Four Important Lessons (so far) in 2023
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
As I write this, starting tomorrow I will be taking my once-a-year family vacation. I am l blessed that my adult children (including one in college) all still want to travel with me. I am looking forward to unplugging for a bit and spending focused time exploring a new place.
When life events like a planned vacation roll around and, in my case, moving my father into a hospital bed at home and wanting to provide all of the support I could before I left, I pause to think about my work with advisors and financial services professionals. This profession does such great things to change people’s lives and allow them to achieve goals, take care of their families and lead a very robust and fulfilled life. For this “vacation column,” I’ll share some of the insights my team has gathered in 2023 and give you some things to think about before I return for the next set of questions in my voice mail or inbox!
Here's how to examine, improve or confirm what’s working and what’s not in your firm, team or company:
- No matter how small the team is, no matter how large the company is, communication will always be the thing your team says isn’t working very well. Just this week, I had an on-screen session with a very high performing team, and then presented a report to one of my largest clients after running focus groups for them and in both cases – with very different areas of focus. Much of the discussion came down to communication. Sending the email, having the quick hallway discussion, telling one person but not everyone who needs to know, having meetings that are unproductive, sharing things without context and giving people part of a story without the full outline are not going to work! Yet, we and our firms keep doing it. And the worst part is, the leader (whomever that might be) will usually say, “Well of course we are communicating – just look at all we do!” Without checking in and understanding different learning modalities and preferences for communication, you will get through in only small ways. It’s worth it, on a regular basis, to check in with your team and see what they are thinking about what’s been shared, what else they need to learn or know and to generally consort with those who are doing the work. There is much to learn, and they typically want to share, but unfortunately the leadership doesn’t ask them.
- Having the right people in the right roles doing the right things at the right times makes all the difference. I work with so many advisory teams, including larger firms, who spend hours, days, weeks and sometimes months trying to bring an employee up to speed, coach them to success, or help them see the error of their ways and help them learn something new. There is a place for learning; things change, and we have to learn to adapt and keep up. There is also a place for coaching. You help someone see what they did right and build on it, and what they did that perhaps wasn’t to their best advantage. Without feedback and support, none of us would ever improve. But when it comes to the foundational things – a person is simply not good at finding the errors on the Excel spreadsheet, but you insist that is the job description and the role and you force them to do it; the person who isn’t attentive to detail is in charge of sending out your client emails; or the person who is very low energy is expected to kick off a client event – you are only sabotaging yourself and that person. We are all wired to do certain things well and others not so well. It is the difference between learning something that can be taught, versus having innate skills to do certain things well and others not so well. When I teach my graduate classes in leadership and managerial skills, I share research that shows you will always get more out of a team member if you build on the strengths rather than drag them down for what they aren’t doing very well (over and over again). It’s stunning to watch a team shift people to align individuals with what they do well. The entire team culture, attitude and level of success shifts. Be rigorous about this. Don’t say, “It will work out,” or keep pushing someone where they don’t want to go or couldn’t go even if they wanted to.
- What got you to a position in your career might not be what you need to keep you going and to get to the next level. I’m working on a presentation for a very large client, and it is all about change. During a pre-planning call one of the team shared a quote: “Comfort and growth can not co-exist.” It appears to have been said by Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM. IBM is an example of a company that could have easily been a goner (anyone remember Wang Laboratories?) and instead IBM was up 6% in 2022, topping every large-cap tech stock. The company has bolstered its consulting business with small acquisitions and cozied up to fast-growing cloud providers Amazon and Microsoft. IBM generated $752 million in free cash flow in the latest quarter and paid out $1.5 billion in dividends. I share this to show that things change, and if you aren’t willing to see how you can grow along with them, you will stagnate. The world doesn’t wait for you – think AI chatbots and the rise of BRICS just as a couple of newer examples. Even if you can change, if you are a leader, you need to help your team members see how to change and help them make shifts. Human beings enjoy stasis – we don’t like our boats rocked. Try driving a different route tomorrow to get your morning coffee or go to the office and see how much more alert you are. We often operate on autopilot because we like the tried and true. Your team members like it too. Change means fear. Fear brings resistance. Often people can’t see what’s in front of them, and they don’t want to “go there.” Recognize the inherent fear – don’t just tell people what to do, help them with what to do. Some people won’t be able to come along with you. They will stay stuck and refuse to make a change. This is why many amazing companies that have been around for decades are no longer with us. Change isn’t a choice, but how you react to change is.
- Bring the human factor into all you do. When I was in a very senior-level financial services role many, many years ago, my boss put a sign on my door saying, “The doctor is In.” On the other side, it said “The doctor cannot see you now”. He created this because no matter what new institutional product we were rolling out, or what pension plan we were meeting with, or what conference I was about to speak at, I was always spending most of my time getting the team to collaborate effectively, be motivated and try to figure out what people needed – personally needed – to be successful. Even then I recognized without a focus on the human factor or the human element, whatever we were doing was not going to be as successful. Fast forward to today, and it is in vogue to talk about the importance of the human element, understanding your team member’s passion and “why?” for their career, understanding the values and concerns of clients you work with and bringing a human element into your marketing and sales process. But we have a long, long way to go. During another meeting this week, some team members spoke about how they don’t feel they can be honest and authentic when they are in meetings or sharing insights with their leaders. They see things the leaders should know, but they feel they have to put on a professional persona. In many cases when I run DISC profiles for my clients, people tell me they have a different persona at home and in their personal lives than they do at work. Really? So we aren’t bringing ourselves and who we really are to the workplace? And we aren’t making it comfortable for people to share insights without feeling they are being judged and graded for doing so. We have a long, long way to go with the human factor. Consider how you can bring more human into your workplace or team. Be interested and curious. Be open. And most importantly create an environment where people feel free to share.
That’s all for now! I look forward to more great questions when I return from my vacation.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.
A message from Advisor Perspectives and VettaFi: To learn more about this and other topics, check out our podcasts.