From the May 2010 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

May 1, 2010

The Biggest Winners

Take these steps to be "successful on purpose."

The TV show The Biggest Loser provides us with a window into the success of those who set out to substantially change their lives. The possibility of losing massive amounts of weight implies the ability to change. But even those contestants who succeed at losing weight still seem to carry around an enormous amount of emotional baggage. They're afraid of the final outcome, the reactions of others and the ultimate consequences of their involvement.

In the last 18 months, the financial services industry has seen enormous change -- upheaval, even. When I recently spoke at a major national conference, I asked the roughly 250 people in the room, "How many of you like change?" About one-third of the group raised their hands. I asked them to keep their hands up only as long as they liked the type of change I was naming:

  • Change associated with the market losing 30-40 percent of its value?
  • The change from the break-up of a long-term relationship?
  • Change in terms of getting a pay cut?

By the time I was done, all the hands in the room were down. The fact is, people like positive change -- pay increases, bigger bonuses than expected, a child finding a perfect match to marry -- and our ability to embrace change depends on the kind of change it is. As a result, most people in our industry have shunned or avoided the changes of the last 18 months rather than straightforwardly facing them and embracing the opportunities embedded within them.

Commit to Change

Since change -- both "good" and "bad" -- never stops, it's crucial to know how to fully commit to it so you can purposefully create the kind of change you're after, especially in a business context. This column will first outline six general steps to purposefully committing to successful change, and will then consider more in-depth steps specifically pertinent to financial advisors.

The six steps to fully committing to change are: leadership, vision, communication, buy-in, recognition and stickiness.

Personal leadership of your team or organization is where it all begins. Purposeful change doesn't happen without a lot of hard work at the top, and that means your leadership is essential. You can't simply delegate leadership to someone else on your team -- it has to be you in the lead, or the change you want won't happen.

As part of leading, you need a clear vision of what you and your team are aiming to accomplish. What will the ultimate outcome or positive effects be? How will everyone on your team benefit from achieving the intended change? Make sure you can boil it all down to a few sentences, and then practice explaining your vision to those closest to you until you are completely comfortable with it.

Once you've developed, refined and practiced your vision, you must communicate it. A key component of success is your communications style. Make sure you can communicate to others where, how and why change is going to happen, and exactly how it will benefit them in the long run.

If you are effectively communicating your leader's vision, the result should be buy-in by everyone on your team. Many of us have launched new initiatives to colorful banners and elaborate fanfare only to turn around a day later and find we're marching alone. To avoid this "launch and leave" response, where the seemingly urgent matters of everyday work life sap the energy, focus and initiative needed to follow through on purposeful change, you'll need to truly create buy-in at every level of your organization, from staff and associates to partners and tech support.

Once you've established widespread buy-in, your next step is regular recognition of those who are fully on board. Just as it's an important part of parenting to catch your children doing things "right" and let them know about it, you want to recognize your staff and associates when they are doing what you've asked them to do. When someone finishes a change-related project, don't just recognize them individually, but recognize them verbally in front of the group. And if clients or other outsiders give positive feedback, make sure you publicly share that as well.

The final step is to create stickiness. Consider again The Biggest Loser and everyone you've known who's gone on a diet and lost substantial weight. In most cases, however, some, all or more than all of the original amount lost will be gained back within a year. For change to last, effective support systems, processes and incentives must be put into place. To create a new reality and fulfill your vision of purposeful change, you'll have to take the necessary steps that make it easier-than-not to stay on track.

The Right Change

The six steps outlined above describe how to take change by the horns and have others follow your lead and fulfill your vision. But what should your vision be? What types of change should you aim at if you're a financial advisor wanting to move up-market?

This deeper phase of being successful on purpose begins with limiting the scope of your change initiatives. We've all worked at organizations where a new year begins and everyone has lots of great ideas and wants to accomplish everything at once. But such scattershot multi-pronged agendas rarely produce anything worthwhile. Instead, purposeful change is a process that takes time to implement. Be resolute in your focus and commitment, and forego any attempt to eat the elephant all at once.

At CEG Worldwide, we firmly believe in the old adage that you get what you're looking for, and that if you're not looking for anything specific, you'll end up with an eclectic m?lange of whoever happens to show up at your door. That may be all right when you start your practice. But given the industry's general downward pressure on fees, along with rising technology, compliance and overall operating costs, we feel that defining an ideal client profile (ICP) is of paramount importance.

The importance of an ICP and how to go about creating one have been discussed in this column. As a very quick review, you should define your ideal client's characteristics in eight categories: general description (including your niche or specialty and client's stage of life, industry, occupation, marital status and educational level); geographic location; investable assets; minimums (account size and revenue); financial challenges to be solved; source of clients; high-net-worth personality; personal enjoyment.

Once you've formulated your ICP, it's time to move into a phase where you'll delve into the details about existing and potential clients who fit your ICP. The best way to do this is to conduct interviews with centers of influence (COIs), the movers and shakers in your niche, such as those who publish trade journals or lead organizations dedicated to niche members.

The final phase of digging even deeper into the kind of purposeful change you want to create calls for the development of strategic alliances, especially with CPAs and estate attorneys.

To be successful on purpose, you'll need to integrate systems and processes along the way that not only sustain your progress but keep you on track towards creating your new reality. Importantly, very few of us can do this alone, or have the kind of energy, focus and accountability within our current organizations necessary to make this happen. Those who succeed on The Biggest Loser inevitably state that the most critical step in creating their desired changes was working well with Bob and Jillian (the show's trainer/coaches) and family who continually supported them.

So, you may want to consider employing the services of a success coach or organization with industry-specific expertise. Real change is possible, yet difficult to achieve, so give yourself every possible advantage.

Patricia J. Abram is a senior managing principal with the coaching, research and consulting firm CEG Worldwide. Visit www.cegworldwide.com.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.