by Tony Vidler
Professional advisers have never been under more time pressure than they are today, and of all the things they could be investing time in the one which is easiest to defer is investing time in people.
Everything is else is more pressing and demanding than a practice leaders own people most of the time. Regulators and government departments certainly impose deadlines which carry significant short term penalties should they be missed. Clients demand attention immediately. Suppliers and external stakeholders are usually working to their own time pressures and transfer some of those “deadlines” and constraints onto advisers…and on it goes.
At the end of the line, simply because they are usually making the least noise, are your own team. Your tribe…your people. For too many practice leaders who are put under too much time pressure from too many other quarters, it is their own people who miss out on what they usually need most: time and attention.
We instinctively know that those closest to us need this time and attention the most, as it is the same with children and life partners isn’t it? What makes those relationships work best is giving them time and attention. We know it to be true of client relationships too, and many many professional practices make deliberate decisions to invest time in creating client relationships even though we know it carries a short term negative financial cost. We give away time in the form of “free consultations” or “first hour free” and so forth as part of our marketing because we know it will usually be ultimately worth it:
We know that over-investing in relationships early tends to produce the best long term results for each person in the relationship.
However, a common mistake on the part of professionals is thinking that just “giving time” and attention will in itself produce better performance or stronger relationships.
Think about it this way; if we were to invest an hour with a prospective new client with a view to establishing a professional relationship how would we spend it?
a. Have an ad-libbed discussion about our favourite football team and the awesome time we had on the weekend; or;
b. Begin with a structured approach to the meeting which focussed upon achieving a specific outcome?
We all do the latter when it comes to those client meetings, because we know that the first choice results in some warm fuzzy feelings perhaps, but it doesn’t demonstrate expertise, leadership or direction to the client. As such, those ad bhoc conversations typically result in prospective clients concluding that you are a nice person, but not quite the right adviser for them…..
…the second type of conversation is one which focusses upon the other person and helps provide some depth and context to the potential professional relationship. It is clearly focused upon identifying how one can apply professional expertise to helping them achieve a result they want. That’s what prospective clients are looking for.
To get the best results from your people you need to give them regular time and attention….BUT….it needs a loosely structured approach to be really effective.
Time is not enough. Having a half hour meeting at the start of the day or week with no agenda or purpose doesn’t cut it. Equally, having a regular meeting that is an exercise in authoritarianism doesn’t cut it either. While there is definitely a time and place for the leader meeting with staff to inform them of the State Of The Union, that is not generally an exercise in developing your people.
Just providing “time” which is not focused upon developing their competence or confidence is generally counter-productive as it introduces a sense of aimlessness and inefficiency, or alternatively begins to sound like a series of sermons from the mount.
You need to apply a loose structure to regular time with your staff, and a good framework is:
Just like that initial client meeting there is a purpose created from having a structure which minimises time-wasting or rambling, and creates a strong sense of developing the staff member in a pragmatic way.
It is important for their sense of well-being and confidence that you recognise progress, which is what the WINS is all about. What have they achieved…what is now working better….what projects have they knocked over? Beginning with a positive provides a strong sense of interest in them and their achievements, together with providing an opportunity to acknowledge good performance without allowing it to become a performance appraisal process.
The second point shouldn’t be taken literally – when we talk about WORRIES it is figurative. We are not interested (during this meeting) in whether they are having trouble at home with their spouse or have strong personal concerns over an upcoming election. We are looking for the areas within their work brief where they feel they need help, or don’t have the answers. This is segment is about providing personal coaching…knowledge and/or skills transfer to the staff member to improve their ability to execute tasks or projects.
The last point provides direction and focus on the next steps. By asking what they are WORKING ON we are able to direct their attention and efforts to the areas which we as leaders feel to be the highest priority, and we are introducing a strong sense of accountability. It creates focus on what we expect the next WINS to be….
This process requires investing time of yours with people of yours. It is about managing the people and the practice development deliberately, and increasing their competency and capacity, together with their confidence. Investing time in this way will lead to great returns for the practice, and while those returns will often be measured by better financial performance, the real returns are to be found in having better and happier staff who take more of the load from the leader.
That’s a good place to be isn’t it?