When running an advice business, your people will usually be your biggest expense, and your biggest asset, and you want to apply just as much care for your staff as you do for your clients.
It’s imperative that your team is in sync with the vision you have for the business, and everyone is empowered to contribute to the best of their ability. Sounds admirable, perhaps even simple, and yet achieving this state is not as simple as it sounds – in fact, one of the most difficult elements of running a business is dealing with staff.
For some time now, I’ve been fascinated to know what systems and structures an advice business can implement in order to minimise this difficulty and create a harmonious team environment that consistently achieves the growth and development targets on the business plan.
Having released our Adviser Remuneration Report and worked with many businesses over the years, I’ve summarised here my observations on what contributes to building a successful team. Assuming you’ve taken all the right measures to find the right people in the first place, and your team members are all qualified for their role and share your personal values and commitment to client service and quality advice, how do you get the most from – and for – your people?
Pay them well
And by well, I don’t just mean ‘a lot’. One of the reasons we undertook the Adviser Remuneration Report in the first place was because we discovered that many Principals misunderstood FOFA’s ban on conflicted remuneration and removed any performance measures from their salary packages. We were seeing too many instances where a high base salary resulted in a lack of urgency from advisers, and poor performance results for the business and its clients.
While the Principal wanted their advisers to deliver outstanding service to their clients, to keep the ones they had and to bring in new business, the advisers had no incentive to go out of their way to deliver great results. Performance managing ineffective staff is an arduous and time-consuming process that has mixed results.
However, there are still effective and legal ways to incentivise advisers for delivering great results. By implementing a Balanced Scorecard*, you can still build incentives into your adviser salary packages, that reward them for doing the right thing by your clients and your business.
Bring them into the fold
Share your vision of the business you are wanting to build, and involve them in your strategic planning. Not only will your people contribute ideas that you may not have thought of, but they’ll be more inclined to work together as a team to implement the grand plans if they were involved in creating them.
Once you’ve created your targets and goals for the business, be sure to keep them in the loop on a regular basis about your achievement towards those goals. If you’re falling behind, encourage them to contribute suggestions on how you can regain ground, and if you’re shooting the lights out, celebrate your milestones as a team.
Manage them well
In its simplest form, this starts with ensuring you provide documented job descriptions and absolute clarity on what’s expected of your people. Establish clear key performance indicators (KPI’s) that include quality advice measures as well as financial elements, articulating your expectations for both new client acquisition and retention and servicing of existing clients.
As tedious as it might sound, even if your team is small, it’s important to have clear HR policies and procedures so they are supported in day-to-day management. I thoroughly recommend that you join your chamber of commerce or a HR service provider so that you can keep your policies up-to-date.
Ensure you conduct regular staff reviews where you have a two-way dialogue about not only your expectations and their performance or contribution as part of the team, but also their contribution to continuous improvement of the business. Ideally, this review will include an ongoing training and education plan to help them continue to grow their talents.
One hundred per cent of the firms in our research included payment of relevant education in their advisers’ remuneration package. All covered the full cost of CPD, most did so for university degrees, albeit one co-contributed to the cost of a Masters Degree with the staff. Many also included study leave in their packages.
Clarity on who does what
Be really clear about the tasks each team member is responsible for. Naturally the best way to do this is to have robust procedures for how you deliver your advice process, with due consideration of the best person to do each step. Ideally, you’ll involve your team in the creation of these procedures and encourage them to continually improve them. The last words you ever want to hear are “but that’s how we’ve always done it!” Be sure to also have timely reporting and visibility on the progress of all active client files so nothing falls through the cracks and your work-in-progress is completed efficiently.
Create a great environment
Let’s face it, we all spend the majority of our waking hours at work, and everyone performs better when they feel better. This notion extends from the environment they work in, to how supported they feel when things don’t go as well as they’d planned. From indoor plants to improving the air quality (and yes – brain function – it’s a proven thing!) to massages once a month, to guided meditation, to stand-up desks to fruit baskets and healthy snacks in the kitchen, consider what you can do to make the office environment more pleasant.
Providing insurance advice is an intimate and sometimes stressful# role, so also take active steps to ensure that you look after your people on an emotional level. Whether it be creating a safe place to have open dialogue about how your team are feeling, supporting those who are finding it tough#, protecting any who receive abuse or simply making it okay to have a mental health day once in a while, I highly recommend you spend some time researching how you as an employer can support the emotional and physical wellbeing of your people. It will be an investment that pays you back in spades.
A version of this article was first published in RiskInfo magazine.
*If you’d like more detail on how others have structured great remuneration packages, check out Elixir’s Adviser Remuneration Report.