In my September 2009 column, "Forward and Back," I described why a culture of change is so important in any advisory firm. In this column, I discuss how that culture's working in our firm and how our staff is buying in to change.
First let me take a moment to review a few important business definitions. You are a successful "manager" if you use defined job responsibilities and organizational systems, processes and procedures. If you have a clear understanding of your job and the jobs of those you manage, implement organizational rules and processes and appropriately use rewards for those you manage, then you are considered an excellent manager.
On the other hand, you are a successful "leader" if you create, foster and implement change, innovation and shifts in structure, systems and processes. If you can execute timely, appropriate and necessary change, then you are considered an excellent leader.
The dual skills of managing and leading are necessary in every successful organization; both functions must be executed well in order for a firm to grow and prosper. Unfortunately, most small business owners-including financial planners-don't work hard to build leadership skills.
So in this column I focus on change leadership and how it's working in our practice. We'll talk about management skills in future columns.
As I thought about actions that would help our advisory firm reach new goals, I had to determine what we could realistically accomplish. To do this, I used a core leadership trait-foster the change that is appropriate for the organization.
This change did not require traditional problem solving, planning or changing the organization or staff. Rather, it required setting a direction, motivating and inspiring others and aligning the staff's thoughts and actions. Ultimately, I had to get emotional buy-in from everyone.
"Buying-in" means accepting an idea or goal and making it part of your everyday frame of reference. However, getting buy-in is not just an intellectual exercise. It is equally a matter of the heart, because feelings ultimately drive people to do things and change their behavior.
In an organization, all the emotional energy has to point in the same direction. This can be difficult to do. Unless everyone lines up and moves in the same direction, you could end up with the business equivalent of a train wreck.
How did I achieve buy-in from my colleagues and employees? Three things must happen, the first of which may actually be somewhat counterintuitive:
* Capture people's attention.
* When they are paying attention, win their minds.
* When you've won over their minds, win their hearts.
Why capture everyone's attention first? Experts suggest the average adult is bombarded with about 10,000 ideas, requests, questions, suggestions, proposals and demands each week in verbal, visual and written form. Assume just 20 are good ideas; what are the odds they'll be noticed in this information tsunami?
Assume you're standing in front of someone having a conversation. What's the chance he or she is really listening to what you're saying, let alone ready to act on your idea?
To engage an entire organization, get everyone it will impact in the same room, literally, as you unveil your ideas to get them on the same page. Here's where it gets counterintuitive: You will invite-and even encourage-everyone to express anxieties, concerns, questions and even critical comments (leaders' ideas get attacked too).You will undoubtedly get their attention as you get their push-back.
Leaders have to learn how to deal with the objections to their ideas for change. Unfortunately, this column can't delve into how to overcome really bad pushback techniques-fear-mongering, delay, confusion and even outright ridicule. That's a subject for a whole new column.
MINDS AND HEARTS
My goal was to engage all staff to increase both our client base and gross revenues, so I expected anxiousness, uncertainty and even fear of something new. I started by asking everyone questions, including what each person wanted to accomplish financially in the next year.
Once the conversations were focused on what they wanted, I had their individual attention. Then, we talked about how the firm and I could help them reach their goals.