As the financial advisor-client relationship continues to evolve amid changing investment behaviors and evolving client dynamics, creating, developing and maintaining high-performing teams has become an unequivocal mandate for committed and effective advisors. Teams, made up of mission-driven, process-oriented and growth-minded specialists are crucial to meet the growing demands and expectations of financial advisors. And while the paradigmatic shift predated COVID-19, some if its byproducts—working from home, no facetime with clients, adjusted workflows and pronounced market volatility—make ever more clear the essentiality of implementing a team-based approach that leverages effective tools and processes to ensure continued strong performance, engagement and support for clients navigating the same disruptions. Doing so will not only improve the efficacy of the advisor-client relationship, it’ll help ensure that the relationship is maintained over the long-term.

High-performing team archetypes exist across the professional landscape—from championship-winning basketball teams, to gold-medal-wearing swimming teams, to money-making executive teams. Each offer idiosyncratic value worth modeling. But for advisors, one of the most apt teams to emulate are Navy SEALs, who are process-oriented, goal-driven and systematic in pursuit of their goals—and unrelenting in their commitment to success, even amid unforeseen circumstances. For advisors trying to navigate a global pandemic that has accelerated industry-wide change, the SEAL team model is particularly potent.

In working closely with Jon Fussell, a retired Navy SEAL and founder/CEO of Patriot Leadership Development LLC, to better understand how SEAL teams function, we centered on five core behaviors inherent to all high-performing SEAL teams that advisors can apply to their practices in order to help build lasting relationships with clients:

  1. Shaping The Battle Space (Client Experience And Engagement)
    1. Focus On Mission-Client Experience
      1. The first thing SEAL teams do when approaching a new mission is to “shape the battle space”—to take a step back and dispassionately evaluate their mission and all the component processes, and then determine what steps they’ll need to take to accomplish it. For advisors too, the first step is to examine all the end-to-end processes in the practice and assess how well individual tasks are executed at each stage as part of the firm’s broader mission.
        1. That mission is critical: high performing teams—SEALs and advisors alike—are fundamentally mission-driven and single-mindedly focused on achieving their goals. That requires three factors:
          1. a clearly delineated and mutually-agreed-upon mission
          2. a unified vision of the desired client experiences and outcomes
          3. well-defined roles and responsibilities that will ultimately enable effective completion of the mission.
    2. Culture Of Engagement
      1. The second part of “shaping the battle space” is to evaluate the existing team environment. Is the team benefiting from the collective value of each of its members? Is each advisor contributing uniquely and tangibly to the broader practice? This level of participation and engagement is essential to a team performing at its peak.
  2. Plan The Dive, Dive The Plan (Planning And Preparation)
    1. Two things separate high performing from poor performing teams: high performing teams are both more disciplined about strategic planning and more effective at executing. While the synergy is more obviously necessary for SEALs, too often, we find that advisors believe that it’s an either or proposition. In reality, high-performing advisor teams must combine consistently thoughtful goal setting and strategic planning with deliberate and effective execution against those goals and plans. One without the other doesn’t work—advisors who plan effectively but fail to follow through are constantly hurting their relationships with clients even if their prospecting pipeline is full, and advisors who can’t or don’t deliver effective strategies at the outset will similarly struggle even if their execution is superb.
  3. Jack Of All—Master Of One (Specialization And Knowledge Sharing)
    1. The colloquial perception of a Navy SEAL is a highly skilled, intensely powerful warrior who successfully takes on dangerous missions. What’s lesser known is the degree to which each member of a SEAL team is carefully selected and different; each member brings an intentional, specific skillset that will help the team achieve their mission. Advisor practices should be similar—as interpersonal and professional client dynamics catalyze widescale industry change, it’s no longer sufficient to simply have a practice full of independently strong advisors. Now, practices must feature high caliber, skilled specialists that bring distinctive skillsets to offer clients a well-rounded and comprehensive experience. This approach should filter across hiring, staffing and professional development strategies.
  4. Hot Wash (Debriefing To Improve)
    1. Fundamental to the SEAL process is the “hot wash,” a post-mission debrief that allows everyone involved to share their perspectives and insights, reflect on any mistakes and, most importantly, analyze key takeaways and lessons. Regular, consistent and candid feedback designed to engender constant improvement is crucial for high performing advisor teams. It helps stamp out bad habits, poor processes or negative outcomes for the betterment of the practice and clients.
  5. Mindset Of Continuous Improvement (Creating A Growth Mindset)
    1. Building off their hot wash, SEALs aim to constantly improve and grow to ensure that they’re nimble and able to navigate the ever-changing enemy landscape in the future. Likewise for advisors, who are experiencing changing advisor-client dynamics alongside Covid-19-driven market volatility, a growth mindset and continued commitment to improvement is paramount to creating sustainable growth in their practices.

The financial advice ecosystem is evolving at a pace that is often challenging to keep up with for even the most adept advisors. At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has upended traditional practices, forcing advisors to entirely reconsider their day-to-day client interactions. One crucial path forward to create long-lasting impact and nurture long-term client relationships is by adopting a deliberate, thoughtful team-based approach that harnesses the effective behaviors of other high-performing teams. Emulating Navy SEALs, who are renowned for their collaborative and team-driven approach, can help advisors adjust to these challenging circumstances with greater ease and efficiency, and, in so doing, ensure better outcomes and experiences, and most importantly, longer-lasting, more fruitful relationships with their clients.

Jennifer Tarsney is director of practice management at New York Life Investments.