I’ve worked with advisors for more than two decades, helping them close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

For many, nirvana looks a lot like this: a client engagement model that inspires referrals and a consistent growth trajectory based on replicating top clients, all while optimizing the efficient use of firm resources and creating space on the lead advisor’s calendar. The results are top-tier short-term profit and long-term enterprise value.

Well, how do you get there? I believe the answer to that is thoughtful, consistent management of the intersection between the staffing model and the service model. These two topics are inextricably linked, but for the sake of brevity and focus, I’ll focus on the staffing model.

I’ll begin by describing how to design a team structure that aligns with your needs and expectations. Then, I’ll share techniques I’ve seen be successful in retaining and developing individual team members.

Creating a Clear Understanding: Potent Organization Design

Some folks are quick to dismiss the humble org chart. I get it. You’ve seen them so often they look silly and stale. However, I think that is a misstep and a significant missed opportunity.

Forward-thinking, strategic-minded leaders recognize the essential role team structure plays in their current and future success. They rely on org charts to define the ideal layout for today’s team. Specifically, a potent organization design is an essential planning tool to answer these essential questions:

  • What specific roles and what distribution of responsibilities create the biggest client impact while harnessing the strengths and preferences of each team member?
  • What structure enables the lead advisor to focus exclusively on high-value activities?
  • As the firm expands and employee skills evolve, how must the team be arranged in the future to continue growing assertively, execute the service model effectively, create career paths that retain your best employees and provide a glide path for succession?
  • What hiring roadmap allows for new positions to be filled at precisely the right moment?
  • What junior advisor onboarding cadence will ensure they have time to develop skills and experience so they can step in effectively when more senior team members move up?

Let’s start at the top and work down. At the heart of an ideal staffing model is a clear understanding of what the firm leader should – and more importantly, should NOT – do. Relentless focus on what you love to do and the activities at which you are truly expert is key. As a happy coincidence, these are often the activities that most impact the bottom line. Optimally, all activities that do not fall into these two buckets are delegated to trusted colleagues who have the capability, capacity and desire to do that work.

Once you and the rest of the team are clear about the leader’s focus points, you’re now positioned to accurately assess requirements for other roles. If the lead advisor serves only top clients, who serves middle and lower-tier relationships? What role facilitates the lead advisor’s efficiency by preparing for meetings with top-tier clients, taking meeting notes and following up?  Who empowers the team to run like a Swiss timepiece, ensuring the right people are completing the right tasks at the right time? Who confirms that key business functions are executed consistently and according to established workflows?

I have worked with many intelligent, capable lead advisors and firm owners over the years who were challenged by these crucial planning activities. If you find yourself struggling to optimize your firm’s deliverables, engage Carson Coaching to help you navigate the rocky terrain and design the ideal organization for you.

Retaining Standout Team Members

I’m not one to use sports analogies, but in this instance, I can’t help myself. Championship teams have great players at every position, right? So, once you’ve designed and put in place a top-shelf team, how do you keep them happy, productive and engaged over the long term? Below are key techniques I’ve seen successful leaders use.

Career paths. First up is documented, well-articulated career paths that outline how team members can advance their skill, experience and meaningful contribution to the firm’s success and compensation level. These documents define approximate timelines, as well as specific measurements and milestones that trigger consideration for the next step. That might include the following:

  • Obtaining the CFP designation or other designations approved by the firm
  • Demonstrate ability to autonomously service clients in a certain segment
  • Retain clients and deepen relationships
  • Uncover untapped opportunities that drive new revenue
  • Consistently exhibit a positive attitude toward clients and team members
  • Embrace and support firm culture

Of course, advancement on the path is not guaranteed. Moving up the ranks is predicated not only on individual performance, but also on capacity at higher levels, growth objectives, supplemental strategic initiatives or new lines of business, succession planning and other needs of the firm.

Career paths must include non-advisor roles. Clearly, not everyone is cut out to be an advisor. Yet, many new hires will quickly adopt the position that the advisor track is calling them. I believe that this might be due to a lack of clarity and the firm promoting other career options that can massively impact firm success.

Align skill sets with job functions and promote this with enthusiasm. Non-advisor career paths can include:

  • Director of operations
  • Director of financial planning
  • Marketing strategist
  • Digital marketing maven
  • For larger firms, talent, compliance and accounting functions

And for advisors who don’t have rainmaking in their DNA, describing the long-term viability and advancement possibilities for service advisors will help retain this key function.

I encourage you to have career path status update conversations with each team member at least once per year.

Reporting structure. Up next is a clearly defined reporting structure. I’m always gobsmacked when a firm leader confesses that there is no specific reporting structure in place. Everyone deserves to know who their boss is. Who delivers their performance review and determines compensation changes? Who should they go to with workplace challenges? These are issues of vital importance for team members to feel their feet are firmly on the ground and they are properly integrated into the firm.

Further, a reporting structure is a prerequisite for the above-mentioned goal of ensuring the right people are completing the right tasks at the right time. Reporting structure is a simple thing that should be communicated to all current team members and to prospective team members during the interview process.

Performance reviews. Another issue that arises far more frequently than some might deem appropriate is lack of performance reviews. Regular, scheduled one-on-one meetings between a team member and the person to whom they directly report is essential. This provides space to explore employee challenges and frustrations, discuss the degree to which firm expectations are being met and review progress down the career path. Very simply, you can ask questions like this: How are things going? What can I do to improve your experience and empower your success?

Honor individual work styles. As a raging introvert, I can tell you that sticking people like me in a large room with noisy co-workers will deflate productivity and suck their will to live. Offer hybrid or work-at-home models. We all know that genie is out of the bottle, and he ain’t goin’ back. Some advisors will say to me: “We’re an in-the-office firm.” My response is always this: “Why is that? Did you hire people who either can’t or won’t work independently?”

Hey, I understand the value of in-person work experiences and team bonding, but I’ll argue all day long that it doesn’t need to be all day, every day. If your desire is to attract and retain the best people, spend some time figuring out their preferred work environment and make it a reality. I’m confident you can create alignment between successful implementation of office work streams on one hand and flexible locations on the other. Consider international companies whose teams reside on multiple continents. People find a way. The trick is learning how to manage output rather than input.

Without going overboard, create opportunities for people to interact in non-business ways: team lunch in the conference room on Wednesdays? Fun events outside the office once per quarter? Create a social environment that is supportive and engaging to help with team bonding.

Reflect and implement. Lastly, regularly carve out time to reflect on what you would want to experience if you were the employee rather than employer. What would an amazing stakeholder experience feel and look like to you? What changes can you implement to make the ideal a reality? If these efforts aren’t really your cup of tea – which is true for many advisors – ensure someone else in a leadership position such as the director of operations is delivering these critical experiences for team members.

With a wise blend of intention, planning and awareness of the thoughts and feelings of others, you can create an organization that best-fit employees will want to join and stick with.

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