Seubert & Associates develop employees Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

You’d never guess the median age at Seubert & Associates is 48. The 80 employees there — like the one who went skydiving for his 90th birthday — act much younger. Even President Brian Long donned a guitar on his 39th birthday and has been rocking with his band, Midlife Crisis, ever since.

“Although our median age suggests we’re middle-aged, we do believe that continued education keeps you young,” says Long, who led the insurance agency to 2008 revenue of $12.5 million. “I think the way to keep a mind sharp is to be looking at constant and never-ending improvement.”

Smart Business spoke to Long about encouraging employee development.

Q. How do you make your company flexible for development?

We do not have a pyramid org chart. Certainly, you have areas where somebody would report. A pyramid suggests that … if everybody wants to grow within that organization, that some are going to have to leave just because there aren’t that many seats at the top.

Our org chart is what we call a circular org chart. The inception date of [a customer’s] insurance policy is the start of our service timeline. As president of the company, I might have something to do with the service on that account. Everybody has their piece. So if somebody has a claim, it goes to our claims operation. When we’re approaching a renewal, it would need to go to our marketing people to solicit additional insurance quotes, etc., so we can come back to (the) inception date of the policy.

None of us are wired [for a pyramid] so we do profiles on all of our people, including me. I don’t have the perfect profile for president of an insurance agency. I have some areas that I might be good in, some that I might be lacking in. The superstructure allows us all to be somewhat palatable teammates. If I’m lacking in some area, another teammate needs to feel open enough that they can approach me. That it’s not a top-down management structure. That they can say, ‘Hey, partner, you’re weak here,’ and kick me in the tail.

Q. How do you create an environment that encourages development?

In addition to having a café at every location where we have healthy food, we have a gymnasium at one location. We have personal trainers that come in. So we’re saying you should be working harder on yourself than you do on your job. We try and practice what we preach.

We do ergonomic studies, as far as how our workstations should be laid out. We usually like to remodel about every four or five years, just because of the way our systems tend to change. So we just redid our commercial insurance division. Their workflow changed, so we had them sit down with an architect and build out the workflow.

So it helps to have a nice physical environment with pretty furniture and nice surroundings, but the biggest thing about your environment comes from inside you. So you can be sitting in wonderland, but if your attitude is, ‘Life sucks,’ you’re going to get what you expect.

I like the philosophy that Disney has — where you’re not employees, you’re cast members. Even though you’re having problems at home and your kid’s giving you issues, you shouldn’t [have] a lousy attitude. You’re playing the part of the happiest person in the world during that day.

Unfortunately, people don’t separate what happens at home versus work, which is why you need to start saying, ‘All right, the home is what matters first. If that ain’t going well, sometimes work can be your panacea.’

Q. How do you develop employees?

Our entire review process is set up on individual goals. They’re not all done at the same time. Jan. 1 is when everybody does reviews. How much thought can you get in if you’re going to review 30 people in one month? We do every six months from their date-of-hire so they are the only one that has a review on that time frame.

It’s an employee self-prep form broken into simple sections: What were my accomplishments? What would I have done differently? And then: What would you like to see different from your supervisor?

So they’re really going to share with me, ‘Here’s what I’ve done the last six months.’ How does that line up with what you’re going to do in the next six months?

You try and make goals that are definable, quantifiable. So [if] it’s ‘to learn more about insurance,’ that isn’t going to really tell me too much. If somebody says, ‘I want to get a Certified Insurance Counselor designation within this time period,’ we’ll break that goal down. So if it’s a 10-point professional designation, we might say, ‘All right, how many parts are we going to get done in the next six months?’ The review process, which becomes a self-review, helps [facilitate] personal development.

We [also] have what we call self-enhancement plans. We dedicate $1,000 per head if somebody wants to do something to improve. They need to do a one-on-one interview with me.

We started our healthy workplace initiative five years ago. I was very concerned that it would come across like most wellness programs — which means you give people a pedometer, they wear it for two weeks and then they get bored with it. A lot of people, that isn’t where they get self-actualization.

So I’ve said, ‘Anything that you want to do — if you’ve ever decided you want to learn another language, take a pottery class, take dance. — we will bonus you money to improve yourself. So we want you to practice what we preach, which is work harder on yourself than you do on your job.’

How to reach: Seubert & Associates, (412) 734-4900 or www.seubert.com