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5 steps to build a stronger firm

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As a professional sports fan, spring tends to be one of my favorite times of the year. Major League Baseball is just getting underway and all 30 teams seem to have a real shot at the postseason. After endless months of games in the NBA and NHL, the playoff rounds are finally under way.

When I look at the most successful sports franchises, one key characteristic stands out: these organizations are true teams. They’re not just a group of individual contributors who gather on the field at the same time, but also a group of professionals who collectively care about each other like a family. They trust each other, and when one player does well, they all celebrate as a team.

It should go unsaid that teams are a cornerstone of building and sustaining a successful business too. Within the advisory industry, the team-based model of delivering superior service is where I see the highest future growth.

Under this model, advisors pool resources to deliver products and services to their clients. Clients are shared and viewed as clients of the firm, not clients of individual advisors. This model enables the firm to be nimble, yet present a united front to clients, bringing together various team members to work on client issues based upon staff capacity, skill set and cost.

When a firm utilizes all of its resources — personnel, experience and expertise — it puts its best foot forward in servicing clients individually. Additionally, the firm can present itself as a one-stop shop to its clients. In a team-based model, clients become more accustomed to dealing with a number of team members and are not wedded to discussing all matters with the firm principal.

This means that clients have the ability to get to know more of the firm and its people. Meanwhile, simple client requests can be managed appropriately down the line, freeing up the principal to focus on other revenue-generating activities. Clients will also enjoy receiving access and support in a timelier manner.

To successfully sustain a team-based structure, all members of the firm must learn leadership and coaching skills. Here are some proven strategies that I have seen work well in our industry.

1) Set clear direction and goals: The clearer the mission, the greater the odds of success. Individual team members and the teams themselves must know what is expected of them to meet or exceed expectations. That is why I recommend that the principal or team leader always set clear goals and objectives and provide regular feedback.

A broad array of skills and experience is needed so all positions are covered, and each individual can be assigned a particular role on the basis of their strengths.

Firms should set team goals based on tangible outcomes and results, rather than just on the amount of work that is to be done. Next, they must develop a plan for how each individual and the broader group will accomplish the mission. This plan provides team members with clear direction and gives them something to aim for collectively. For example, if the firm goal is to increase revenue by 10% over last year, the team will understand the outcome that is needed. Each person can take responsibility for their role in the plan.

2) Recognize and reward success: Now that your team-based structure is off and running, you will need to align your firm’s compensation structure to reward both individual and team results. I recommend doing so through a team-based incentive/bonus compensation plan. Plain and simple, a well-designed compensation plan encourages higher levels of performance among your team members. Team-based incentive plans can be applied to a group assigned to a specific project or mission, or a specific team within the firm such as administrative, advisory, marketing or sales teams.

The advantage of team-based incentive plans is that individuals are motivated to work collectively to achieve a common goal. In the earlier example in which a firm aims to increase revenue by 10%, team members have the opportunity to encourage one another, participate in brainstorming sessions and support each other in their efforts to achieve that increase. Once the goal of the 10% increase is met, the team should share in that fiscal victory through a team-based incentive/bonus award.

3) Check in often: It’s imperative to frequently check in with the team to manage progress. I work with teams to create a process for regularly evaluating performance results. It is so important to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in order to clearly see how they function as part of the team at large. There is no better way to build trust and confidence as a leader than to show empathy and caring for each individual team member. If you aren’t meeting with people on a regular basis, it will be hard to provide assistance when employees need it most.

It is equally important that the team members acknowledge mistakes during the check-in process. The path to success is forged around a series of course corrections based on what is — and is not — working. Candid and timely conversations are essential to shaping that path forward. Team members should display a willingness to work through difficult situations constructively and in a timely manner.

4) See potential in every team member: Investing in your employees and having faith in their abilities can’t be overstated. My favorite tool for assessing a team’s talent is the CliftonStrengths Finder offered by Gallup. The tool is based on the belief that every person possesses a unique combination of talents, knowledge and skills. These are the innate traits and abilities people use in their daily lives to complete their work, to relate with others and to achieve their goals.

It is important to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in order to clearly see how they function as part of the team at large.

Helping your team discover and develop their individual strengths positions them to do what they do best every day — both in and out of a team setting. Understanding your current team’s makeup will help you develop a diverse breadth of talent. A diversity of skills and experience is needed so that all positions are covered, and each individual can be assigned a particular role on the basis of their strengths and skills. A variety of personalities, age groups, cultures and experience levels can also bring creativity and a broader range of ideas to the team. Ultimately, this will enhance the client experience. Commit to developing each individual and building a deep bench of talent for the firm.

5) Celebrate successes and have fun: It shouldn’t be all work and no play! This mentality can lead to burnout, so it’s important to inject a bit of fun into working life. Teams who work particularly well together enjoy each other’s company and occasionally get together outside of the office to socialize and bond.

Overall, the most successful advisory firms have built strong positive team cultures, firmly grounded in the purpose of helping clients reach their financial goals. Achieving that purpose requires having a client-first mentality, rewarding excellence, honesty and teamwork.

As the ultimate team leader, you must model the way.

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