Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve uncommon results. —Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, before a game the Philadelphia Eagles were getting ready to play, “an NFL Films camera caught Chip Kelly [head coach of the Eagles] at a moment of candor and insight. … Kelly tossed two sentences to a practice-squad player that were anything but throwaway lines. They cut to the core of his approach as head coach. ‘Culture wins football,’ he said. ‘Culture will beat scheme every day.’” [My emphasis.] The article went on, “If Kelly’s still-brief time in the NFL has done nothing else, it has shown how closely he follows that precept and how important the distinction between culture and scheme is. Kelly put it in football-specific terms, but what he said could as easily apply to the head of a corporation, or the principal of a school, or an editor overseeing a newsroom.” And, I would add, a successful financial life planning practice.

To apply Kelly’s philosophy for winning to a financial planning practice, perhaps we could substitute the word “scheme” with “systems.” Of course, I’m not suggesting that developing efficient systems is unimportant any more than the coach would ignore the schemes he creates to produce a winning football team. On the contrary, it may be crucial. However, the greatest systems imaginable will be almost useless if they are not implemented properly and in the context of the culture you have created.

In my opinion, there are several elements that go into building and maintaining a winning financial life planning team. Not surprisingly, it starts with hiring the right people. As you might expect, we have made our share of mistakes over the years. But we believe we learned from them and have developed a hiring strategy that results in people who are highly likely to adopt and thrive in the culture of our firm. With some notable exceptions, we only hire people that we have been able to observe in their roles before making a final decision. One may ask, how can we do that? If we have an opening for someone in our administrative department, we get them from a temporary/employment agency.

After describing the type of person we need, the agency sends who they believe is a good candidate. If, after observing these potential employees in a work environment, we believe they do not possess the necessary skills and/or attitudes to thrive in our environment, we simply have the agency send someone else. If that person seems like someone we would like to have on board, we continue to pay the agency for her services before putting her on the payroll. If we keep this person for 90 days, the agency waives the placement fee.

We believe this creates a win-win situation for our firm, the agency and, most important, the employee. In this manner, we have an opportunity to evaluate this person for a long period of time before making a final commitment. This has resulted in outstanding employees who share our culture and are likely to flourish in our environment. So if a “mistake” is made, we are not put in the uncomfortable position of terminating an employee. We simply ask the agency to send someone else.

Every summer, we hire one or two interns to work in our financial life planning department. Two of our key professionals (our director of investments and a competent financial planner) started as summer interns. An intern from last summer who will be graduating this year has been offered and accepted a full-time position after he graduates.

Once again, observing how these potential planners respond to real-life planning projects and how they interact with other associates as well as clients enables us to choose people who will become an integral part of our culture. Of course, we have hired other professionals who were not interns. But our selection process includes interviews with most of the key people in the firm. It is important that we are all extremely comfortable with our new hires before making final decisions. The above two systems for hiring have virtually eliminated the mistakes we used to make.