that we think could make it.’”
That’s when you need to really get to know the person through the interview process.
You want the candidate to feel comfortable in the interview so he or she will answer questions openly. Ask candidates about some of their hobbies or what they do in their free time for starters.
“It’s good to not talk about the core interview questions upfront,” he says. “I like to just get to know somebody.”
You can also give some background on yourself, such as what you do in your free time or how you ended up with the company. This creates a more conversational feel, rather than you firing questions at someone.
“I want you to feel comfortable to say anything you want to say,” he says. “You’re coming in with your guard up. I want you to relax and basically say, ‘Look, the bottom line is, we’re just talking about our business, and I want to talk to you about your background and see if there is a potential fit.’”
Once you get to the work-related questions, don’t make a snap judgment that you like the person, letting him or her coast through the interview.
If an interviewer says he or she immediately liked someone right off the bat, Brown asks the interviewer if he or she really asked the tough questions. He wants to make sure the interviewer really dug deep in the interview.
“I always like to start at the beginning,” he says. “I mean the beginning is maybe high school. ‘Tell me about yourself, and what you did in high school, and why you went to the high school you did and were you involved in sports or were you in other extracurricular activit
ies? Did you work in high school? Where did you go to college? Why? Were you involved on campus?’ … and kind of go through it very systematically.”
If there are any gaps in the resume, ask about those, as well. There isn’t a specific answer that Brown has in mind. He just wants to find out about the candidate.
“I don’t have a preconceived answer that is bad or good,” he says. “I want to understand why the person is the way they are today. Quite honestly, we are looking for people who are long-term players. So, if you have somebody who’s had lots of jobs, that’s a question — I have a question automatically, in a short period of time, because I don’t know if they are going to be committed long term to any company. I want to walk through all of that very closely with them.”
Don’t do it alone
You can be entering dangerous waters if you think you can handle the interview process on your own. You need multiple people involved in the process to get a feel for the person and for the person to get a feel for his or her potential work environment.
You don’t want to give someone a false interpretation of the work environment, because if you hire the candidate, he or she will quickly find out the atmosphere is different than it was advertised.
“Different people read people differently,” he says. “That cross section of people gives a very good understanding and creates a clear picture to the candidate of the job expectations.
“So, it’s not just the leader or the leader and the sales manager creating the image of the work environment that they’re going into. The more the candidate understands about the company and the individual job, the higher probability of success.”
Typically, when hiring a producer, the local office manager along with a sales manager will talk to the candidate. Then the candidate will meet for about 30 minutes with two to four seasoned producers, who have been at the company a few years.
However, don’t forget about employees who have only been at your company a year or two or who are younger.
“They give the person a very real-time understanding of exactly what they do,” he says. “Many times that person may be more similar in age. So, if you are 28 years old and you are talking to someone who is 22 or if you’re talking to somebody that’s 26, you might talk to them a little differently and feel more comfortable than talking to me at 41 or somebody that’s 55 or 60.”
After meeting with a newer employee, the candidate would also potentially meet with one or more other team leaders, like someone from the marketing department.
“So, there’s no magic number. … It’s identifying a handful of people that are available on a certain day to meet with this candidate,” he says.
While it’s beneficial to involve others in the interview process, don’t just do it for show. You have to create an open environment, where people will freely give input.
“I want people on the team to be part of the success of the office,” he says. “People feel good about being asked to be in the process. I respect and want their candid feedback.”
One way to create that environment is to explain to an employee why his or her favorite candidate wasn’t chosen. It can be a discussion on why you thought the candidate he or she liked wouldn’t have fit. There could have been a topic you broached with the candidate that produced a red flag, which the employee didn’t think to ask about.
“We can agree to disagree on a candidate, but I want them to understand why I disagreed with their assessment,” he says. “They still don’t have to change their mind, but they understand why I made the decision I made.”
Don’t treat those decisions lightly. The better employees you recruit, hire and develop, the better off your company will be to face any challenge in the future.
“Recruiting and enhancing and retaining of high-quality people is one of the single most important things that we do as a company,” he says.
How to reach: Brown & Brown Inc., (813) 222-4100 or www.bbinsurance.com