“Let your employees try new things and grow from the experience.” with Dennis Brown and Chaya Weiner
Don’t shut down ideas. Let your employees try new things and grow from the experience. Even if the idea doesn’t work out in the end, they need to know that someone had their back and believed in them. I always say that as long as your work is done, you can use your time to tinker with new ideas. We love innovation.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis Brown, the owner of M&O Marketing, a leading independent marketing organization in Southfield, Michigan, that provides support, service and innovative creative services to independent financial professionals nationwide. Dennis owns and operates the company with his wife Denise Brown, Chief Administrative Officer. Together, the two have grown M&O Marketing into one of the leading and longest-standing insurance marketing organizations in the business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started in the insurance business in 1977. I was 23 years old when a colleague, Frank, told me that I should be a salesman. The next year I was named “Salesman of the year.” As life is, I think that my career path was about timing and opportunity, but most importantly, knowing the time and place for success.
In 1987 I got into the brokerage business because I saw the opportunity that it presented. At that time, people were leaving the insurance business. I got in at the beginning of a shift and was able to grow.
Today, we have 60 employees working at M&O Marketing and work with thousands of finance and insurance professionals throughout the country.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re currently working on a number of exciting projects for our agents and employees.
Our two big projects are Facebook marketing for our agent’s financial education seminars and an infomercial for the different markets our agents are in. We’ve realized that the average person is underprepared for their retirement. In the old days, everyone had a pension, Social Security and their savings. When they retired, they had those three things they knew they could rely on. Now, people have to save in their 401K and there is doubt about Social Security. Our job is to create community awareness for products that these hardworking people can utilize to save for retirement, like life insurance and annuities. We’re working on making these products a mainstream method for retirement income.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It seems that young people have more pressure now. Things were simpler back in the day, but now we have technology that is changing the world at such a fast rate that it’s hard to keep up with.
My father worked at a factory for 43 years. It was a means to take care of his family and live the American dream. He got fulfillment from the joy outside of work, like spending time with family and his hobbies. Today, everyone spends so much time at work. It can be sad. We’re all searching for something. I think a lot of times, people have to start looking at the blessings they have in their life, not the things they want.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Once there’s an employee with a bad attitude, it can spread like a cancer through the company. The employee will voice their unhappiness and it can suck the positivity out of other workers. For employees who come to work and want to work, negative coworkers create a bad energy that affects people even beyond their workday.
When attitudes are down, productivity is down. An unhappy employee will do minimal work and give a million excuses, which then extends to the clients, who will begin complaining or leaving.
For me, managing a company is a lot like managing a family. You have to recognize that each of your employees are different and require different methods of making them happy or resolving problems. Each employee wants to feel valued and that they have a purpose. They come into work and want to have something to do. It’s my job to make them feel that purpose. If they’re bored, they’ll look around and see other employees who have projects, they might start to assume that they’re not worthy. I try to take the assumption out of the equation by making sure each person knows their purpose within our company.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
· Don’t shut down ideas. Let your employees try new things and grow from the experience. Even if the idea doesn’t work out in the end, they need to know that someone had their back and believed in them. I always say that as long as your work is done, you can use your time to tinker with new ideas. We love innovation.
· Lead by example. As an owner or a manager, you set the pace for your department. Come in on time, have a good attitude. Your employees will follow suit.
· Keep communication 100% open, everywhere. You have to be open and listen to your employees. If they don’t have anywhere to voice their frustrations, they’ll leave. As an owner of the company, I try to make sure that every employee knows they can come to me with a problem.
· Work with your team. A manager’s workload should be just as heavy as their employee’s. You need to hold your managers as accountable as your workers, the hierarchy doesn’t matter. If they can’t manage their department, they are the problem, not the workers.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think society is in the middle of a work culture shift. People want to make things fun at work. In our office, we try to bring the staff together as much as possible with projects that we’re interested in and work for us.
We celebrate birthdays every month and frequently play games during the day with prize options. We celebrate holidays and treat our staff to frequent lunches. Every winter we host a desk decorating competition and challenge our employees to decorate as big as their imagination allows. We had outside voters choose our winners this year, who got extra vacation days for their hard work.
Most importantly, we celebrate our employees and their accomplishments, big and small. We recognize everyone for what they do and give them the option to lift up their coworkers as well and be awarded for it.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
We treat our business and employees like a family. We’re a small company, we get to know everyone on a personal level, even our customers and agents.
In our business, we deal with people’s money, so there has to be more than a traditional business transaction. It’s scary, they trust us to hold their money and we have to grow it so they can feed their families and continue their lives. It requires transparency. The minute they think we’re hiding anything, the trust is lost.
We treat people with respect and appreciate them coming in every day. When you start letting people know you appreciate them, they do better. I don’t want employees to come in and feel like they’re working in a hierarchy or dictatorship.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Daniel J. Rourke was my mentor in the business. He talked to me every single day. He showed me how to do the business, how to treat people with dignity, respect and honor. He is truly one in a million. Even after he retired, we still talked every day. But throughout the years, I’ve found that I can learn from anybody and everybody. We’re all role models in our own way.
Also, as a couple, I think we have helped each other, and everyone in the business has helped us as well. Being married and owning a company together can create issues, but we’ve always worked together. From growing the business to raising a family, we’ve supported each other through everything.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We raise money each month for charities that our employees decide on. It’s a great way to get everyone involved in giving back. Also, during the Christmas season, we take our employees to Target and let them fill grocery carts with toys and games that we donate to Toys for Tots. This year, we were able to fill our entire lobby with toys for local Detroit kids. We’ve also recently created the DMB foundation where we hope to further give back.
Unfortunately, in our industry, there are shady professionals who will sell insurance products to people based off the commission rate, not what that product can do for their clients. We don’t tolerate that. We hold our agents accountable and don’t let them write business that doesn’t have their client’s best interest in mind. We teach our agents to be empathetic and kind. It can be a challenge, but we like to solve problems here. If we find out that an agent is starting to fall off the wagon, we give them a call immediately.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always stand on principle, even if you stand alone.” This quote has gotten me through the challenges of running a business. I knew things had to be done, and sometimes, if I’m the only one who believes in an idea, I trust things will work out enough that I won’t tolerate something I know isn’t right.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The golden rule, treat everyone how you want to be treated. I’m a religious person, but it doesn’t bother me if other people think differently. We all believe in something. I like to thank God for my blessings, and I think everyone should take a moment to reflect on what they are thankful for. To me, at the end of the day, all you really have is your faith.
Thank you for all of these great insights!