January 14, 2013

After You Hire: 4 Ways to Build Leadership Skills in Your Firm

As a principal in an advisory firm, I can’t underscore the importance of striking the right balance between stability and continued growth, especially in a market where the times are always changing. While your business model must adapt with the sea-change, what should never change is your disciplined focus on hiring the right people for your team. True success— the rock-solid kind that is sustainable over the long-term—is anchored by having a team of efficient self-starters who holistically share your vision of success and of the firm’s future. 

Finding and hiring the right people is step one. Once they’re on board, it’s critical that you help foster and promote a culture of open communication and empowerment that rewards them to take the initiative and generate ideas. A timeless principle, this next step should extend beyond your inner circle, management team and even advisors. Everyone from client service reps to office managers and executive assistants contribute to the firm’s health, and they should be encouraged to participate in exercises that help develop key leadership characteristics that benefit both the individual and the firm.

You may be the captain of the ship, but you don’t have to navigate the seas alone. Here are a few strategies that I’ve used in my practice that have proven to be highly effective in building a stronger team:

Strategy 1: Build an Internal Mentoring Program

Pair up senior advisors with junior advisors, and team leads or veteran employees with newer members.  Give the program some structure—quarterly check-ins, shadowing exercises, goal planning—and make mentoring part of your employees’ personal growth plans. One plus one will yield three in this scenario.

Strategy 2: Start a Leadership Book Club

Create a 6-month program where every 30 days, a rotating team lead or senior advisor facilitates the discussion of a different book on building leadership.  In my firm I chose the books personally and the discussion topics included how the book related to our firm, the takeaways that could be applied to the business, and asking what participants would personally  implement. Everyone should be encouraged to attend these sessions.   

Strategy 3: Encourage Volunteer Opportunities

Profit paired with purpose that extends outside the self is a powerful combination. Volunteering to help your community is also a great team-building exercise, but don’t forget to recognize individual efforts. A firm-wide event that our entire company participated in included packing groceries for a local charity. We appointed a small steering committee (which is another leadership training opportunity) to manage everything from planning to finances to materials. The effect on the entire team was a rewarding one, and it displayed the skills of some very capable team members. 

Strategy 4: Schedule an Offsite Company Retreat

While an offsite retreat may involve a larger amount of time and resources to manage, the rewards are immeasurable. In my firm, we hold both a New Year kickoff event in January as well as a mid-year event in July. An offsite location allows everyone to “unplug” from the day-to-day and think strategically about the firm’s future plans. We typically bring in a facilitator to help the team discuss what we want to accomplish in the short term and share ideas about the long term. This event is a great opportunity to unite the team, help them better understand each other and exchange ideas in a constructive environment.  

Fostering leadership skills is rooted in practicing the fundamentals of leadership. You’ll find that these practical exercises, however big or small you choose to make them, will help build a culture of open communication, collegialit, and inclusion that keeps employees motivated and the firm running smoothly. 

As I have often said, culture trumps strategy every time.

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