My clients are always giving me business books. Actually, not just clients; I have random people send me business books. Sometimes, they’re books that validate the ideas I use in my consulting, but more often, they contain “new” ideas that resonated with an owner-advisor.
It’s sweet that my clients think of me, but I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the books. I guess validation is nice, but I don’t really need it for strategies I know work in advisory firms, and most “new” ideas are just repackaged old ideas that we already use or have found not to work in the advisory world.
When one of my prospective clients recently sent me a copy of “Traction” by Gino Wickman, I welcomed it with an eye roll. Still, I brought it along on a business trip — but only to put me to sleep on the plane. Imagine my surprise when, upon seeing the book in my hand, the guy sitting next to me started telling me how “Traction” has changed the way he runs his business and how much more successful he is as a result.
After talking with him for half the flight, I felt compelled to give it a read. Not only did “Traction” validate our approach to creating great employees, it gave me valuable insights into the dynamics of a great firm, which not only has helped my business, but when translated into the roles in advisory firms, will help independent advisors as well.
There are a lot of “Strategic Coach” ideas in “Traction” (in fact, Dan Sullivan wrote a blurb for the front cover), but for me, and I suspect for most advisors, Wickman’s big insight comes in Chapter 4, titled “The People Connection.” In it, Wickman focuses on “putting the right people in the right seats,” a concept he credits to Jim Collins’ “Good to Great.” Wickman’s contribution comes in spelling out exactly what this means in a business context: “The right people are the ones who share your company’s core values. They fit and thrive in your culture. They are people you enjoy being around and who make your organization a better place to be.”
To understand this concept in an advisory firm context, owner-advisors first have to have core values, or perhaps more accurately, have to articulate their core values in a way their employees can understand and relate to. As I’ve written before, this is far easier for independent advisory firms than many other businesses. Virtually every firm founder that I’ve met started their business to serve their clients better than they could in a more corporate setting or, in some cases, even another advisory firm.
Financial advisors make a dramatic, tangible impact in the lives of their clients. OK, maybe it isn’t curing cancer, but providing for one’s family, sending children to college, caring for elderly parents and funding a comfortable, enjoyable, healthy retirement are all right up at the top of most folks’ priorities. Working in a business that makes these things happen is a core value that many people can buy into. When owner-advisors take the time to spell out exactly why they do what they do, it’s not hard to find employees who buy into their core values.
“The right seat,” according to Wickman, “means that each of your employees is operating within his or her area of greatest skill and passion inside of your organization, and that the roles and responsibilities expected of each person fit with his or her ‘unique ability’ [taken from Strategic Coach].”
Notice here that he’s not just talking about the right person for each job, but that each job is spelled out in such detail that the employee and everyone else knows exactly what each job is and what’s expected of that employee.
This is a particularly important point for growing advisory firms that typically start out with a few employees, each doing some of everything depending on what’s needed at the time. While this organized chaos may work for a time, it’s a long way from getting the most out of each employee—or out of the team as a whole. Wickman put it this way: “A hazy structure may have gotten you to where you are, but it will not take you any further.”