For his first 15 years in business, Jeffrey Thomasson kept hiring the wrong people and didn’t know why.
“It took me way too long to figure out that some of the first mistakes I was making was because of what I call my ‘first tee,’ which relates to golf and who your partner is,” says Thomasson, founder of Carmel, Ind.-based Oxford Financial Group, the nation’s second-largest RIA firm.
Back then, Thomasson, who would ultimately grow Oxford to $10 billion in assets under management, under-interviewed his potential partners. He didn’t ask relevant questions, he says. And it never occurred to him to construct personality profiles for every candidate.
The profiles are now a de rigueur part of Oxford’s multipronged strategy for maximizing the potential and profitability of its workforce. All job candidates at the company take the DiSC personality test, as do any consultants.
“It’s a little bit like going on a date,” Thomasson says. “You have to ask who you want to go out with.”
The results come in the form of a 20-page report that tells Thomasson to what degree on a scale of zero to 100 a person is dominant, influential, steadfast or compliant. The results help Oxford determine if a person is good with details, makes rounding errors or routinely forgets to follow through, among other quirks.
Over the years, Oxford has developed an internal set of definitions spelling out the right qualities for each of the company’s positions. The tests help the company slot the right candidate traits into the right job.
“Today, we over interview. We do incredible testing. It took me forever to figure that out,” Thomasson says.
The firm analyzes its people in another way, as well. “I subscribe to the notion that there are three things that you are absolutely awesome at, three you are above average at, three average and there are three things you are downright horrible at,” Thomasson says. “In fact, there’s probably a long list of things people are horrible at.”
“You love doing those things you are awesome at. After doing them, you have more energy,” he said. “You put off the things you are average or below average at. When you get done with doing things you are horrible at, you are spent.”
A decade ago, Oxford began asking its staffers to self-report which of their abilities – or lack of them – fit into each category. Everyone at the company, including partners, does so annually. Co-workers challenge them to make sure the answers are as accurate as possible. Oxford uses the responses to pair people with tasks at which they excel.
“It creates so much positive energy in the organization that it allows for scalability without hiring more people,” Thomasson says. “In the last 10 years, our revenue has tripled, bottom line has increased by 12 times and we’ve hired five more people.”
In another innovation, Oxford brought in a professional management team of five senior and five mid-level executives with no client-facing responsibilities. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to scale,” Thomasson says. The company also has 10 assistants who do nothing but schedule appointments, helping senior partners juggle an average of 20 to 25 appointments a week. “I want our senior client service partners to just be changing rubber gloves,” he says.
Thomasson says it also took him far too long to tie compensation programs to precise outcomes. “Rule No. 1,” he says, “is you pay for what you want to receive and you get the result you pay for. If you are trying to create an environment around keeping clients, you have to reward that. If you are trying to create profits, you have to reward that. If every person gets their 10 goals and must achieve all of them to get their entire bonus, how do you think that works out?”
Thomasson says it took so long to establish these practices because, in the early years, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he said. After repeatedly not getting the results he wanted, he hired a coach. “I met with him for a full day every quarter for 10 years. I did the confessional thing,”
Eventually, the lessons sunk in. “Sometimes I feel so stupid,” he says, thinking back on headstrong decisions that ended badly. In other words, like the people who work for him, Thomasson ultimately figured out what he’s horrible at. And he did something about it.
-- Second of a three-part, web-exclusive series examining the people and strategies behind the Top 3 RIAs and how they're racing to scale and differentiating themselves from the competition. On Friday, Financial Planning will take a closer look at GenSpring Family Offices and CEO Maria Elena Lagomasino.
Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.
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