Advisor engagement is a huge driver for productivity and retention, yet team leaders often evaluate it with their guts rather than objective criteria.

Hard data are needed to know for sure whether a firm has cultivated an environment that is ripe for engagement, which builds team success and can contribute to a practice’s growth.

To define and add dimension to the areas on which advisor team leaders should focus and cultivate team success, ask three questions about the firm’s team:

  • Do they have clarity, or do they know what they are supposed to do?
  • Do they have mastery, or are they capable of doing it?
  • Do they have autonomy, or are they given the freedom to choose how they do it?

If the answer is “no” or “kind of” to any of these questions, here are some tactics for getting the team on track:
1. Create clarity. If the team is growing, role assessment and clarification may need attention more often. Address role confusion in a couple of ways:

  • Time studies: Requiring a time study may make most of the firm’s advisors curse their managers under their breath for a week, but it will also yield relatively sound data about where people are spending their time. Review the collective percentages to determine whether major changes need to happen. For example, if just 20% of team time is client-facing but 40% is spent on administrative tasks, improving processes could help reallocate time. Also ask employees to do their own analysis and make their own recommendations. Have them list the percentages for time spent and ideal percentages of time they would like to spend on major job functions.
  • Brainstorming: Ask team members to suggest things they would like to do to add value to the group. Engage their brains in thinking, “How can I contribute?”

2. Promote mastery. If members of the team lack mastery in their role, it is the leader’s job to ensure that they have the tools to achieve it. Is there a mutually agreed-upon plan in place to help them? If not, here are some tactics to consider:

  • Define mastery and break it down into parts. For example, if a firm principal would like a junior advisor to be a financial planning expert, determine how many plans he or she should develop behind the scenes, how many of those should be client-facing and whether pursuing a certification such the CFP as would help.
  • Provide coaching structure and support. Advisors are best able to accelerate performance with access to both formal and ad-hoc coaching. Identify the best person on the team, and ask for a weekly time commitment and an open-door policy. Creating a coaching culture where planners see it as their duty to help other members of the team grow and develop is the mark of a successful team.
  • Schedule teach-backs. Create opportunities for budding team members to show what they know as they try to wrap their head around a new concept. You never learn a topic as well as when you have to teach it.

3. Allow autonomy. Many advisory leaders have a raging case of “founder's syndrome,” which manifests itself in many ways, the most common of which is an inability to let go and effectively delegate. Consider the following questions:

  • Does everyone come to me for everything?
  • Do we miss deadlines because I am not able to attend to everything in my inbox?
  • Do I need to make all the decisions that are teed up for me?
  • Can I become comfortable empowering various team members to make some decisions?

Creating a highly engaged team where people are put to their highest and best use is the goal. The path is there for those who choose to take it, and it is laid with gold.
Christine Gaze, president of Purpose Consulting Group, a New York-based practice management consulting firm, is an incoming board member at IMCA.

This story is part of a 30-day series on smart ways to grow your practice. It was originally published on Jan. 6, 2016.

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