As a result of the recent global financial crisis, media pundits say "change" is necessary to recover and move forward: change your organization, marketing, technology, and so forth. That's nothing new, as the "business of business" is change, but just how do you go about changing your advisory firm?

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.

 

SOME DEFINITIONS

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.

 

EMOTIONAL RESCUE

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.

 

ATTENTION, PLEASE!

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.

To reduce uncertainty even further, I set up a voluntary training program that created a guaranteed win; it paid staff to attend each meeting. The training was on communication skills, goal setting, and management and personal accountability.

To make it more fun for employees, there was an attendance multiplier. The better the attendance, the larger the year-end bonus. I got everyone's attention, and they were all emotionally involved in the training, which could help everyone reach our new client goals.

Am I dealing with a bunch of mercenaries? Absolutely not. At the beginning of the program, I helped each staff member link the financial rewards to his or her emotional goals. I removed push-backs such as fear, confusion and delay by setting a three-month time period where all they had to do was show up at meetings to be rewarded with hundreds of dollars.

Once the training program started, I introduced required reading. I kept their attention by surprising everyone at a training session when I awarded cash to the first and second individuals who had given me a requested "book report." Their response told me that the next time I recommended a reading assignment, there would be an even higher level of compliance.

Finally, I created a sense of urgency by setting some deadlines for the various contests and award programs. When you are working to create a culture of change, building a sense of urgency is crucial to moving the project along.

Professor John Kotter, author of A Sense of Urgency, says it best: "It all starts when large numbers of people see a big opportunity and develop a gut-level drive to get up each and every day determined to do something, however small, to help exploit the opportunity."

 

NOW WHAT?

So what are you doing to exploit new opportunities? As a leader, you'll develop ideas and goals involving staff in new and different ways. To keep these good ideas from getting buried, put naysayers, hidden agendas, delaying tactics and anxious individuals' concerns in a public forum. This gets everyone's attention and is the most effective way to keep ideas from being shot to pieces behind your back.

Then, get buy-in by involving everyone emotionally and intellectually in ways that align individual objectives with company goals. You can lead change, watch change or wonder what has changed. Use a buy-in strategy to lead your organization to the next level.

Glenn G. Kautt, MBA, CFP, EA, AIFA, is chairman of The Monitor Group in McLean, Va. For more information, email him at kautt@themonitorgroup.com.