This year has been difficult for everyone. Clients have been worried about what will happen to their portfolios, and you’ve tried everything to keep them calm and collected. And who can blame them? There’s no question it’s been a period of ups and downs (the 1,000-point drop the Dow took last week only to turn around and gain 700 points that same day may have been more poetic than we realize).

But as you work to keep clients in line with their long-term goals, you’re worrying about another problem: the future of your business. How it will grow in these tumultuous times? Will you lose clients? Can you still retire on time and who will help pave the way?

As an entrepreneur, it is your job to be concerned about where your firm is going. As a manager, it is your responsibility to work with the people in your firm to create a plan—one that both complements your ideas for the future, and is in line with their goals and career aspirations. This week’s column is dedicated to being a great manager and grooming your assistants into more than just an assistant. For this, I spoke with the managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Joni Youngwirth.

The first step in this process, of course, is determining what your assistant has in mind. Do they even want career development? Are they happy where they are? Do they picture themself as an advisor some day, or are they content with the role they currently hold in the firm? The answer may surprise you.

The best way of answering these questions is to ask them in your assistant’s performance review, an integral part of any good career path and something Youngwirth recommends doing at least once—preferably twice—each year.

“The first thing you have to look at is what the assistant wants,” Youngwirth says. “It’s sometimes hard for advisors to realize the passion and enthusiasm that they bring to their job every day and that it doesn’t happen that way for everyone.”

From this conversation, the advisor should ask their assistant where they see themselves. Forget the long-term, these are younger—and often less decisive—staff. Ask them for a shorter time frame of three or five years instead. If they want to be an advisor, do they want to be client-facing or would they rather be behind the scenes doing research or due diligence? Do they want to be an office manager or can they see themselves as a rainmaker?

The answers to these questions should next be met with an assessment of the assistant’s skill set. The advisor should determine what skill set is needed for the role his or her assistant has indicated interest in pursuing; then, he can determine how much of that skill set the assistant has already garnered.

“Once you have a list of skills, there undoubtedly will be some things they need that they don’t have,” Youngwirth says. Sometimes, this can start with sending them out to meet wholesalers or bringing them with you to industry conferences. In other instances, it can be more complex. “Where can you send them? Who can you put them in touch with? Can they go to a class? Is it something as simple as getting another license or going back to school, or is it something that the advisor has to commit his own time to?”

But how can the advisor know if it is worth his or her time? One risk is that often the skill set the assistant believes they have can differ from what the advisor has seen. If an assistant indicates that they want to be a client-facing advisor, for instance, can he or she close business? Can they sell? Can they bring on new clients? In order to make sure your assistant is serious about acquiring this new set of skills (and that this new venture is worth your time and money), Youngwirth suggests throwing them out in the field. Tell them that you will work with them and show them how a client/advisor relationship is formed. The key? He or she has to get someone they know to come in for an appointment.

Youngwirth also warns against having too optimistic of a timeframe. After all, a six-month plan in which an 18-year-old assistant shadows principals at the firm and learns everything he needs in order to have a successful career does sound a bit overzealous. Instead, ask them slowly, Youngwirth says. Bring it up in every performance review and see how their career aspirations grow and change. Over two or three years, you will know when they have an answer that’s actionable.

“You can’t make them be something they don’t want to be,” Youngwirth says. “Sometimes employees know things you don’t. Maybe they want to have a baby in a year and then get on a faster career track in two years. Sometimes people are a little reticent about getting things done. You just have to invite them to have the conversation.”

To read more In the Game click here and to read more of our other columns click here.


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