Those lucky advisors

As advisors respond to our new landscape, there seems to be one group that is especially lucky.  The advisors in this group aren’t lucky because they have better investment strategies or richer clients.  They’re lucky because, long before the meltdown, they gave themselves a job description.  And on that job description is one primary duty: “see clients”.

So see clients, they do.  Perhaps they see ‘A’ clients twice a year, ‘B’ clients once a year and ‘C’ clients every 18 months.  Whatever the interval, their review systems are entrenched. There is a process for scheduling, a process for prepping and a process for post-review task management.

As a result, these advisors have full calendars and unsolicited referrals.  Best of all, they have little time to fret.  Several of my clients have told me that this will be their best year ever.

I’d like to suggest that you take “review religion” one step further by making reviews not an optional service, but a requirement for doing business with you.  You’d say to a prospective client:

“If we work together, there’s one thing you need to know.  We require that our clients meet with us twice a year to review their plan and assure we’re fulfilling their objectives.”  

And, they’d say:

“Dang this advisor is different!”

Here’s to getting lucky in 2009…with a job description!

Grab the reins for 2009

The most dramatic and bewildering year we’ve experienced in our careers, mercifully, is about to end.  At a time when much seems out of our control, here are six simple things you can do to launch 2009, empowered and engaged:

  1. Plan.  You may have been inconsistent about annual planning in the past, but this is a year that’s shouting for a plan.  Keep it simple so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the process. Try the “DOME” approach – Diagnose (the year that’s ending), Objectives (set measurable objectives for the new year), Methodology (identify the strategies that will produce the objective results) and Evaluation (determine the systems you’ll use to keep your plan on track).
  2. Share. Once you’ve completed your business plan, share it with your team. When you communicate the big picture with staff, they feel more like partners and less like employees. While you’re at it, ask them to do a DOME plan, too.
  3. Provide performance feedback.  No, you can’t just send your staff a form to fill out. You need to sit down with each employee and discuss performance.  If you don’t have a performance evaluation instrument, you can download some decent ones here for free.
  4. Tie compensation to results. If you have an incentive plan, tie part of it to the objectives in your business plan so that your employees become stakeholders in growing revenue and clients.  (Check with your Compliance Officer to make sure your bonus is compliant.)
  5. Say thank you to the people who look after you. It’s magic and it’s free. People will do amazing things for you if they feel valued and appreciated.
  6. Be energetic.  Nobody responds to a weary leader.  Put a bounce in your step and a smile on your face.  Energy is contagious!

Happiest of holidays!

A tisk it, a task it…remove it from YOUR basket!

The art of debriefing a client meeting and delegating the tasks.

How do you debrief a client meeting? Do you have a process or is it “seat of your pants? Let’s assume you have twenty client meetings per week and out of each comes five “to-do’s”…that’s 100 new tasks coming into the practice each week. How quickly and effectively those tasks are delegated has everything to do with how smoothly your practice runs and how unburdened you feel. Here are my favorite debriefing strategies:

  1. The no-need debrief. There’s no need to debrief because a Client Relationship Manager or Associate Advisor participates with you in the client meeting. They take notes, quickly verify the action plan with you and delegate the tasks to the appropriate staff people on your team. Because I try to keep my clients free to spend all their time in front of clients and prospects and not chasing tasks, this is, far and away, my option of your choice. It is a luxury to have a staff person with you at every appointment, but for high-end advisors, it’s an investment in freedom.
  2. Dictation service. We stole this idea from physicians, who typically dictate case notes immediately after leaving a patient. With this option, your assistant builds in a “cush” of 20-30 minutes following each appointment. From your office, car or home you dictate your notes using your phone and one of the low-cost dictation services like Copy Talk, or Wordzxpressed. Your dictation – whether it’s a debrief to your staff or a summary letter to a client will be in your assistant’s email box in a matter of hours.
  3. Live debrief with a key employee. This is the old fashioned way, but it can work great if you use it with discipline. Here you’re just saying, “Jenny, let’s meet at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon to debrief my meetings with the Seaborn’s and the Smith’s”. In order for this system to be effective you need to hold debriefing sessions at least every other day.
  4. A voice mail here, an email there. This “non-system system” is widely used. Unfortunately, it keeps staff in the dark, in reactive mode and pretty much guarantees that stuff will fall through the cracks.

Whatever debriefing system you use, use it religiously. The alternative is to procrastinate until the memory fades and hope for the best…and you and your team are much to good for that!

The Job Audition

How to try an employee before you buy an employee

We’ve all been there. The resume was strong. She interviewed great. She was professionally dressed, had all the right answers and even came with industry pedigree. You did a personality or instincts test and it looked like a great match. You even remembered to check references.

Week one you noticed the “deer in the headlights” look. You hoped it would go away. It didn’t. At six months, you knew you were dealing with one very expensive “mis-hire”.

Rewind, please. Next time, do everything you did this time, but add one more hoop – The Job Audition. The Job Audition is a brief simulation of the tasks associated with the position. In about 45 minutes, it will give you an authentic look into the performance the candidate is likely to deliver. My Job Audition for an assistant involves three tasks:

  • Take basic data from a fact finder or computer screen and transfer it to a simple application (generic brokerage account will do) and place “sign here” stickers
  • Type a cover letter as though you were mailing the application
  • Call the client (use a “stand-in”) to set an appointment

What will you learn from a Job Audition?

  • You’ll learn whether the person has attention to detail
  • You’ll learn whether she/he can find Word on the computer
  • You’ll learn if she/he can compose, format and proof a business letter
  • You’ll learn if they can get on the phone, with a smile and talk to a client
  • Most of all, you’ll learn whether they juggle a bunch of tasks, without hand-holding, under fire

One final tip about the Job Audition…don’t be shy about asking candidates to do this. The job audition is as valuable to potential employees as it is to you!

A referral approach for scaredy cats.

Get the introductions you deserve – and hold the agony!

Your practice may serve the wealthiest people in your community. Your assets under management may be an enviable number. Your brand may be associated with sophisticated planning and high-touch service. But if you’re not adding new clients every year, you have a vulnerable business.

The source of most new clients, of course, is referrals but few practices have consistent referral systems. Without referral systems advisors will still get referrals – but not necessarily the ones they want and rarely in sufficient quanity.

Lack of time is often cited as the obstacle. But I’ve found that the majority of advisors are simply referral scaredy cats. They’d rather kiss a snake than ask a client for an introduction. When these advisors are my clients, I have two ways to address the challenge. I can lay the advisor down on the practice management coach to uncover the deep-seeded cause of their call reluctance or I can simply relieve the advisor of the burden of asking for introductions…by delegating the responsibility to someone else. Yes, it can be done..with just the right person, positioned just the right way and using just the right approach.

The right person may be an associate advisor but, more often, we use the practice’s Concierge (aka Marketing Coordinator). We teach them how to identify clients “most likely to refer” and how to conduct introduction meetings.. The advisor attends the meetings, but has a passive role. It’s the Marketing Coordinator who engages the client in a warm and relaxed discussion about the client’s work, family, and community involvement and who walks them through names of people they are likely to know who are on the advisor’s target list.

There are a handful of individuals who are unquely successful in this role. Their flagship talent is a disarming charm and a genuine interest in people. When this talent is present and your relationship with the client is strong and the approach is systematized, the introductions flow. If you need help determining whether this role should be added to your “Dream Team” – give us a call – scaredy cats are welcome!

Your practice procedures manual…

It’s not sexy. It’s just essential.

I often joke that, contrary to popular belief, our industry does have a national employee training program – it’s called “Baptism by Fire”.  When it comes to training, we typically throw new people into the job and pray that they will be both smart and resilient.

How much could effective training improve your employee retention, client experience and your own peace of mind? Immeasurably, I suspect.  So here’s my method for killing two birds with one stone – training employees and capturing that training in a procedures manual.

Lauren’s Training Template

Whenever you’re doing a live training session with an employee, always train in this format:

  • Subject – “Here’s what I’m going to teach you today”
  • Resources – “Here’s what you need to perform this responsibility/task” (what forms, data, etc. you need to have in front of you)
  • Steps – “The first thing you do is X, then step 2 is y…”
  • Key contacts – “These are the people you can go to with questions – here, at the broker-dealer or insurance carrier level”
  • Instruct the trainee to take notes in this exact format as you’re training
  • Instruct the trainee to IMMEDIATELY type up the process in this exact format
  • Review the documentation when complete, make necessary edits (explaining to the trainee what was missed or incorrect)
  • Store the training on your server in a folder called “Procedures”

Training is a “currency” that retains great employees because it reduces frustrations, develops new skills and creates the “predictable practice” we all seek.  I’ve attached my training template and hope that you’ll start using it…on Monday!

Words matter.

Five transforming phrases to use with staff.

Every advisor I know believes in the power of words. They spend days crafting their elevator talks. They memorize sales tracks. They soak up magic words shared by industry pundits. And yet these very same advisors often struggle to find the right words when they’re communicating with their staff.

Since no one can ever out-perform their own self-concept, your #1 job is to build the confidence of each person on your team. And in building confidence, words have the power to maim or to inspire. Here are five phrases that work:

  • You look stressed. Is there anything I can do to help? Just saying the words – even without fixing the problem – reduces feelings of “overwhelm”.
  • Can you give me a quick summary of what I just asked you to do so I know I didn’t miss any important details You’ll see if they “got it” before they go off and do it.
  • You did an amazing job! The more specific the recognition, the better.
  • Thank you for always being there to help me. You could say this every day and it wouldn’t be too much.
  • I’m sorry. I must not have explained this task sufficiently. My former boss, Nick Horn, always said this to me when I messed up. And he said without a hint of sarcasm.

These five phrases – just fifty little words – used consistently, will create a “no fail” environment. And when people believe they cannot fail, they achieve extraordinary things.

So many tasks, so little time.

Does your team have a taskmaster?

If life inside your practice is feeling a little chaotic, it may be because the team has a thousand things to do and no system for making sure those things get done. And you’re probably waking up at night worried about what’s slipping through the cracks.

The problem is “unsupervised tasks” – tasks that run around with no system to control them. The solution has three steps and they’re all simple:

  1. Hold Monday morning staff meetings with everyone who supports you. These meetings have only one purpose – to prepare you for upcoming appointments. Pass out copies of the calendar for the next two weeks. For each appointment on the calendar, identify: what needs to happen, by whom and by when.
  2. Appoint a “taskmaster”. This would be your practice manager, if you have one; otherwise it’s your assistant or para-planner. It shouldn’t be you. The taskmaster’s job is to capture all the identified tasks in a system. That system might be your CRM program, Outlook, an Excel spreadsheet or even a binder with hand written pages. They all can work – as long as the system allows you identify and retrieve tasks by client, by person responsible, by status and by due date.
  3. It’s the role of the taskmaster to follow-up with team members so that you have what you need 48 hours prior to every appointment.

For those who don’t have a good system for task management, I’ve attached our super simple Excel spreadsheet. To retrieve tasks by any of the above criteria, simply pull down the arrows next to column headings to automatically filter the list. (If your team needs any help with this template, give us a call.)

Here’s to calm practices, happy teams, and well-served clients!

The elevator moment…

Does your team know what to say?

Many advisors struggle with how to respond to the simple question, “What do you do?” so it isn’t surprising that few get around to arming their staff with an elevator talk. But, boy, is this a powerful concept!

What would it be worth if your staff could deliver a polished statement about the value your firm provides? They could use it with referrals, with centers of influence and with people they meet in their own circles.

When I visit clients and meet with each staff person, one of the questions I always ask is, “If I met you at a party and asked what you do for a living, what would you say?” The best response I ever heard was this:

“I’m an Operations Manager for a wealth management firm. We work with individuals and business owners with a net worth of $5 million or more, who care about their families, businesses, and communities. We help them with everything they care about.”

Kudos to Bill Babb of Raleigh, North Carolina for inspiring this vision in his team.