Many years ago, my phone rang late in the day. It was a financial advisor on the East Coast of the United States who had read about me in an industry magazine. He was crazy busy in his financial planning practice for all the wrong reasons and he wanted it to stop. His practice was out of control. He knew he needed help but he wasn’t sure how to make the leap from solo advisor to advisor firm leader. He needed to turn his firm around.
This advisor, we’ll call him “Gary” had been in the financial services business going on 20 years and he was running into several issues over and over again. If you’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, this was his life.
His recurring problems were staff turnover, tense work environment, paperwork mistakes, lack of new clients, no business or marketing plan, and a marketing focus that generally highlighted the founder and not the firm.
Many financial advisors start out as solo producers in wirehouse environments where they get their feet wet and learn the business. They then transition to an independent model either with a broker-dealer or as a Registered Investment Advisor.
The problem is that no one ever taught these advisors how to become a business owner not to mention an effective financial services leader. Leadership is more than handing out paychecks. Leadership is being the entrepreneur in the practice, directing the firm’s vision and mission, deciding the firm’s business and marketing focus, and mentoring the firm’s employees.
When you have happy, productive employees, you have a good business. When you mentor your people it allows them to flourish and grow. When you support staff growth you add value to your firm. Yet many advisors do not view their employees as assets but rather as a necessary expenditure.
Savvy financial advisors learn to transition from solo advisor to financial firm executives. It’s a mentality shift. It’s a mindset. It’s moving from thinking only about yourself to thinking about your team and the possibilities. When this transition is successful, the firm is successful. But what are the key issues that advisors need to be aware of before they can become better leaders?
Here are nine issues to address in order to transition from a solo mentality to a leadership state of mind:
1. Compensation: If you’re an advisor who is not willing to “share the wealth” and doesn’t offer decent salaries and benefits, you’ll need to revamp your compensation plan. You may be the firm founder, but you can’t transition to leader without generosity and gratitude. If you believe that the firm’s profits should go directly to you, you’ll be missing a great opportunity to build something bigger than yourself. By tying compensation to achieving personal and business goals you will motivate your team to help you grow your firm.
2. Employees: Hire intelligent people and invest in their skills. You can still be the star of your own firm with bright and gifted staff on the payroll. The time and cost of interviewing, hiring, and training quality people is one of the best investments you can make. Quality people will help you build an enduring, successful firm.
3. Training: Do you have a new employee training program? Once hired, are new employees “thrown into the fire” with minimal preparation, guidance or instruction? It’s in the firm’s best interest to have a well-thought-out training regimen to give employees a running start at being successful team members.
4. Mentoring: Who is mentoring your employees? For the firm to mature into a successful ongoing concern, a mentor program is essential to staff growth and career satisfaction. Great organizations are made up of great people. Those people are usually mentored.
5. Mistakes: How are mistakes handled? Is the offender made to feel humiliated? Mistakes will be made in any firm however the key to avoiding future errors is guidance and support after errors occur. Your first step may be setting a company policy that first time mistakes are acceptable and repeated errors are not. We all learn in different ways, but being bullied or taunted is certain to lead to additional mistakes.
6. Meetings: Does your firm have regular staff meetings? Does your team meet regularly to discuss open cases, assets in transition, new prospects, and issues that need correcting? All effective meetings have a purpose and end in action items. A written agenda, note taker, and time limit are all essential.
7. Vision: Are you sharing the firm’s vision, goals, and marketing strategies with your team? Do your employees understand your company’s value proposition and how they can contribute to the firm’s success? Company meetings are very useful for the firm leader to discuss and share plans for improvement and growth.
8. Focus: Is your firm focused on you as the founder or on your able-bodied team? Are clients trained to go to your team members to handle an issue rather than demanding to speak with you on service-related issues? If you want to increase vacation time, get out of the office now and then, and live a better life, placing the focus on your team is the way to go.
9. Business Planning: Are you engaged in planning your company’s success? Do you hold an off-site planning meeting once annually where you discuss the firm’s business goals, strategic direction, and marketing initiatives? Deliberate action will create success in your organization. This means writing a new Business Plan each year that lays out the path to success.
Did reading this list cause you to squirm in your chair? Did you have any “aha” moments? If so, you must create a plan to move from where you are now to where you want to go. Issues like these are not solved overnight. The best way to make changes is to make them one at a time. Trying to make too many changes too quickly can result in burnout and that’s not good for anyone. Start by making a list of the changes you’d like to make. Then identify which changes have top priority. Then implement each change one at a time.
I’m happy to report that “Gary” was able to turn his financial firm around. Once awareness kicked in, Gary decided he would move his firm from failure to greatness. It took a little over two years but now he has a well functioning team that allows him to take over 150 days off per year to enjoy success and spend time with his family.
Which issues from the above list do you need to improve?