One of my favorite yoga poses is called “mountain.” You stand tall with a straight spine, arms down at your sides, head looking forward, eyes open, with an attitude of quiet awareness. It's a passive pose that allows you to gather focus and prepare for the more active poses to come.
Sometimes, it takes a huge effort to leave the comfort of mountain pose, and move on to the challenge of, say, “warrior,” in which the arms are held taut at shoulder height and the legs are firmly planted about four feet apart, one knee bent, eyes blazing with determination. In mountain pose, you listen. In warrior pose, you command.
What leads me to think about these yoga poses? Eight years after NASD (the regulatory body for the securities industry) enacted noncash compensation guidelines that had many implications for the meetings and incentive programs of member companies, too many financial services providers — and meeting planners — remain frozen in the passivity of mountain pose.
In part because, as one planner explains it, the guidelines are “purposefully vague,” a wait-and-see attitude has prevailed for many. Rather than making such changes as implementing an incentive qualification structure that gives equal weight to total sales performance across all product lines (even nonproprietary), some companies have chosen to fly under the radar while they wait for the regulations to be clarified. Until they come under scrutiny by NASD or other industry regulators like New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office, that is. Then, usually after the company has paid huge fines, meetings and incentive programs are overhauled as part of a larger package of compliance that leaves no room for doubt.
But one company that moved immediately to warrior pose to comply with industry regs in the late 1990s and, not incidentally, has profited handsomely since then, is St. Paul, Minn. — based Securian Financial Group. Securian is the 10th-largest private company in Minnesota, with 2004 revenue of $2.2 billion. Its assets have doubled since CEO Bob Senkler, a staunch advocate of the ethical high road, took the helm in 1994. Last year, when Securian's Director of Recognition and Conference Planning Koleen Roach told me that Senkler had been contacted by the dreaded Spitzer himself — not to target Securian for noncompliance but to learn about its exemplary sales practices — I knew this was an important story to share with FIM readers.
“Because Securian operates with tremendous integrity and high ethical standards, we didn't waste a lot of time pounding the proverbial square peg into the round hole when it came to changing our recognition structure,” says Roach. To learn more, turn to page 18, where she and Senkler share the details of Securian's remarkable success story with contributing editor Alison Hall. Then, bring this article to the attention of your chief executives. Perhaps it will help to convince them that doing the right thing can also be a wise business decision.