If advisory firms can tackle career development problems before they start, they’ll also solve their succession challenges by developing the next generation of leaders.

The industry is evolving, and advisers need to move away from the kind of ad-hoc career development that has defined the business in the past. This has meant that employees’ jobs have just morphed as firms grow, without any systematic management changes or guidance.

The bigger a practice is, the more diverse it is, and the more it is in need of a disciplined and purposeful management style. One component to this reimagined management style is assessing the skills needed for the future of the firm, defining the necessary roles within and creating a plan to find the right talent.

The other component is ensuring that, once the best talent is hired, there are sufficient career paths that keep them engaged and committed to the firm’s long-term success.

Slideshow
Profile of the modern adviser
Recent research shows how advisers work and how they like to communicate.

When working with firm owners, I typically hear, “We don’t have people with the right skills for the demands of this business.”

Conversely, when I interview employees of advisory firms, I often hear, “This firm doesn’t take advantage of half of the skills that I have to offer.”

It is often evident that there is a lack of career development and training, not to mention a lack of communication about the needs of the firm, and the desires and skills of the existing team. Too often, firms go outside to hire (an increasingly challenging task), rather than taking stock of the inventory of talent already at the firm, and creating a path for developing it.

WHAT IS A CAREER PATH?

A career path is a track or defined plan for progress, development and growth over an employee’s tenure at a firm. A career path should cover the progression of an employee’s capabilities, skills and experience. It should also include the opportunity for employees to move laterally, in addition to the more traditional approach of moving up in the organization’s hierarchy.

For many employees, gaining in-depth knowledge and experience across the organization can be far more rewarding than moving up that pro­verbial ladder.

Why should you care about developing a framework for career advancement in your firm? Simply put, it can lead to an increase in your firm’s productivity, and an upsurge in employee retention.

According to research by human resources association WorldatWork, organizations that do not invest in training and development for their employees lose valuable workers to their competition. Firms can easily differentiate themselves from their competitors by investing in their employees’ career development.

A well-defined career plan spells out what is expected of employees, and keeps them motivated and contributing to the growth and success of the firm. Additionally, employees usually feel more engaged when they believe their employer is concerned about and invested in their individual growth.

Many employees, including advisers, have entrepreneurial drive and ambition. But most, if not all, require guidance to translate their personal ambition into action that creates positive contributions to the firm.

A defined career path, outlined in a succinct development plan, provides employees with an ongoing mechanism to enhance their skills and knowledge, which can lead to mastery of their current jobs. The career path will also foster promotions and transfers to new positions within the firm.

When career paths are defined and implemented, this should increase employees’ morale, career satisfaction, motivation, productivity and responsiveness in meeting the firm’s goals and objectives.

Businessman talking to a couple
The bigger a practice is, the more diverse it is, and the more it is in need of a disciplined and purposeful management style, writes Kelli Cruz.

SIZE MATTERS

In my experience, we begin to see the need for creating employee career paths at or about the firm size of $170 Million in AUM, with approximately 7 staff members and the business model of a team approach.

The team-based culture of the ensemble service model is where I see future growth for the industry as a whole. These firms are multi-adviser businesses that deliver products and services as a team, utilizing pooled resources, shared clients and profits.

This system allows principals to spend more time with clients by pushing down work that can be completed by more-junior team members. It also creates development opportunities for career-minded employees who are looking to expand their skill sets and advance their careers. For these employees, the team model provides a needed career path.

For a career path to be meaningful and effective, it should be:

  • Clearly defined
  • Goal-driven
  • Communicated and understood by the employee
  • Based on both knowledge and experience
  • Consistently implemented across the firm
  • Realistic and achievable for both the employee and the firm

The framework should cover the following for each position within the career path:

  • Number of years’ experience
  • Time in the role/position
  • Training targets
  • Additional credentials/education
  • Performance rating ( for example, exceeding expectations)
  • Leadership and management skills
  • The firm’s core values
  • A well-defined compensation plan, including base salary and incentive opportunity

I typically design two career tracks in a firm; the advisory track and operations/administrative track.

For firms that have an investment function, there can be an additional investment track.

Adviser Track Roles:

  • Partner
  • Lead adviser
  • Service adviser
  • Support/associate adviser

The Operations/Administration Track Roles:

  • Partner
  • Chief operations officer/chief compliance officer
  • Operations manager/client service director
  • Client service administrator
  • Office/administration assistant

Investment Track Roles:

  • Partner
  • Chief investment officer
  • Senior portfolio manager
  • Portfolio manager
  • Trading/portfolio administration

VARIATIONS WITHIN CAREER TRACKS

Not every advisory firm is structured exactly the same, so there are some variations in the positions and job titles found within.

Generally, the lead adviser role includes business development goals as a primary responsibility. Additionally, a lead adviser may be required to manage a team of advisers.

The service adviser handles existing client relationships independently, but they are not responsible for developing new business. In some firms, the difference between lead adviser and partner may be the development of new business, along with criteria including culture, vision, leadership, tenure, and the development and mentoring of staff.

For firms that generate between $2 million and $3 million in revenue, we begin to see the emergence of the support, or associate, adviser role. Firms that are smaller in revenue size may not need support advisers, and thus, their entry-level positions are a combination of the service- and support-adviser positions. This is very typical for firms that do not plan to ever have three professionals involved in servicing a client relationship.

Whatever the variation of roles within your firm, I highly recommend creating a criteria and path for how an employee moves within your structure. This will ensure that there is a complete understanding of the opportunities.

THE TAKE AWAY

Attracting and retaining talent requires more than just the promise of a traditional, linear career path. Today’s employees aren’t just looking for promotions; they're increasingly interested in opportunities that enable them to develop skill sets across a wide range of roles and functions.

Employees’ views of work and growth opportunities vary by generation. For example, millennials are less likely to be interested in pay increases, and more interested in learning new skills. They also value a career path more than any other generation.

Both millennial and Generation X employees want pathways to personal growth. By connecting workers to internal opportunities to learn and grow, you can help combat employee attrition while building agility for the organization.

Career mobility doesn't mean employees expect instant promotions. Instead, they want visibility as to where and how they can reach their greater potential within the organization. Creating a culture of growth and mobility ensures your employees will stay engaged and stick around to potentially be the next generation of leaders and owners of the firm.

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Kelli Cruz

Kelli Cruz

Kelli Cruz is a Financial Planning columnist and the founder of Cruz Consulting Group in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @KelliCruzSF.