By Sarah J. Kaelberer and E. Dennis Zahrbock

A very good staff gives you a very good team. And a very good team gives you outstanding results.

Most producers know that to make Top of the Table, they need an excellent staff. Heres how to build a Top of the Table staff.

Finding the Right Fit

The first step in building your team is finding the right people. The key to choosing the best employee is to focus on the person, not the resum?.

For example, we have an employee, Lisa, who did not have a resum? when we hired her. We recruited her from a company that was going out of business.

We offered her the job because we knew what kind of person she was and how she worked. Over the years, wed seen her demonstrate that she had a heart of gold and the desire to do anything it took to help a client or teammate.

Those qualities made her a good fit for our team. If the spirit and ability is there, procedures and processes can be taught.

The bad apple theory. The old saying, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” can prove true in an office environment. One negative person or non-team player can seriously damage a teams morale.

One way to combat this is to get to know the candidate for the job as well as possible. Our office is small enough that we can have a job candidate meet with all the current team members.

Make sure, too, that all employees meeting with a job candidate are familiar with interview laws in your state and country.

Training your team

Although the key to a Top of the Table staff is Top of the Table heart and attitude, everyone needs training. So, once youve found your diamonds in the rough, youll need to polish them.

Product and industry knowledge, as well as tax elements, can be taught. Technical accuracy is a must. It is vital that all employees understand your products. The more the team understands why we do what we do for clients, the better service the team can provide.

One of the trickiest skills in this business is knowing how to ask questions. We all know that when clients call to ask a question, rarely is the answer as simple as what they asked.

There often is an underlying reason for the question. We work to teach our team how to get to the bottom of questions.

How do you teach this? Try to allow an unlimited amount of time for training. Although the possibility for abuse exists by allowing so much time, the flexibility and respect we offer our staff belay this.

Our staff members flexible schedules and incentives depend on them getting their jobs doneand done well. They know when training will make them better.

And they know when and how much they can afford to take without sacrificing the service they deliver. They are eager to maintain this balance.

Your employees should not only be trained but also cross-trained. It is not reasonable to expect all staffers to be experts in all areas. But there should always be more than one person who can perform each task, no matter how small that task may seem.

Keeping the Team Productive

A happy team is a productive team. One way to keep your people happy and productive is to keep them involved.

Our employees really “own” their positions, both the good and the bad. They get credit for the good and are accountable for the not so good which, even in our terrific office, does happen on occasion.

Part of owning a position means that all employees need to feel they have a part in the direction of the company. We keep the entire office involved during new marketing campaigns, ownership changes or other strategic developments.

Ownership also comes into play in work schedules. No one in our office is in 5 days a week, 8 hours a day.

Team members know what needs to get done. If they get it done, and done well, they are all entitled to have “flex days,” where they can work more flexible, or non-standard, hours.

Most generally plan their week based on a 4-day work week. This arrangement does not worry us because we know they will get their work done.

If it takes longer than theyve planned, theyll stay until it is done. This arrangement shows our staffers that we respect them. And this respect creates more loyalty and teamwork than any monetary incentive.

We do, of course, offer monetary compensation. Never underpay a good employee.

Our team receives incentives on both the total revenue of the company and for the individual business segment. Additional bonuses may be available at the end of the year, based on profits.

Remember: Once youve found your ideal team members, work to keep them. Dont take them, or the work they do, for granted.

Weve found that by treating employees with respect and offering them the flexibility they need to have lives outside of the office, weve created a solid and loyal team.

And this team enables us to truly have a Top of the Table office.

E. Dennis Zahrbock, CLU, CFP, and Sarah J. Kaelberer, CFP, ChFC, are, respectively, president & CEO and vice president of Business & Estate Advisers Inc., Wayzata, Minn. They can be reached at edennis@business-estate.com and sarahk@business-estate.com. This is an abridged version of a presentation they gave at the MDRT annual meeting.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 18, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.