Many advisors focus on client acquisition -- the source of their referrals, the way they will market and so on. A less common focus, which typically takes a backseat to business development, is the business itself. While the business does grow through clients, it also grows by becoming a better firm. One way to do this is to use an industrial psychologist or strategic coach. In independent practices especially, the possible benefits of an industrial psychologist cannot be overestimated. A team may have a great quarterback and offensive and defensive line, but sometimes it may be hard to put it all together without a coach who can observe everything going on in the field from the sidelines; an industrial psychologist can provide that perspective. For nine years, we have used an industrial psychologist to improve the dynamics of our firm. In many ways, it is hard to list all the ways we have used our industrial psychologist, given the years he has worked with us, but we will highlight three ways in which he was instrumental in the growth of our business.

The first big help he gave us was when we were trying to envision a succession plan for our practice. Our practice was founded by Bill Olinger and Bill Koss in 1969. Two more advisors were brought on in the early 1990s who eventually became partners. For more than 20 years, Bill and Bill had pretty much run the entire firm. Bill O. took care of the investing side of the business, and Bill K. took care of the insurance side, even though both wore every other hat in the firm. As the client base grew, it became more evident that the management of that growth had to be handled in a different way, especially to ensure a multi-generational approach to the wealth management process for our clients. The partners of the firm didn’t have a clue as to how to handle the transition, but this is where our industrial psychologist stepped in. You had younger guys versus the older founders of the firm who had operated the firm since 1969 and done everything themselves. A breakthrough, however, came after a week, when Bill and Bill realized they could give up the reins to the younger partners. Our industrial psychologist helped us build everyone’s confidence level up to a point that Bill and Bill could trust that the younger guys could handle the business they had formed and built. Nearly a decade later, we know the process worked.

Another way our industrial psychologist helped us was through the realization of our board of advisors. We had a lot of personalities to work with, but our industrial psychologist made sure that we had people with enough similar qualities that they would be an effective sounding board for the partners. While all of our potential board members were highly accomplished in their fields, we feared that one member could disturb the dynamic of the board by becoming overwhelming to others. No member became domineering, and to this day, our board of advisors provides us with valuable, actionable information each time we meet with them. On an ongoing basis, our industrial psychologist facilitates activities that help board members out personally and provide us with ways to improve the way we run our practice. We have run many ideas by our board of advisors, from the creation of new client reports to who is a right fit for our financial planning process.

One of the other ways an industrial psychologist has aided us has been through the visioning process. Through the work of our board of advisors, he helped shape much of our future thinking about where we want our firm to go. We have set a distinct vision of where we want our practice to be in 2030.
While that may seem like a long way off, it ensures that the decisions we make today always have the long-term perspective in mind. Our industrial psychologist helped us look at the business and then look at the personalities of the partners. We looked, for example, at ways in which personal crises could impact the business, to make sure we were on solid footing in terms of where we wanted to be. In his “Oz”-like role, he also helped us create a mission statement. On an ongoing basis, he has developed and facilitated many coaching exercises to further us along.

Focusing on the business the way we have, we believe, has to have positive ramifications for our current and prospective clients. One of the hardest things to come by in the advisory business is trust, so by having a better business, we hope it gives our clients more confidence in the institution and people they expect to steward their financial well-being, now and for many years in the future.

Will Olinger III, CIMA, and Kirk Klein, CFP, ChFC, are managing partners of Koss Olinger, a wealth management firm in Gainsville, Fla.