When many of the advisors I've coached came to my firm for help, they had been struggling to succeed. By working with them, I saw first hand the barriers that exist that prevent financial advisors from breaking through to a higher level of success.
The problem is typically not a lack of ideas and goals. The advisors I know are motivated, thoughtful professionals who have good ideas about where they want to take their businesses. What is a barrier, however, is that they too often do not get their teams on board with their visions for their firms. Team members sometimes don't fully understand an advisor's vision - or don't commit to it as they should. The result: There's no execution on the leader's plans, no progress is made and the firm spins its wheels.
With that in mind, here's what I think you need to do after you've crafted a strategy for your firm to gain team buy-in and ensure that everyone who should be invested in making your vision a reality is doing their part to the best of their abilities.
COMMUNICATING A STRATEGY
The first step is to know where you want to take your firm, who you will focus on serving and how you will serve them. Then, you have to make sure your team members understand all the aspects of your strategy, so they can work toward those goals. They need to be able to state your purpose, your strategy and your goals in general terms.
To make that happen, you need to take a varied approach to communicating to your team members. Formally, you can hold weekly staff meetings, monthly executive meetings and annual corporate retreats. Informally, try pre-meeting discussions of ideal outcomes, debriefings after meetings, conversational lunches and simple hallway conversations.
Keep in mind that communicating information to your team can't always be done the same way with everyone. People communicate and learn in different ways, so you need to adapt your messaging approach accordingly. No one style is best for every situation, and a wise leader will be willing to move from his or her standard approach as needed. Try rotating among various styles. If you tend to dominate conversations, for example, try speaking last during a meeting. If you have "followers" on your team, ask them to speak first to draw out their ideas and shift them toward a more commanding role.
Getting your team to understand your desired direction is part one. The next - and bigger - step: Get team members to commit to actually moving the business in that direction. You need to motivate them toward the results you want. Gaining buy-in requires you to take a number of actions.
* Inspire your team. You have to interact with your team and connect with members personally. View each interaction you have with team members as an opportunity to inspire them in large and small ways, and you will leave them feeling valued and more connected to the firm and its goals.
* Build trust. One important way to build trust is through transparency - being up front with staff members about what is going on so they understand how they can help at any given moment. Employees must feel that you are being open, inclusive and honest with them. Unfortunately, professionals in the financial services industry often report that managers exclude them from any part of the decision-making process and they feel undervalued as a result. Trust is built when team members are recognized and rewarded for their performance rather than for office politics considerations.
* Embed the right values. Although rewards should be performance based, performance must be viewed within the context of the firm's values. It's easy for a firm to talk about what it believes in. But adherence to those values can quickly disappear if a team member generates huge results using methods that aren't aligned with the firm's core values and is rewarded for those results. This situation - a common one in the highly competitive financial services industry - is demoralizing and creates a poorly functioning team.
* Acknowledge the right behavior. Team members who feel that their efforts and good work go unnoticed quickly lose their inspiration to reach goals. The right acknowledgement can be as quick and easy as complimenting team members on their work or as formal as a public recognition during a meeting or company retreat. At a more advanced level, the right behavior comes from having clear compensation models that reward both individual and team results. Compensation always needs to be tied to results - a variable pay approach that essentially says, "If we're successful, you're successful." If your employees get to share in the rewards of the company, they'll be more interested in their work and more motivated to help you make the company successful. They'll also be inspired, trust that leadership has their interests at heart and feel highly valued.
When firms leave execution to chance, they tend to fail. So be highly focused on meeting deadlines, hitting targets, inspiring one another and holding one another accountable. That means you need to keep score. Regularly assess both your progress toward the goals you've set and the processes you're using to get to those goals. You and your team members need to determine where you should be at various intervals to get to the end point on time, and be prepared to make necessary adjustments.
Every month, have a state of the business meeting where you look at revenue, expenses, profit and cash flow in detail. Pay close attention to such metrics as the number of new clients versus the number lost, revenue per client, profitability per client, revenue per principal and revenue per team member. Compare your projections with the actual results. If an item varies by just a few percentage points, it may not be a concern. But if one of your key drivers is off significantly, the causes need to be understood. Hold all team members (and yourself) accountable by evaluating their progress toward reaching both their own goals and those of the team. One goal of this state-of-the-business meeting is to help each individual maximize performance by improving his or her judgment and therefore carrying out responsibilities more effectively.
When appropriate, conduct learning group sessions around strategy meetings. For example, we encourage participants in my firm's coaching and training programs to engage their team members in the lessons we teach and have everyone involved discuss each one's key takeaways, the implications of the lessons and the next-step actions that should be taken. These learning group situations typically help team members become more successful in their own right as they learn to put your vision into action.
As you all come together, treat your team members with dignity and respect. This might sound obvious, but it's amazing how many advisors still take a my-way-or-the-highway approach. In today's environment, where competition for top players is growing more intense, a bullying mind-set won't cut it.
You can show respect by keeping your promises - do what you say you'll do, when you say you'll do it. Small things count: If you schedule 10 a.m. meetings every Monday, for example, don't chronically show up late or reschedule. It sends a message that you don't value your people or their time .
Finally, recognize that you and your team will fail on occasion and that such setbacks are not the end of the world. To the extent you can, try to celebrate failures.
If a lot of effort is put into a project that eventually fails, acknowledge that effort as a good and positive thing. And look for ways to learn from a failed effort. That sends a powerful message to your team to get past hardships and move forward - with an eye toward achieving greater levels of success.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.