I was recently interviewing one of the finalists for a new associate financial planner position for our firm. At the conclusion of the interview, I asked if he had any questions of me. I was surprised and delighted when he asked, "What are you most proud of about the firm?"
It didn't take me too long to answer that question: "The people." I went on to clarify my answer. The people that I was referring to are each and every one of the associates in our firm. Their dedication, loyalty, competence, ability to interact with each other and clients, and demonstrated love for what they do make all of us proud. Of course, I would like to take credit for all of this, but the fact is that everyone in and out of management is responsible for the spirit and camaraderie. Turnover, fortunately, is so rare that I don't recall the last person who left our firm.
At a recent meeting with prospective clients, they made the point to tell me how welcomed and special they felt when Pearl (and she certainly is one!) greeted them, addressed them respectfully by their last names, and then asked whether they encountered any traffic and if they were able to find the parking lot with no difficulty. I don't know what else they talked about, but I do know that these people were impressed. I once had an analyst at a major wirehouse tell me that all he needed to know about a company he could tell by simply sitting in the reception area for one full day. I know that it's a cliché, but accurate nonetheless: "You only have one chance to make a first impression."
I'd like to share with you an e-mail I got from these people later that day: "You and your organization were very impressive. In my 30 years in advertising, I've been in my share of offices, and the atmosphere in yours says a lot about you and how you run your business. From Pearl on down, RTD is who Marsha and I would like to have advising us.
We discussed this over lunch and would like you to be our financial advisor and handle our investments. Let us know when we can meet again to get this in motion."
At our firm, we believe that having competent and dedicated associates is not a matter of luck or coincidence. Since the people on our management staff hire, train and supervise our people, it is they who are ultimately responsible for their performance. Some of my colleagues at other firms complain about their employees and how they are either incompetent or indifferent. It seems that these complaints come from the same people on a regular basis. Until they recognize that they-not their employees-are the problem, it is unlikely that they will see any improvement.
Employees are much more conscientious than many employers give them credit for. Does anyone really believe that there are people who show up for work in the morning with the intention of doing a poor job? Then why are so many employers so quick to criticize their associates when they do not perform up to their expectations? It is probably valid that happy employees perform better than unhappy ones. However, it is also true that good job performance is a factor in happiness. It is a rare person, indeed, that gets no satisfaction from performing well. So what comes first-happiness or job excellence? I'm not sure, but I do know that the only thing we have some control over is how the people we hire perform. Only when we recognize that the trouble (if we have any) is the direct result of our behavior and not theirs can we do anything to correct it.
While we have monetary incentives for all of our employees (based on what the firm has accomplished), we strongly believe that money is not the primary motivator for employee performance. We need to develop a work environment that our associates enjoy coming to each morning. It needs to be a place that brings out the best in them. What follows are a few things you can do to accomplish this.
Create A Successful Environment
There are leaders who seem to be able to consistently get the most out of people with whom they are associated. We know great coaches, corporate executives and others who seem to excel above the norm. We believe that the most important skill these extraordinary leaders possess is the ability to create environments that are conducive to success. It answers the question of why some mediocre people thrive when they change jobs or teams.
Years ago, much of the success of the New York Yankees was just "wearing the Yankee pinstripes." It wasn't the uniform-it was the environment created by management that made the difference. These players did not obtain superior pitching or hitting skills when they joined their new team. But they were in an environment that was more conducive to success.
Practice What You Preach
You cannot tell your employees that clients and others must be treated with respect and dignity if you do not treat them with respect and dignity. When you create an environment that is built on mutual respect and dignity, associates do not need constant reminders of how important those qualities are. We do not tolerate, for example, clients who are abusive to our employees. Moreover, we are willing to lose revenue in order to adhere to this core value of ours.
Not too long ago, a new client who was paying us a retainer of $12,000 per year was criticizing a team member for something she had failed to do, according to the client. I called the client and discussed the problem with her (the employee was actually following my instructions) and requested that, in the future, if she had issues with any of our employees, she tell me about them and not vent to the employees. She basically told me that she would do as she pleased since she was paying us. I politely asked her to find another advisor. The important thing about this incident and others like it is that our associates know that we value them and their dignity. When necessary, we are willing to sacrifice revenue to prove it.
Who among us does not want to be told when we are doing a good job? We need to be very generous with our praise, because people want to know when they are appreciated. This may seem obvious, but so many of us go about our day and take the things our employees do for our clients and us for granted. I once had a person tell me, "That's what I pay them to do!" Of course it is, but there are many other firms that are willing to pay just as much or more for their services. Of course, your compensation needs to be competitive. However, employees normally don't leave because they are looking for more money. They look for new jobs when they are unhappy, and not being appreciated is a major cause of job dissatisfaction, and we cannot tell them enough how much we appreciate all they do.
Educate On The Value Of Financial Life Planning
Is it enough to train a receptionist on how to answer phones and greet people? We think it is not. If we expect all our employees and associates to understand the value we bring to our clients, we need to educate them. Educating our employees on the financial planning process, of course, helps us to be more efficient and reduces the likelihood of error. But it also helps to make them feel like the integral parts of the firm that they are. We give them a great deal of responsibility and they know that we trust them to do good work. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you look for good in people expecting to find it, you surely will.
Create A "Family" Atmosphere
If people are to spend almost half of the time they are awake on the job, it should be as much fun as it prudently can be. We strongly believe that at our firm, and we do whatever we can to make them feel a part of our "family." We are all business, but why can't business be fun? We do our best to ensure that our firm is a pleasant place to work, and we all genuinely like each other. Our employees refer to our firm's "family" atmosphere without coaching from us. As we mentioned earlier, happy employees perform better. It is our job as managers to create the atmosphere that makes it possible.