A Pathway to Excellence
Curtis and Rob masterfully lay out an easy approach to improving team performance. The book is complemented with real world examples. The team challenges at the end of each chapter compel the reader to act.
Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.
—John C. Maxwell
It’s our belief that managers are an undervalued resource; they’re the unsung heroes–they move advisors toward a vision for success as well as helping them with their development. The manager leader must create the right environment in which teams can thrive. Without leadership, it’s going to be very hard for teams to thrive. The right environment is created through building a culture that is sustainable. In other words, the leader must be fully engaged with the advisor teams.
We see the leader as your business strategist and coach. The manager as coach facilitates the building, creation, and leading of advisor teams. This is an individual who helps to promote collaboration among teams, both internally as well as across organizational silos. The leader is establishing a common vision among all the advisor teams in the market area of responsibility, and the vision is a unifying purpose among all the advisors. As a business strategist and coach, he or she meets with advisor teams at least on a quarterly basis and helps to shape business plans that meet the objectives of client, the advisor, as well as the firm.
When you think about this role and how busy this individual is, it seems overwhelming. The leader must create an infrastructure in the office and build his/her internal team to be able to help execute on the advisors’ most important activities that are necessary for success. We have witnessed some leaders having one or two sales managers, having individuals work with the on-boarding of new advisors, establishing roles around administration, compliance, strategic marketing and product areas and the tactical product areas for the firm.
The leader is the unifying person who helps elevate the entire team to have an impact on advisors. He or she understands the “pain points” in his market. For example, someone working in a Florida market might have a distinct set of pain points relative to retirees or opportunities as opposed to someone who might be working in a very entrepreneurial environment in the Silicon Valley in California. This is an individual who is going to understand their market and is diligent in helping and coaching advisors to seek out specialized niche markets and other business opportunities that might exist.
Building Partner Relationships
He or she can build and extend partnering relationships throughout the organization. There may be an area of expertise that doesn’t exist within the branch and it’s up to the branch leader to examine the organization and create collaborative partnering opportunities. They may be with compliance, with marketing, with product groups, and they may be with specialists. They also may be with highly specialized divisions within the organization, whether institutional relationships or specialized retirement planning groups.
He or she is effective at building a team that supports the team-based environment with administrative staff, sales managers, product/market coordinators and other advisor teams. This is an individual who leads through observation and interaction and asks questions to gain knowledge and information as to how best to provide support of the advisors within their branch.
This is a two-way street. While we are focused on managers, advisors need to challenge them to get certain things done that benefit the entire office and the advisor team. When this leader is out recruiting they should ask a fundamental question to each advisor they try to on-board which is, “How are you being coached?” Recruits should ask the question, “How do you coach and lead your advisors?” For recruits who want to grow, that is a very important question. It speaks to your future growth potential through an offer of coaching and guidance.
It bears repeating: these manager/leaders should ask the advisors they’re trying to recruit how they’re currently being coached. The role of the manager and coach is often undervalued in terms of the impact that these leaders can have on building sustainable environments and impacting the communities they serve. When firms engage in frequent reorganizations and relocations it can impact a leader’s ability to have a long-term positive impact on their advisors. As a result, advisors can become cynical due to leadership change.
And if advisors are not being coached, what is the answer? If you really think about why are they not being coached, the face-to-face meetings with the advisor has got to be front and center, and how they delegate certain duties and responsibilities must be examined so that these manager/leaders can maximize the opportunity and time spent with them.
So why coach advisor teams? If you’re really looking at trying to extract maximum organic growth out of an organization, helping teams become more successful is a key component of this strategy. These leaders can take several steps to remedy problems with team dynamics. The first is to work with teams to develop a common objective understanding of why team members are not collaborating effectively. Managers must examine these teams through interviews, evaluations, coaching, and reviewing advisor business plans. It’s a substantial commitment of time, but the rewards and psychic income that comes from coaching and developing others is personally gratifying.
These leaders are also responsible for helping to correct dysfunctional team dynamics which means they must focus attention on interventions. As soon as managers begin to observe a level of dysfunction that can put a team into a crisis, the leader must intervene and potentially mediate conflict. As the saying goes, it’s up to this leader to try to “manage the ripples because ripples become waves and waves have the potential to become tsunamis”. This means problems have the potential to escalate beyond repair at times.
If leaders don’t manage that risk, teams may break up or they vote with their feet and they move to another organization thinking that will solve the problems. Being interactive in this way is also part of an advisor retention strategy. If a manager is building organic growth, retaining advisors and reducing turnover is part of the equation for success.
The Soft Skills
And part of the dynamics is being able to express sensitivity, being able to express understanding, being able to remind advisors that you are there to help them with their business. These are some of the necessary soft skills. Part of it is trying to get team members aligned to the broader vision and strategy and making sure that this leader communicates the organization’s purpose.
Leaders must examine the team’s alignment, and how teams are organized, and how they collaborate. Show an interest in teams by reviewing team agendas and communicating and checking in regularly with teams to ensure they’re working consistently and collectively on the vision and the strategy. These actions help to provide direction and focus. These are all elements of team-based coaching.
McKinsey and Company studied top teams in organizations and they reported that only 30 percent of the time was spent in productive collaboration. They identified some examples of how poor dynamics depressed performance. It is these soft skills that very often no one pays a lot of attention to, but they impact performance and the metrics.
One of the things that these manager/leaders must do at the formation stage is to help teams get it right, help teams get the right people on the bus, establish priorities, avoid conflict and disruption, and get the training they need to succeed. The real task of this leader is to build and nurture other potential team members as leaders. It’s this balance between the teams needing some objectives in how they manage themselves, and the leader stepping in only appropriately to help these teams succeed.
The leader is being confronted on a day-in day-out basis by numerous people, clients, advisors, support staff, operations, administrative personnel, and product vendors who want their time. The leader must constantly establish priorities and make sure that they’re focused on the priority activities that are going to impact team performance and enhance the branch revenues. The coach, the manager, the leader, one and the same, it’s that person’s job to represent the values of the organization as powerfully and as charismatically as possible. It is these leaders that set the example in everything that they do.
In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, then CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt was asked, “What does a leader do?” His response was, “Drive change and develop other leaders” . And, yes, it’s also important to nurture the other team members as leaders and to talk about curbing the egos. There are many soft skills that leaders must use to understand these team interpersonal relationships and weighing and managing conflict, as well as curbing the egos of individuals that could be disruptive to the team. Team members must understand that no one is bigger than the team, and they all must make sacrifices for the group. Team leaders must set aside personal egos and remember they are working for the greater goal of helping the team succeed. It’s a difficult soft skill that is required to diffuse conflict so that the team continues to move forward. This is a huge transformation for many team leaders.
The role of the manager/leader is multi-faceted. These leaders must be adept at strategic planning and understanding the unique markets within their area of operations. They must lead advisors in embracing and understanding many of the changes that are occurring in a changing marketplace. The leader must adapt and organize their operations that support clients and advisors. This leader must establish controls for profitability as well as managing the compliance posture in their offices while managing risk.
The Leader as a Business Strategist
This leader is also a business strategist who meets one-on-one with advisors to lead and ensure that there is alignment with the goals and vision of the company. A business strategist is responsible for determining the direction and scope of his office. The business leader is also a coach responsible for the development of his/her people. One of the keys to this coaching effort is mentoring and developing others who can assume leadership roles within the office. When this leader takes an interest in the personal development of others, these individuals will, in turn, reciprocate by offering their support in the offices as mentors and coaches for advisors within the office. If the leader is developing and fostering a collaborative culture, it will permeate throughout the entire office. These individuals can become a de-facto leadership team in the office and should be organized in a way that provides organized training and support for them as well as for teams in the office.
The role of these leaders has become so complex over the years that a collaborative team- based model must be utilized to leverage the capabilities of the leader like the way an advisor team might operate with delegation of duties, responsibilities and accountabilities. This leader is also a conductor when it comes time for mobilizing his or her teams. Sometimes, this leader might bring in a team either within his office or from another office and hold a developmental meeting for the sharing of ideas and concepts. These break-out sessions are designed to focus attention on the strategies necessary to enable teams to break new thresholds of performance.
The role of leader, as illustrated in Fig.14.1, is multi-faced and has a high degree of complexity if performed appropriately. Leaders must plan and organize strategies to have a positive impact on market penetration, client service, coaching, training and development of all employees, as well as growing revenues. Metrics are generally handed down from above, however, you must provide leadership to accomplish firm-wide goals while paying close attention to the unique attributes of your market or service area. These activities must be done while controlling costs and maintaining the compliance posture within your branch.
As a leader, you are the business strategist for your market. You are analyzing opportunities to have an enormous impact. While there are problems and issues that abound, you must stay vigilant and create strategies for success.
The 7-Step Coaching Process
We have spent some time discussing the manager as leader/coach. Now let’s examine a process as described in Figure 14.2 for mangers to implement this 7-step process.
Step 1: The Assessment/ Preparation. Before you bring in an advisor team for coaching you must perform an assessment of the team. Gather all relevant reports and data on the team members. Examine the quantitative data and qualitative data for the team and team members. At a minimum, review revenue reports, household growth reports, product mix, financial plans, and plan implementation. Also, review client satisfaction reports, net new money, and annuitized business reports to name a few. We realize that these reports vary by firm. The point is, you want to understand as much about the team as you can prior to engaging them in the coaching and business strategist roles.
Step 2: Strategy. You want to communicate the vision and objectives for your office and firm. You are trying to establish congruence and alignment of the team’s mission and goals with that of the organization. The time spent here is designed to make sure everyone is on the same page. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis as discussed in a previous chapter. Ask the advisor team for feedback. Is there alignment with firm strategy and the team?
Step 3: Gap Analysis. In this step, the leader will discuss the gaps in alignment between the firm and the advisor. The leader should also discuss any challenges and problem areas that are in conflict between the two parties as well as where there is common ground. Identify opportunities and areas for improvement. What behavioral changes need to be discussed? (This is a joint effort between manager and the advisor team.)
Step 4: Seek Agreement. Confirm with the team the gaps that require special attention and focus.
Step 5: Discuss Potential Solution. The solutions might be the best course of action, recommendations and improvements to the practice. Are the recommended solutions realistic? Negotiate solutions between manager and advisor. It’s important that these methods not be presented as dictum, but rather as possibilities. Identify and discuss best practice solutions.
Step 6: Create an Action Plan. Have the team create an action plan with initiatives, tasks, timing or time table, and who will be responsible for the implementation. Prepare a joint written action plan with key initiatives, tasks, timing, and responsibilities. Establish measurable goals and critical next steps.
Step 7: Schedule Sessions for Monitoring and Feedback. Sometimes, this is a meeting, and, at times, a simple note written on a performance report with a green or blue felt tip pen is enough. Providing a congratulatory word or words of encouragement indicate that you, as the leader, care about the team. Schedule check-ups and inspect progress. Sessions should be scheduled three or four times per year. Characterize the sessions as business planning and strategy meetings. Calling them “reviews” has a negative connotation. Remember, you are engaging the advisor team in a coaching or developmental session.
If you are engaging your advisor teams in this manner, you will impact and create a culture of excellence in your office environment. You will foster communication and collaboration in the branch or office you have been chosen to lead. Your awareness of what needs to be done in your office will become clearer because you will be earning the trust of your advisors and team members and they will be more inclined to share information with you. You will coach teams to higher levels of performance and show them the pathways as to how to get to their destination.
Meet with your leadership team and develop your coaching model and vison for your team’s future. Make sure that all advisor teams have a business plan that is not just constructed, but is discussed with you several times per year. Utilize the coaching model as discussed in this chapter.
 Harvard Business Review, How GE Teaches Teams to Lead Change, Steven Prokesch, January, 2009.
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