You have run toward disruption, as Peter Sheahan advised last month, but then what?
Those who are advancing in their field recognize that disruption is constant. Whichever branch of financial services you are in, you face ever-changing client expectations, market realities and regulation. The first step is getting comfortable in that space, Sheahan said in the first half of the interview last month, and in his seventh book, Matter.
But what do you do once you get there? Or maybe the better question is, what does it matter? That is the second step for having not just a successful business but ultimately a happy career.
The first line in Sheahan’s book is “Does your company really matter?” He goes on to ask: If your company is dealing in commodities and is basically commoditized, then what is its real value?
Finding this answer is essential to thriving when you are in the disruption zone. Locating that alignment gives you the platform to operate there.
Sheahan helps large organization find and keep alignment. His company, Karrikins Group, and its staff of 120 are spread over seven countries. In this interview with INN Publisher Paul Feldman, Sheahan reveals how to find your own alignment.
FELDMAN: We have talked about getting unique content to distinguish yourself. How do you get that?
SHEAHAN: You start by asking yourself four questions. No. 1 is, what do I really think about this?”
No. 2 is, how do you connect the dots that you aren’t necessarily connecting? Look to connect dots that people aren’t necessarily connecting.
The third is projecting multiple scenarios into the future — and asking how they might play out.
No. 4 is seeking a disruptive statement that captures your attention. It is that one line that finishes with an exclamation mark that really gets people going, “Well, hang on. Wow, that’s a bit counterintuitive.”
FELDMAN: Yes, it is interesting that people don’t look at these basic questions of themselves and they don’t have this level of insight.
SHEAHAN: But it’s the stuff that matters most. So here’s an analogy: If you study humans and their level of personal happiness, there’s a lot of research to suggest we’re our least happy when our kids are home. The most joy came prior to having kids and after they leave.
But if you asked anyone what the happiest times in their life were, they’re going to say when they had their kids. The reason they do that is they codify their memory and they put disproportionate meaning to singular events and then paint the entire experience by that singular event.
There are these moments of meaning, these amplified moments of opportunity, these moments of truth, these touch points.
When you’re selling life insurance, something that’s invisible, sometimes those moments are harder to put your finger on.
When you go to a coffee shop, it’s the smell when you walk in. Well, what’s your version of the smell when you walk in or the sound of a Harley-Davidson? Then how does that experience yell “value”? How does it yell “support”? How does it yell “expertise”? How does it yell, “I couldn’t get by without you”? And being intentional in curating that is really the point I’m getting at.
FELDMAN: How would you do that with life insurance? How do you create a discovery phase that includes that sense when you’re meeting with a client?
SHEAHAN: There are a few questions to ask yourself.
One is, what’s the client journey of which discovery would be one part? Two, what are the critical things for me to understand about the client in that journey? Three, what are the critical points of pain or insight that we’ll have that positively predisposed to my solution? And four, how do I design an experience that consistently extracts those points of pain or those moments of insight that position my solution?
You look at adding some great data on the role having a financial plan plays when rolling over a 401(k), for example. You want to see the map of the whole journey even though you might then break down individual parts of it because it’s interrelated, they’re inter-dependencies.
FELDMAN: Once you have found these answers, you say the next important thing is to deselect some of the things you do. Can you tell us about that process?
SHEAHAN: I actually think capacity is the core issue. I haven’t met too many brokers who aren’t working hard, but I have met plenty who aren’t doing the hard work because they’re bogged down in minutiae or in low-value activity.
Sometimes they’re hiding behind the minutiae and the low-value activity. But if you look at the upper echelons of your readership, the guys who are doing seven figures and more, I bet you at different points along the way they got relentless about what they were prepared to do and not do.
I bet you they were smart and putting in support around the highest value activity to take away a lower value work. Even though the short-term gap in income due to expenses went down, they looked to grow greater revenue using a higher value time. I think capacity is the productivity discussion, it is the effectiveness discussion.
You can’t expand capacity without arbitrage, which is like the role technology plays or without the selection and focus. So, I say it’s the principle of doing the deselection, and frankly put it on someone else’s plate. Do only the things that only you can do.
FELDMAN: Once you have alignment, how do you make sure it stays aligned?
SHEAHAN: Bloody hell, how long we got? [laughter] That’s a big question. I have a company with 50 staff dedicated to solving that problem.
Alignment. So, here’s the deal. There’s no shortage of good ideas. But they don’t all have the impact we most want.
Alignment is a process of clarification. What does success really look like? And then relentlessly focus on only the things that get you to that outcome, and basically just be happy not doing anything else.
But if you’re running a decent-sized book of business and you have two or three staff, then it’s not just about whether you’re able to do all the right things that are in alignment with your outcome, it’s about whether they are able to as well.
You clarify what success looks like for them. You define the criteria for how you measure that. You make sure they understand the processes that are not negotiable.
It’s about understanding the right things to be done and making sure people are doing the right things. That’s really what alignment is about. It’s the magic, by the way. It’s the secret sauce to success.
FELDMAN: How do you ensure that people are aligned correctly?
SHEAHAN: It’s defining what success looks like for them personally. If you want to ask your average broker or agent what success looks like, they would give you a set of generic answers or give you some production numbers. That’s not a level of specificity that drives behavior.
It’s specificity like: How many hours are you working? What kind of business are you doing? What’s your average policy value and what kind of client are you serving? What’s the breadth of products that you offer? What is your average dollar sale?
I’d get to a level of specificity that really drives decision-making. And then out of that alignment, it becomes a little bit easier.
So, I’ll give you an example. A lot of people in my space have extremely robust social media presence. I don’t. People constantly are frustrated with me for that.
But I know that because I’m clear on success. I’m able to evaluate whether social media activity on a daily basis is an extremely valuable investment in my personal time and I often come up with the answer “no.” But the only reason I know how to evaluate that is because I’m clear on what success looks like for me.
FELDMAN: So, people are not specific enough in defining success and working back from there?
SHEAHAN: Correct. Of your 50,000 readers, 49,995 of them aren’t even close to a level of clarity that puts tension on their own decision-making and behavior.
I think people are afraid of being specific because it means you begin to say no to things, and people don’t like saying no to stuff. They’re worried that they won’t get there, so they take every dollar of revenue that gets presented or every client.
But those of us who are really successful in business know that not every dollar of revenue is created equal, and sometimes there are better clients. If you’re afraid of turning your back on anything, then you see yourself on this self-perpetuating spiral downward.
FELDMAN: You talk a lot about people “stepping into their power.” What do you mean by that?
SHEAHAN: I tell myself that every day as well. People are more capable than they give themselves credit for. Usually, the distance between them and what they really want to achieve in their life is their own stories about why they can’t do it.
We see it with CEOs. Company strategies are reflections of the CEO’s ambitions.
FELDMAN: If I’m a 55-year-old insurance agent and really not accustomed to thinking in those terms, how would I start stepping into my power?
SHEAHAN: The first step is acknowledging if you feel like you’re under-cooking it a little bit. If your level of production doesn’t seem worthy of your capability or of your ambition, that tells me there’s a gap. Whether it be a lack of discipline; whether it be not doing the hard work. We all know that businesses get built through prospecting, not through maintenance.
I haven’t met someone feeling that tension who didn’t know where they were coming up short. And actually, I don’t think I’ve ever met an executive or an entrepreneur who didn’t have some sense as to why. So I think that level of self-awareness is where the process begins.
FELDMAN: What kinds of questions are involved in getting to this level of self-awareness?
SHEAHAN: Am I achieving at the level I desire? Am I getting the level of joy from my work that I would like to? Am I in a position to make a greater contribution and impact than I am? Anything that has a generative opening could be a good start.
Then the second set of questions might be, what is really preventing me from having that? What am I spending too much time doing? What am I spending too little time doing? Why do I find myself gravitating toward the low-value work rather than the high-value work? What am I hiding from? They are a second set of questions to get clarity.
FELDMAN: Is there another level of questions then to identify what that person’s power is?
SHEAHAN: When I talk about stepping into your power, I’m not talking about some unique skill or talent. I’m talking about stepping into what’s possible. It’s achieving at a level worthy of your potential and capability.
It’s probably more closely linked to Marianne Williamson’s famous line: “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; it’s that we’re great beyond measure.” Like we’re as scared about what we’re capable of as we are what we’re not capable of. I’m talking more about holding yourself back.
FELDMAN: Why don’t more people challenge themselves that way?
SHEAHAN: Because asking the question creates an immediate sense of dissonance. It’s disruptive to your own security and status quo.
You cannot ask the questions without feeling tension. You cannot ask the questions without acknowledging that you’re not growing at the level you should be growing.
You can’t ask those questions without acknowledging that you’ve been underplaying it a little bit.