Feeling like you’re in the dark is uncomfortable. That lurking notion that an unpleasant surprise is around the next corner. 

When the doors are closed, there is skepticism and hush-hush conversations—hearsay, assumptions and all of the stuff experienced businesspeople try to avoid when entering into a deal.

There’s no trust without transparency.

Progressive firms recognize that sharing information and trading ideas help the good become great and compete in the toughest markets. Transparency builds trust. Trust builds teams. Teams build outstanding businesses. And thriving companies attract talent and buyers—they perpetuate and continue as industry leaders.

Sharing is where it all starts. Managing with transparency is the bravest way to build agency business. It’s not easy to open the books and invite people in to see the good, the bad and the ugly. Sure, talking about business highlights is awfully nice. But what does anyone gain from painting a pretty picture?

When we are transparent, we gain accountability. We owe it to ourselves and our peers to seek continual improvement, to be top performers. When we get real about business, we get better. We gain partners who share ideas. Everyone wins.

I say this as many of us gather at the 2016 Insurance Leadership Forum this month to share ideas about what makes a best-in-class firm. We often discuss performance metrics for agencies across the industry. But the question is, are we being honest with each other? I hope so, but I believe there is much room for improvement.

Top-performing agencies achieve greatness because they are comfortable admitting imperfection and humble enough to say, “We can do better. We can keep improving.” That transparency inspires other firms to lean in and reveal their wins and losses. They talk about what worked, what failed, what they wish they could change, how they reached a milestone, what it took to meet a goal, what they plan to do to continue rising. The list goes on.

It takes an honest, brave firm to start and to continue those tough conversations. And we believe that those that do will benefit tremendously because they establish relationships with peers who are on a journey to become best-in-class.

So, do you prefer to pull the curtains and share only the good news? Do you talk about so-called best practices and gloss over the hard lessons learned? If the answer is yes, we understand. But now is the time to take a deep breath and be honest. Be transparent. It’s time to hold one another accountable as businesses—as an industry—and consider how our compounded knowledge could improve every one of our firms.

In our experience, those agencies that are transparent are the most attractive to buyers. Merger and acquisition deals go smoothly; sellers benefit from their honesty.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Share my ideas? What if someone steals them?” Or, “This is proprietary—no one else can find out about our sales process!” And there’s always, “We worked too hard to tell all.”

Stop the reel of excuses that get in the way of transparency, because here’s the thing: not every agency will adopt the ideas you share. Most firms fail to execute. In fact, if every business executed on even half of the strategies they bring to the table, as consultants we’d be out of a job. Execution is the ultimate roadblock to growth.

And no two businesses carry out the same concept in the same way because we’re all too different. Yes, we operate firms in the same industry and deal with the same issues. But, every agency is unique. We translate the same ideas into strategies that work for our people, cultures, clients and markets.

That said, we encourage you to open up and share your wins and losses with industry peers. Tap the power of networking with people you can learn from and who can learn from you. No one succeeds alone. We need partners and support.

We can all get better when we let our guard down and talk honestly with one another about how to grow in the future. So, no more curtain calls during conferences. No more peacocking and sharing only the “best of” stories. No more sitting quietly. Open up. Listen up. And then perhaps we’ll all grow into the top-performing firms we aspire to be. 

Market Update

Deal activity in August was sluggish, at just 18 announcements compared to 40 in July. August marks the fewest deals announced of any month this year. BroadStreet Partners reported the most deals during the month (3). Overall, there have been 277 announcements through August, compared to 322 to this point in 2015.

BroadStreet has reported the most deals year to date, with 22 announcements. Both Acrisure and AssuredPartners are following closely behind with 20 announcements each. Notably this month, AIG sold part of its recently acquired stake in NSM Insurance Group, a national program administrator, to a joint venture that will be majority owned and operated by ABRY Partners. ABRY is a private equity firm with several other insurance holdings, including The Hilb Group and Confie Seguros. AIG purchased the controlling interest in NSM from ABRY in 2012 after its initial capital investment. This is not the first time we have seen a private equity partner back multiple brokerages or brokerages and carriers, and it does appear to be occurring more frequently.