The wise folks who make a living by studying advisory firms and consulting to advisory firms, and figuring out what the most successful firms have in common, often conclude that success comes to those who find and then focus on their core competency. Surround yourself with people and processes and technology that can more efficiently handle all your non-core-competency tasks, find the right partners outside your firm–whether it’s the right custodian or broker/dealer or outsourcing partner–and you’re well on your way to success. I’d like to suggest a contrarian approach: On a regular basis, assume the job responsibilities of all your staff members, one at a time, for at least a few hours. Sure, you won’t be as efficient as the staffer who sorts the mail or answers the phone, but it will give you hands-on perspective on how easy or difficult that task is, and provide valuable insight into the staff member’s value to the firm’s overall success.
Take your receptionist. A cursory examination of this job’s responsibilities would indicate that it’s not a very high-level position–after all, what are the special skills necessary to answering a phone and forwarding calls to the appropriate person, or giving clients directions to your office, or dealing with the FedEx delivery guy? But you’d be dead wrong. At Investment Advisor, we happen to be blessed with a very good receptionist (Kathy Butler), who exhibits loads of patience and forbearance dealing with confused readers and angry advertisers and even the odd colunnist who has despaired of ever getting me to answer my phone. She’s highly valuable to our success. When research editor Liana Roberts takes time off, I realize immediately how valuable she is as I attempt to help readers navigate our Web site or respond to frantic company representatives who want to make sure their entry makes it into our next directory. Thanks, Kathy. Thanks, Liana. We couldn’t do it without you.
I learned this truth early in my journalism career, when I noticed the great amount of attention one advertising salesperson seemed to be spending on our receptionist–nearly every morning he would bring her a steaming cup of coffee and a fresh Dunkin’ donut. I joked with him about his flirtation with this young woman, but he quickly corrected me. “She could make or break me,” he argued, noting that when a client telephoned and he was on another call or not in the office, her attitude towards that client could make all the difference in the world to his success.