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Practice Management > Building Your Business

How to Create Great Employees? Teach Them to Teach Themselves

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In the cover story of the November issue of Investment Advisor magazine, I revealed the findings of my white paper on The P4 Principles (Preparation, Pay, Perks, and Productivity), and how advisors can use them to create successful firms that virtually manage themselves. While each of the Ps is essential to overall business success, Preparation (as its name suggests) lays the groundwork upon which each of the other Ps is based. In the feature, I wasn’t able to go into as much detail on Preparation as there is in the white paper, so I thought it might be helpful to do so here. 

My work with independent advisors has taught me that creating great firms comes from creating great employees. The first step toward creating those great employees is to teach them to teach themselves, by allowing them to learn their own way. This key is to create a culture within your firm that gives your employees permission to learn: to ask questions when they don’t understand; to make their best effort regardless of the outcome; to make mistakes as long as they own up to and correct them; to speak up when they have comments and/or observations (their ground-level perspective can often provide insight that’s hidden from the top-down view); to do their job the way they can do it (not how you would do it); and to ask for more responsibility (they usually have a better handle on what they can do than firm owners). 

On the other side of the employee/employer equation, firm owners need to work on becoming mentors or coaches, rather than “bosses.” They need to resist the urge to micro-manage, and to teach rather than critique. It’s easy to point out what people have done wrong, but much harder to do it in a way that they’ll do it right next time. And as I mentioned, it’s essential to let them do their job their way, not the way you’d do it; everybody is different, which is fine as long as you end up with the job done right. 

It’s often helpful to take each task that an employee’s job entails separately. Start by having them do one task, and review it when they think it’s done. If it’s not up to your standards, explain why, and have them fix it until it’s done. Then have them do another instance of that same task, to see if they “got it.” If not, keep having them try until they do. Then move on to the next task, and repeat the process. In this way, you show employees how to do their jobs, while letting them figure it out for themselves: which is far more effective than simply telling them how to do their job. 

When you create a working environment such as this, what you’re really doing is creating employees who can train themselves, expand their jobs, manage themselves, train and manage other employees, and make a significant contribution to the success of your/their firm, whether you’re there or not. They’ll learn to have confidence in themselves, in the knowledge that they don’t have to be perfect or know all the answers—as long as they are resourceful, and find the answer they need to do their jobs—and they’ll learn to take responsibility for getting their job done, for helping their co-workers and for helping you to build a successful firm.


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