As you grow and serve more clients with increasingly complex needs, it’s almost impossible to get everything done and create a successful business on your own. The challenges of our field require us to bring on employees, teammates or partners (sometimes all three) to provide exceptional client service, add capacity and achieve great results.
This might seem obvious, but it can be a tough proposition for financial advisors, many of whom enjoy running their own shows and making their own decisions. These are admirable traits of course — but they’re not traits that always make it easy for others to work with you.
While most advisors do work with teams — even sole practitioners often have strategic partners outside the firm — many don’t work effectively with their team members.
There’s a good reason for that. You likely became an advisor to help make a difference in clients’ lives, not to be a manager. And yet, here you are with a team to oversee and motivate. That’s why so many advisors struggle to build and maintain teams that generate high-performance results.
Advisors in our coaching program tell us that the biggest challenges they face are:
- Empowering team members to make more decisions.
- Helping team members feel that they are part of the big picture and not just “doing tasks.”
- Finding the right team members.
- Compensating the team well and appropriately.
- Communicating their vision and plans to the team.
- Getting individuals to work together and march toward a common goal.
- Implementing change — particularly, getting buy-in from the team on new ideas and approaches to running the business.
Sound familiar? I’d bet that at least one of these concerns has kept many of you up at night. In particular, compensation is a sore spot. Advisors often think that if they solve that issue, they’ll have a great team. But the reality is that there are more foundational issues that need to be addressed — things like your purpose and intent, and the reason why your team exists. Compensation, while important, is not a magic pill that solves all your team-related issues.
Here are a few smarter ways to inspire your team and create a high-performing practice.
CLARIFY YOUR MISSION
Organizational consultant Jon Katzenbach defines a team as “a small number of people, with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
That “common purpose” is especially crucial. Everyone in your organization needs to know why they exist as a team and what they must accomplish. When leadership is accompanied by clear goals and a sense of purpose as a team, you can have a 24% boost in productivity, according to Moss Adams research.
To begin, you need to have a clear mission — a firm idea of where you are now, a vision of where you want to go and a recognition of the gaps that need to be bridged. Make sure you have four components in place:
- Clearly defined and communicated firm goals and objectives.
- Clearly documented and communicated employee roles.
- Clearly communicated performance reviews.
- Clear career path and team structure.
As you can see, communication is key. Plenty of advisors can tell you their mission statement and goals. But when you ask them if anyone else at the firm knows those things, the answer is no.
Be especially clear on team goals. Advisors want to grow, but they often don’t get their teams involved in setting growth goals and other objectives. Your team needs to understand what you want to achieve as an organization both quantitatively (more AUM, for example) and qualitatively.
As the team leader, you are probably dialed in to those goals — but I’d bet that others in your firm are much less clear. A team member at one firm told us, early in the process, “We are all in the same boat, but no one has told us where the shore is.”
If you can communicate your vision and why you want to achieve it, your team will know where you want to go, which puts them in a position to help you get there. Otherwise, they just spend their days doing a series of tasks.
Consider getting together with your team and asking them what success looks like to them. Ultimately, you want everyone to be able to accurately fill in the blanks to the following statement: “We will go to _____ from ______ by _____.”
Chances are, you have guiding principles for how you work with clients — but few advisors create such principles for their own teams. Once you have common goals and team buy-in, how are you all going to work with each other? What will serve as ground rules for reaching goals together?
You want standards that encourage mutual respect and collaboration. Some standards that I’ve seen be especially effective include the following:
- All team members’ opinions are equally valued
- The team will discuss, analyze and attack problems — but not people.
- Once the team agrees, everyone speaks with “one voice.”
- Aim for consensus, not democracy: Everyone gets a say, but not necessarily their way.
- Silence is treated as agreement.
Some people have a hard time with the idea that all team members’ opinions are equal. But even the Blue Angels have this standard when they debrief after a mission. There’s no rank at those meetings — all the members can say what they want, and be heard.
Create such standards and communicate them formally, in a written, widely distributed document. Buy-in will become easier, because everyone’s opinion is considered. Standards also fuel collaboration by instilling trust and openness.
Have you ever had team members who can’t communicate with each other, so they don’t talk — or they fight when they do? Standards help people have the debates that need to occur in ways that lead to decisions the whole team can support.
Executives tend to surround themselves with people who look and think just like them. That approach might work when your team is very small. But as you grow and seek to expand, you’ll find that everyone’s skills start to overlap — which, in turn, can hamper your growth.
Rather, emphasize and foster complementary skill sets. The most inspired teams I see include a variety of skills, experiences and knowledge — embracing unique abilities in business development, investment portfolio construction, client experience, project management, financial planning, technology and process management. That diversity helps the team think creatively in ways that generate exponential growth.
A team is like a jigsaw puzzle — there are lots of individual pieces and it’s not always clear how to make them fit. But by taking the types of steps outlined above, those puzzle pieces will start to come together.
A truly inspired team is one that is diverse, where team members feel valued and heard, and understand the big picture vision of where the firm is headed. And a truly inspired team is one that will help take you wherever you want to go and invest themselves deeply in your future success.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.
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