When it comes to hiring junior advisors, virtually every advisor I’ve ever seen wants to hire a star: some youngster with a resume’ that will knock your—and their—socks off. That strategy almost always turns out to be a big mistake. Here’s why: When advisors hire “stars,” they expect them to “hit the ground running,” to come in and start making significant contributions to the firm almost from day one.
But all practices are different; their culture is different and so are the ways they deliver advice to their clients. Expecting a new employee—even a star—to figure out how to work within a new firm in a short period time is almost always unrealistic. Consequently, the “star” is set up for failure right from the start: When they don’t live up to those unrealistic expectations, they’re usually met with disappointment, and often, considerable criticism. It can take even the most resilient employee to overcome that, and if they do, it can take years.
This problem is so pervasive that I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s usually better not to hire “star” job candidates, and avoid altogether the downward spiral of unrealistic expectations. With new employees whom advisors aren’t so high on, the owner/advisors typically allow more time for the employee to become acclimated to their new firm. And more importantly, the owner spends a lot more time training them to do the job they were hired to do. In fact, over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that how firm owners train—or don’t train—newly hired young advisors within their first three months at the firm, will determine not only their job performance throughout their tenure, but their ability to contribute to the success of the firm, and often will determine the success of the firm itself.
Those critical first three months (or so) are when new advisors learn how to work within their new firm, how to do their new jobs, and most importantly, how to become self-managed employees: that is, how to make a maximum contribution to the firm with a minimum amount of direction from the owner/advisor. And the only person who can deliver this essential education is the owner/advisor. It’s an investment of time, to be sure, but one that will pay a dividend on the three months of intensive training with years of great—and virtually unsupervised—performance.
I know this is going to sound a little “new-agey,” but I’ve found the first step toward creating great employees is to teach them to teach themselves. And the key to doing that is to give them permission to trust themselves (OK, just call me Yoda). Let me explain. I’ve found that to get the most out of employees, it’s essential to communicate that the culture of your firm includes permission for your employees to: make mistakes (it’s how they’ll learn); speak up (if you don’t know what they are thinking, you can’t help them); and, to ask for more responsibility (they’ll know when they are ready to grow). In return, owners need to ask for only one thing: that employees honor their word, and keep the promises they make.
Taken together, each of these “permissions” will enable new employees (and existing employees, too) to gain confidence in themselves. They’ll come to realize that they don’t have to be perfect, and that it’s OK to make mistakes, as long as they own up to them, do what they can to fix them, and most importantly, learn from them. They’ll learn that it’s OK not to know and far better to find the right answers than to pretend that they do know. They’ll learn to trust their own instincts about what they can and can’t do. And they’ll learn that to earn the trust of others, they have to act honorably.
This trust in themselves as employees of your firm will enable your employees to learn on their own (with minimal effort from you), to virtually manage themselves, and to find ways to contribute to the success of the firm that you’ve never thought of. It’s truly the key to having an ultra-successful—and enjoyable—advisory firm. And it can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.