From the September 2005 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

September 1, 2005

Stoking Star Power

Superstars are made, not born

At least once a week, I get a call or an e-mail from an experienced planner looking to recruit the next "superstar" of the profession. To my amazement, these pros seem to truly believe that they can find a person who requires little or no training, can hit the ground running, make a major impact on the workload, revenues, and profitability of the firm--and who will do all this for about as much as they'd make managing a McDonald's.

I've learned, though, that's not as crazy as it sounds. In my experience, what these firm owners are really saying is: "I don't have enough time, expertise, and confidence to train someone, so please help me find a superhero to solve my problem." Unfortunately, I've also talked at length with hundreds of young planners at industry conferences, in online chat boards, in young professional groups such as the Young Planners Network (sponsored by my firm), and NexGen, sponsored by the FPA, and I have to admit I've never come across one "superstar." Sure, each person has a unique set of abilities, some that appear almost instantly as you listen to them talk about their dreams and aspirations. But I've yet to meet even one who could do it all, right from the start.

I have, however, coached plenty of young people who, given the right training, motivation, and opportunity, have the potential to be groomed into great financial planners. In fact, in situations where the opportunities and training programs were the strongest, I've watched the least likely candidates rise above their contemporaries to become true superstars. Problem is, I've yet to meet an established financial planner who got into the profession for the love of hiring, managing, and training people. Yet the process of finding, training, and managing the right talent is essential to the success of most advisory firms today. More-over, with a shrinking supply of young talent entering the profession, and demand increasing to an all-time high (see my column in the July issue of Investment Advisor), attracting and retaining a one-in-a-million, natural-born superstar has become nearly impossible. As I caution my clients, if you think you've really found that person, you have to ask: Why do they need you?

That's why I'm convinced that to take most planning firms to the next level--that is, to generate greater revenues and profits with less time and effort expended by the owner(s)--it will be the sole responsibility of those owners to "make" the next generation of talent in their firms. I emphasize "sole responsibility" because I receive an astonishing number of e-mails suggesting that the CFP Board, CFP-registered university programs, and industry associations are not doing an adequate job training young planners. I can see their point: Wouldn't it be great to send employees away for a week to a training program that takes the "burden" off of you?

Unfortunately, that's not very realistic, considering I have yet to work with any planning firms that have the same vision of how to value employees, young and old, and how to build their businesses. Financial planners are just like any other entrepreneurs: They're very good at their trade, do their jobs well, have mostly satisfied clients, and are not immune to the small business owner's burden of not having enough time in the day to get all their work done, let alone train someone else to do it. Simply put, they don't know how to teach someone else to view their business and work the way they do. It's very hard to train people to think, communicate, and work the way that you envision your business functioning. As a result, it's impractical to map out one turnkey training program and lesson plan for the whole planning community to follow and implement.

What's more, having myself gone through much of the training available in the industry today for young people, I know those young people do have enough background training to make a significant contribution to your firm, assuming, of course that you hire the right person for your needs, manage their expectations, and train them to do what you need done. That brings us back to you. The only solution is teaching yourself how to train people in the way you envision the jobs to be done. Ironically, that is something the FPA and other industry associations could do: provide training programs to train the trainers--to give you the expertise and confidence to make your young associates into the superstars of the future. But until they launch such a program, you'll have to do it yourselves.

There are four requirements to being a good trainer: Time, trust, expertise, and confidence. Let's look at each in turn.

  • Time. Training people requires two components of your time. The most often overlooked is taking the time to understand what your employees already know. The best way to do this is to challenge them. An overwhelming number of young people in the business express a severe lack of challenge in their jobs. To overcome this, have them attempt a job function such as writing a comprehensive plan or a proposal, or conducting a new client meeting, completely on their own. The key to making this work is for you to become openly "failure tolerant." Let them know that you fully anticipate them to fail but that you're trying to test their strengths. Almost always, one of two things will happen. First, the young people will get annoyed that you anticipate their failure and will exceed your expectations by training themselves to do the tasks you want them to do. The second, and much rarer outcome, is that they'll just give up completely. If they exceed your expectations then they have just taken the training burden off you. If they give up, the second demand on your time will be broached--teach them what they don't know, because you've just figured it out.
  • Trust. Let's face it, company loyalty is essentially dead in the eyes of the next generation. If you haven't already done so, at some point in the future you will train someone to be as good or better than you at the job you want them to do. Then they'll leave to become your competition, costing you plenty of money and countless hours of recruiting and training time. It's for this very reason that many business owners feel threatened by training their employees to be better than they are at certain tasks. Though the reasons for shortchanging on training may seem valid, it doesn't help you or your firm. Developing trust between employee and employer is essential to effective training. The best way to develop trust is to be open and trustworthy yourself. In other words, lead by example: don't make promises you can't keep and don't avoid managing your employees' expectations. Tell them clearly what their role in the firm is, and how it could grow in two, five, and 10 years. Then tell them exactly what they have to do to reach those goals. You expect your employees to perform their jobs in a certain way, so you'd better be doing yours as a manager as well.
  • Expertise. Any smart teacher knows that to unlock the full potential in their students they have to believe in them so strongly that the students start to believe in themselves. You have to dig deep inside each person to understand who they are and believe in their potential. That's how you motivate them to do the jobs you need done with little to no training. Doing this takes a certain degree of expertise and practice. Successful managers don't complain about why their people aren't performing to their highest level or about the time they spend on training. Instead, they focus on unlocking the potential in each person they've hired. The best way to do this is to delegate responsibility. Take meaningful work that you don't want to do off your plate and give it to them. You may think that they would view this act as you handing down tasks that you just don't want to do yourself. However, they'll see it as you giving them more responsibility and trust in completing the jobs that you normally do.
  • Confidence. Once you've figured out what you need to train your staff to do, trust in their abilities, and understand what drives them, then you can build an effective training program complete with learning objectives. At this point, you can also decide if any offsite training programs would help your staff and the vision you've set for them. Once your training program is built, you--the trainer--have one last thing to do: You have to be confident in your program and not waver from the mission and the lesson plan regardless of how fast your staff develops. Sure, it can be enhanced and changed a bit, but your staff must know and understand the importance of why you are training them in particular areas. You can't just say, "Because I said so." They need a reason, and more important, you need a reason to justify the time and resource expense to go through with it. When I create training programs for planning firms, all I have to do is ask the owner, "On a scale of one to five, one being worst, where do you rate your current training program?" If there is any sort of a pause or a rating less then 5, then I know that, like the majority of planners who implement formal or informal training programs, they are skeptical about the value they are providing. If that's obvious to an outsider and the owner, it's obvious to the employees, too. Good trainers, like teachers, know what they are training and why they are doing it before they attempt to write a lesson plan.

Good teachers know another thing that we all can take to heart. They know what their students need to know to be successful, because they themselves have learned just that. They spend the time it takes to teach those lessons, and give their students the resources to continue to learn without them in the future. That is a good lesson for all of us, including our industry organizations, to internalize. If the FPA wants to truly "train the young to build a profession," then I might suggest that they first train the trainers, rather than unrealistically making us believe that training the next generation is not a "burden" we as professionals are obligated to bear.

Angela Herbers is a virtual business manager and consultant for independent financial planning firms. She can be reached at angieherbers@cox.net.

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