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Looking Out for Number Two

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Maybe some of us are just lucky and end up in the right career. I know I’ve been passionate about my career over the last three decades, and I hope I enjoy the next three decades as much. But I also believe there are actions that help us maximize our talents and emit joy for the sheer experience of using them while we’re here on earth. Ideally, we also get to make a contribution to others along the way. As Mom to two 20-somethings, I’ve been considering the subject a lot recently.

My influence on my children is significant as they begin their own career journeys. But while career development used to be limited to young people, with the new “retirementality” (a word coined by Mitch Anthony in his book The New Retirementality [John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2008; originally published in 2001 by Dearborn Trade Publishing]), it’s become a life-long opportunity and a responsibility. The one person ultimately responsible for your career development is you. Who else can answer the soul-searching questions that pinpoint the difference between a smile and a cringe as you face each morning, between a peaceful night’s sleep and a fitful rest as you reflect on the day’s work, or between a mere paycheck and a passion?

Don’t just Read about it, Get up and Do it

There are career counselors, psychologists, specialists, books, workshops, and so on, to help people figure this out. I’ve often referred people to What Color Is Your Parachute?, by Nelson Bolles. First published in 1970, revised and updated in 2008, and still in print through publisher Ten Speed Press, it’s not a traditional job-searching book. Rather, it is a tool to help the reader identify which of their life experiences have been most meaningful. Key insights emerge to identify one’s passions and to help determine how and where to put those passions to use.

Books like Bolles’s have lots of ideas and tips, but they also include all kinds of exercises for figuring out what things we want to do with our time, where we want to do them, and who we want to do them for and with. Unfortunately, the typical modus operandi is to read the exercises, which is nowhere near as helpful as actually doing them. That’s a problem. It is too easy to be lazy and seek out someone else to tell us how to have a successful career. It doesn’t happen that way. Far too often an employee has asked me to develop a career plan for him or her. Impossible! When the employee first decides what he or she wants, then I am delighted to support him or her in carving out a pathway. But I can’t do it for an employee any more than I can do it for my own children.

As a group, investment advisors tend to be a pretty passionate lot. They find great personal and professional satisfaction in their daily work and in their careers. But let’s focus on your employees.

Unless you are in the minority, you can probably remember when you didn’t have a clue about how you enjoyed spending your time. On top of that, the early stage of your career–as is true for most of us–may have been tumultuous, perhaps including marriage and kids. All of this is likely going on now for your employees who are in their 20s and early 30s. So a paycheck is typically not simply important for them, it’s critical. The fine balance for their development is to determine the right direction at the right pace of advancement and to simultaneously address financial concerns.

How You Can Help

No matter the employee’s age or tenure, acknowledge that you can’t define career development for anyone other than for yourself. Each individual needs to find her own passion. But once someone has done that, you certainly can help employees create their path.

You probably have a two to 50-person organization. However, it’s likely that you don’t have the option of allocating specific resources to counseling, testing, and training. But you do have incredibly valuable assets to offer your enlightened entrepreneurial employees. Following are some examples of what you can do to help them.

Offer unique projects that provide employees the opportunity to learn and apply new skills. Employees in small organizations can have many times the opportunity to pursue new projects than the more bureaucratic Fortune 500 companies allow.

Sponsor employees for FINRA exams or provide the three years of guided experience for an individual to use the CFP credential.

Invite an employee to attend a conference or convention. Whether offered by your broker/dealer, custodian, an industry association, or a wholesaler, these can be valued options.

Invite an employee to teach new information to you and/or to other staff. Whether it is about customer service, investment philosophy, office efficiency, or technology, teaching is a tremendous learning tool. A book report or an article review can be equally stimulating.

Mentor. Never underestimate the importance the employee places on spending time with you and hearing directly how you make decisions or why you take certain approaches. It’s formally referred to as “referent power” in the organizational behavior world, and it refers to the opportunity the employee has to hang out with someone he or she respects. Your knowledge/power rubs off.

Seize the opportunity. In corporate America, you likely need to go through a committee, structure, or bureaucracy of some type to change an employee’s title. But in a small organization, the sky’s the limit. So “Creator of First Impression” can be a mainstream title for a receptionist in a small organization, but it would take time and documentation to get such a creative title through the system in a larger organization.

Champion online training, which is increasingly available in a wide variety of topics, from Microsoft tutorials to academic degrees. Online courses are growing resources for life-long learning. Someone recently told me that 50% of what a student learns in college is obsolete by the time he graduates. Thank heavens academic institutions increasingly emphasize how to go get the information you need when you need it.

Provide tuition reimbursement. This benefit helps formalize training, especially for those seeking an academic degree. Be clear on the amount, the type of course work, and the completion requirement for subsidization.

Get Ahead of the Curve

In 2004, more than 99% of firms in the United States were considered small businesses, employing 500 people or less. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2006 that more than 1.86 million jobs in small firms were added to our economy while 181,000 jobs were eliminated from large firms. With more than half of our workforce in small firms, and that number growing, small business is a backbone of America. Employees entering the workforce need to think about what they are after and where and what type of culture they will best fit into that will give them the support they seek.

Corporate America offers traditional advancement, the prestige of being associated with a brand name that everyone has heard of, and certain accoutrements (e.g., structure, the corner office, furniture, titles, etc.). The five-person office lends itself to an informality less common in corporate America–whether it be the dress code, flexibility, unique and unusual perks, or tight interpersonal relationships.

Career development will be increasingly important in the future, as the 80 million baby boomers look to replace themselves with the 50 million Gen-Xers. Consider, too, that one of the main challenges for the principals of advisory firms over the next few years will be to find replacements for themselves just as the wave of retiring boomers sharply increases demand for advisory services. It’s smart for small business owners like you to care deeply about this issue, as the cost of turnover is three to five times salary.

As I seek to influence my two grown children, I will encourage them to look at everything–the pros and cons of the more formal approaches to career support in corporate America and those of the more entrepreneurial organization. No doubt, they will educate me.

And while we are at it, let’s remember that we all need to reinvent ourselves. Career development is a life-long journey, for everyone.

Joni Youngwirth is the managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts. She can be reached at [email protected].


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