When you look at companies that have succeeded in turbulent times you, will find those that embrace strategic planning fare the best. Strategic planning is found to have a positive impact on organizational performance and is a must for enhancing an organization’s capacity to achieve its goals.
As a title professional, now may be a good time to review your strategic planning process and look for ways to improve it.
Before you begin, it’s important to realize what a strategic plan really is. A strategic plan is a complete and comprehensive activity. It is not document or slide presentation created at the beginning of the year and then tucked in a drawer. The steps of the strategic plan include selecting your team, analyzing current situations and considering future possibilities, defining objectives, creating the plan to realize the objectives, communicating and implementing the plan, and monitoring and adjusting the plan. As you see, “planning” is an important element of the strategic plan, but it’s certainly not the only element.
Here are some things to keep in mind while building and executing the various parts of your strategic plan.
Selecting your team
Be really honest about your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and where you might need to upgrade. An essential requirement for performing the strategic plan is to make sure the members of your team are up to the challenge – psychologically strong, honest, respectful of competitors, accountable, focused, principled and confident but not arrogant. Are their moods appropriate? Nothing thwarts a plan like negativity from a leader, and nothing helps motivate a team who can share their passion for the future of the organization. Ask yourself: do the members of your team embrace the importance of strategic planning, or do they think it’s a distraction from the “real work?” If you’re a business leader, it’s important to reinforce the importance of strategic planning, particularly in a challenging market environment.
Analyze current situations and future possibilities
The next step is to assess current situations and future possibilities both inside your business and outside in the market. The idea here is to ground your assessments about the current situation. Asking the question “where are we now?” is a way to think about this analysis. Internally consider your systems, procedures, and people. Look at your income and balance sheets, sales projections, customer satisfaction, market share and competitors. A SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) is commonly used. When you have considered the present circumstances and characteristics of your company, then move externally to review and write out your assumptions about customers, competitors, the market, and the economy. Try to stick to the facts and leave emotion and speculation out of your data gathering. As human beings, we have a habit of overestimating our capabilities, so it’s important to ground our assessments.
With your facts in hand from gathering data, now it is time to set objectives. Asking the question “where are we going?” is a common way to think about this phase. Consider the future you would like to see for your business. What are you hoping to produce at the end of the year, in 18 months, in two years? People tend to think in one, short time horizon, so it’s important to consider your objectives over multiple horizons of time. It may also be helpful to view your business objectives in light of your organization’s Mission, Vision, and Values.
One problem with many plans is that there are too many strategic objectives. Keep it simple and real. Get clear about what’s important and urgent and what is not. Of course, remember that people − real human beings − must perform your plan. Be realistic about what your team can do, and what they cannot do. Finally, do one last “gut check.” Ask yourself if your objectives are competitive enough. Said another way, will you be satisfied if you achieve your objectives? While it’s important to think simple, it’s also important not to think too small, particularly in a challenging market like we have now. You need objectives that will get the job done.
Strategies and tactics to realize objectives
Now it’s time to ask “how will we get there?” How will the objectives you have outlined be achieved? Consider the work your organization faces as you seek to convert on your objectives and make a plan specifying the members of your team who will do the work, by when, to what standard and how much you expect it to cost. It’s helpful to think in terms of SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound. After you have a rough plan, it’s important to try to pick it apart. To plan with confidence, it’s worth considering where the plan is most likely to break down. Some common flaws include poorly trained employees, poor data gathering and analysis, underestimating competitors, disregard for the importance of new tools and technology obligations, overestimation of sales skills (or other skills), and the lack of new products and services to keep up with change.
Communicating and implementing
When communicating your plan to the company at large, keep it simple, keep it SMART and make it important. Your plan has taken a lot of work and it represents a brighter, more successful future for your company. It’s a big deal, and it’s worth getting excited about. Your management team has a key role in holding the strategic objectives and tactical focuses outlined in your plan. Reinforce them. Be proud. Encourage your team to repeat over and over again what the team is doing and why. Use the same language, the same distinctions, the same graphs and charts. Communicate budgets, timelines, and what people are doing what. Honor their work by sharing key metrics and tell stories about milestones achieved. Hold regular meeting rhythms for key employees that focus on breaking down barriers and resolving issues that stand in the way of team goals.
Monitoring and adjusting
The final step in performing the strategic plan is to monitor, evaluate progress and adjust as needed. As a traveler checks the signs along a road while completing a journey, so to must we track progress toward our objectives. If you are a leader, it is important to maintain discipline and enthusiasm for the plan. Remember that adage that no plan survives first contact with reality, so adjust as needed, but … resist the temptation to trash your plan completely. On tough days that temptation may be strong, but remember the brighter future you and your team have envisioned. Keep progress moving toward your goals, even if you must take a step backward now and then. In closing, the strategic plan is a living and evolving set of commitments. Performing it requires continuous updates, interpretations and assessments of key metrics and situations. The more effective your practice of the strategic plan, the nimbler and more resilient your company will be; greatly enhancing your likelihood of success in these turbulent times.
The “R” word is one of the most feared words in the marketplace today: RECESSION. There’s a lot of debate around whether the United States is in recession, but whether you call it a recession, slowdown, correction, or a normalization, it’s clear the market is changing.
As a title professional, now may be a good time to consider taking action, particularly if you’re already seeing some slowing in your market. New situations like this present new dangers and requirements, but they also present opportunities.
Let’s start with the dangers. The most obvious threats are reduced sales or revenues, which could threaten profitability and put pressure on cashflow. Those are troubling possibilities, but good management techniques can help you navigate these potential headwinds. Here are some steps to consider:
Keep a close eye on your business metrics
- Get accurate revenue numbers and watch them carefully.
- Seek realistic sales projections. Know what’s in your pipeline, and in your customers’ pipelines.
- Watch expenses closely.
- Know your “cash-burn” rate (i.e., how long you can operate at a loss).
Hope for the best, but make a plan for the worst
- No one likes layoffs, but you should have a plan. Make this as soft as possible. You may consider salary “freezes” and percentage salary reductions as an option should conditions warrant.
- Work with landlords, vendors, suppliers, and banks for more favorable terms.
- Build a “war chest” or “rainy day fund.” Having cash-at-hand is prudent.
- Consider a line of credit. Seasonal slowdowns, roughly October through February, may make cash flow challenging. One alternative may be to obtain a reasonable line of credit from a trusted, local lender that can be used for short term coverage of payroll or extraordinary expenses “just in case” it is needed. The line of credit option creates flexibility for expense management.
Having discussed the dangers, here are some new responsibilities you may face in a contracting economy:
Get your game face on
- Things are a lot more competitive. There is more competition for each revenue dollar. Prepare your team to compete more effectively.
- Keep a close eye on your competitors. Know what they are doing and where they may be looking to take market share, your employees, etc.
- Take special care of your best customers. Know where your revenue is coming from. “Show the love” to customers who may be at risk.
- Find partners you can trust. Look for loyalty, financial strength, and assess the risk of being betrayed. Some underwriters may put increased pressure on you to make minimums, or they may cut staff or divert resources to support their direct and affiliate operations while neglecting your needs. Find the partners that are going to be highly responsive to your needs so you can get your difficult deals closed.
- Watch out for “bad moods.” Your team members may worry about slowing market conditions or even about being laid-off. Fear and stress can make it difficult to compete. Company culture is important. Stay close to your team and engage them. Get their input. Share your action plans.
- Make new commitments. Revise sales projections and requirements for the sales team. Now is the time to invest in your team’s selling skills and marketing efforts.
- Find efficiencies. It’s time to streamline processes and improve your systems. Seek ways to do more with less.
If you cope with the threats, fulfill your obligations, and have adequate financial capital, you may have the chance to take advantage of opportunities in a slowdown. Some of these opportunities include:
Improving the quality of your team
- Upskilling – consider education and training for your staff including CE, CLE, and sales training.
- One consideration is to hire top performers from competitors. Of course, you want to remain vigilant for competitors looking to “poach” your employees.
Become a bigger and better company
- Now may be the time to consider purchasing a competitor for a discount to expand into new markets and to obtain new capabilities.
- You may wish to rethink your customer experience and employee experience to give you a competitive edge.
- Streamlining management and operations can help you become a more agile company. This might include bringing in new technology to do more with less and to improve turn time and accountability.
- Consider making new offers – such as commercial transactions, education and training for your real estate agent customers, or new digital capabilities for customers such as mobile apps.
Regardless of whether the economy experiences a soft landing, hard landing, stagflation or a recession, anticipating what you might do in advance of these situations is essential to the success of title professionals. By planning ahead, you can overcome market challenges and adopt a new “R” word to describe your organization: RESILIENT. Of course, your Alliant National agency representative or agency manger is always available to discuss market conditions and ways to help your business thrive!
You are looking at a photo of a house on Mexico Beach, Florida which was the location that Cateogry 4, Hurricane Michael, made landfall on October 10, 2018.
Almost all of the homes surrounding this home were built to 1970s Category 3 hurricane standards set by the local government. You can see what happened to them. Catastrophic destruction.
This particular home was built “for the big one.”
In this case, a Category 5 hurricane standard, able to sustain winds of 250 miles an hour and very high storm surges.
The owners of this home took the time to think for themselves and choose to work with different standards, higher standards, so they could cope more effectively with the new set of threats being created by climate change.
Given the picture above, here’s the question to ask yourself as an independent title agent: What standards am I building my business to?
Where am I getting those standards and what is the motivation of the source that is giving me that information? How reliable are they? Is it appropriate?
As the Independent Underwriter for The Independent Agent, we at Alliant National think for ourselves.
What should those standards be considering that our agents success is our success, that we don’t compete with them by having direct operations and our entire business model is organized around helping our independent agents thrive?
As you may have surmised, our standards are higher. Alliant National is the independent underwriter for THE FINEST Independent agents in the industry, and we have evidence to prove it.
From 2013 through 2017 the title insurance industry had an average loss ratio of 7.7 percent. Alliant National’s loss ratio for that same period was 3.4 percent. That’s performance!
How do we do it?
We offer quality assurance certifications to help our agents meet the needs of regulators and bolster their credibility with REALTORS and lenders.
And we have our own processes verified and certified to be the finest in the industry.
AUTHORIZED SERVICE PROVIDER
The Authorized Service Provider designation is determined by an audit using the stringent SSAE 18 Type 2 (SOC 1) examination process.
We send a formal letter and seal to each agent for every year they carry the Authorized Service Provider distinction, which can be shared with third-party vendors.
CERTIFIED SERVICE PROVIDER
The Certified Service Provider designation also comes with a formal letter and seal, which can be shared with third-party vendors.
To achieve this elevated distinction, an agent must submit additional documentation for review while satisfying Authorized Service Provider and ALTA Best Practices standards.
SSAE18 TYPE II CERTIFIED
Alliant National was the first title insurance underwriter in the nation to obtain an SSAE18 Type II compliant status and is the only title insurance underwriter to achieve compliant status for four consecutive years.
ISO 27001 CERTIFIED
We’re also the only title insurance underwriter in the industry to receive an ISO 27001 certification, validating that we adhere to the most rigorous International Organization for Standardization (ISO) requirements – just another example of how Alliant National assures quality and helps manage risk for our agents.
So choose your standards carefully.
Know the motivations of your underwriters and why some set standards high and why others set standards low so you’re more at risk.
Our standards are built to last, built for the big one, and built to help our agents thrive.