Startups are no longer the little brothers of big corporations.They’re not only competing, but insome cases, they’re winning the battle for market share. Manyare following the lean startup model, which incorporates a “worksmarter, not harder” mentality to eliminate bureaucratic headachesand constantly improve.

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Just like agile startups, insurance agencies must constantly learn and iterate to improve theirbase products. Becoming a lean organization begins with addressinginefficiencies and ensuring that constant improvement is the statusquo.

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These four strategies can help agencies stay lean and keepimproving:

1. Build a culture of introspection

Inertia is one of the most challenging barriers to processinnovation. If you don’t regularly take a step back and examinewhether a process is necessary or optimized, you run the risk ofcontinuing to do what you do because that’s how you’ve always doneit. Benefits are too important to people to keep things stagnant,so if something doesn’t work, change it. Never get attached to asunk cost.

2. Automate inefficiencies and manualprocesses

Paper-based businesses should not exist in 2016. Agencies mustfind ways to cut the paper out of their workflows and bring theirrecords and communications into the digital age. Not only doesautomation make processes faster and less labor-intensive, it alsomakes everything more accurate — and that’s a big deal inbenefits.

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Any job that doesn’t require brainpower should be automated, aswe discussed in part one of this series. Systematictasks like prospect emails, employee communications, customerservice requests and technology implementation are allopportunities for automation. If you have to hire someone new toservice every group you bring on, you’re missing out on anopportunity to dedicate resources to more important things.

3. Optimize your people potential

Startups often rely on agility to compete, and whether abrokerage is big or small, it has to cut through red tape. The bestway to do so is to keep people motivated, engaged, aligned with thecompany mission and accountable. The first step is making sure thatyou have the right people dedicated to the right jobs.

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Lean companies get ahead by remaining open to change andoptimizing processes and schedules for the people performing them.By remaining introspective and measuring time spent versus the ROIof every activity in the business, brokers keep their agenciesagile without getting attached to inefficient processes and sunkcosts.

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Any job that requires discretion and intelligence is best leftto a person. Assuming that humans havenearly unlimited potential, there is always a way to optimizesomeone's workflow and increase their value to thecompany.

4. Customer insights over intuition

One of the biggest insights to come from the lean startupmethodology was the concept of the minimally viable product pairedwith a cycle of iteration. Lean startups understand that as anorganization building something, you don’t always intuitively knowthe best way to solve your customer’s problems, because you don’tlive their problems every day. Instead of investing time andresources up front to build something “perfect,” agile companiesbuild a minimally viable product — a product that will solve acustomer’s basic problems — and then innovate and iterate based oncustomer feedback until they create something people love.Gathering customer insights rather than acting on intuition iscritical to this process.

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Brokers must provide HR tools that give employees the power tofix issues on their own. No one has time to make phone calls andwait two business days to get an answer on a benefits question.Brokers need to spend their time bringing in new business, negotiatingbetter products for their groups, and recruiting and retaining toptalent. Better systems have higher upfront costs, but theopportunity costs of wasting time in outdated processes are muchhigher.

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The most competitive benefits advisors learn from the mostinnovative startups of our time: the ones that have always beenlean and work hard to continually get even leaner. You can weavelean practices into your consultancy services and enable thecompanies you work with to get lean as well. Be introspective, gopaperless, optimize your people, and value your customers’ insightsso you can spend more time growing your business.

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