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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Good Medicine for an Ailing Advisory Team

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As far as I know, I was the first person in this industry to come out in favor of teams and partnerships.

While I had the team concept nailed in 1985, the earliest writing I could find was a 1989 article, “Getting Ready for the 90s.” In it I wrote:

“As new markets and new technologies come on stream in the 1990s, you will have to build an organization. The $250,000 producer will survive as an entry-level position only. Advisors will come into the industry, move up to the $250,000 level, and either create an organization and move up, or be moved out.”

And: “There are two primary forms of organization to consider. Probably the most common is the advisor-directed organization, consisting of an advisor and support staff. The other organizational form is a partnership.”

What’s a Team?

Of course one hears a lot about “teams” today. I didn’t really use that term early on, but that was the concept of my “organization.”

In my dictionary, a team is “three or more people united by a common purpose, with defined roles and sharing a common knowledge base.”

While an advisor and one assistant is better than an advisor and no assistant, two people really do not make a team. Some writers think it takes four people to make a team. Someone else says five. I think you can have an effective team with three, although four is better.

The common practice in many firms of putting people on “teams” does not actually create teams. You can call a group of people a team. You can call them whatever you want. A group does not necessarily make a team.

What makes it a team is right in the definition I gave you. And it is this definition that can enable you to sort out team difficulties.

Team Case Study

Just before Thanksgiving, I had a long conversation with four advisors who had come together as a “team.” They knew they had a mess, which is why they appealed to the “team doctor” (that would be me) for help.

To sort out the mess that I found, I simply applied the definition of the team.

So where do you start? It really doesn’t matter. Pick one. Sort that one out and go to the next.

I started with the common purpose.

Common Purpose

This was easy.

I asked, “What are you trying to accomplish”? There was no hesitation: “We want to get to $1 billion in assets under management.”

Done. Next.

Caution: sometimes it can take hours to get everyone to agree on a common purpose. Just not this time.

Common Knowledge Base

The next thing I took up was the common knowledge base.

If people on the team don’t know and can’t find out what the other team members are doing, you do not have a team. You just have people doing stuff.

To create the orderly transfer of knowledge, the technology used today is the database. It must be constantly updated and then used.

My first prescription to this multi-advisor group was simply: Combine all separate databases into a single database. Give everyone on the team access to all records.

But it is obviously a waste of time unless there is knowledge flowing into the database.

So every member of the team commits to following “The Law.”

My justly famous law says: “Every contact with a client or prospect produces an updated record.” The primary management duty of the principals is: Enforce The Law.

If a single advisor on the team does not follow The Law, then no one can step in and help because no one knows who he or she has been talking to and what has been said. There is no way to come up to speed on sales opportunities in process. Thus you do not have a team, but instead you have the mess people called a team.

Defined Roles

Imagine a basketball team where everyone wants to be the guard or the center. Or a football team where everyone is a quarterback. What a mess!

Well, that mess is alive and well in many teams that I have coached and observed. The most common form of this mess is what I call the “dog-cat-bird.” In this “model,” everyone answers the phone. Everyone does client service. Everyone sets their own appointments. In short, most everyone does everything, hence the term dog-cat-bird.

There’s another variation. For instance, I might ask someone: “What is your job?” He or she might answer: “I am the client relationship manager.”

I might then ask: “Tell me a little bit about what you do.”

The answer could well be: “I answer the phone, I take client service requests, I plan events, I update the computer, and as needed, run errands.”

Whoops. There’s our dog-cat-bird again. This person has a title but is not performing those duties.

So let’s really define and enforce some roles.

I normally start with service. The reason for starting here is very simple. Service consumes the most of an advisor’s time. So let’s get that delegated so we have more time to meet with and talk to more and better clients and prospects.

This particular team has four support staff. I asked a lot of questions to determine how many people they thought it would take to do all of the service. Theirs is a very low maintenance business. They are 99% fee-based. They don’t get a lot of phone calls.

After more discussion with the principals, we agreed that one particular assistant would become the “Client Service Manager.” She was good at it and enjoyed it.

But for this to work, several other things have to go into play. Everyone on the team needs to send service issues to the service manager.

The service department must be branded as the “go to” place for service.

For this to occur, two things need to happen simultaneously: The FA quits answering the phone. A designated person answers and screens all incoming calls, putting through investment calls to the FA, and passing service issues to the service manager.

Clients learn over time that you have a service department. They will start going there.

To answer the phone, and do some other duties as well, we picked someone for the position of “Client Service Receptionist.”

In a multi-million-dollar team, normally one person should be designated the service receptionist. This person performs light service duties. He or she is the sole person to answer the phone except when on break and at lunch. Plus, this person may also perform computer operations. This may sound a bit like a dog-cat-bird, but these three functions normally perform well together.

Now we have two people left. To make a long story short, we took one of them who was less detail-oriented, and more of a “people person,” and we made her the “Client Relationship Manager.”

Her job became: manage client relationships, referrals, social and business connections and strategic partnerships. Her objectives: find new assets; find referral opportunities for strategic partners; book appointments with the advisors.

Our fourth person continues doing what she was doing: preparing for all client reviews. This is a classic para-planner role.

Did We Get It Right?

The answer to the question is: I don’t know. But I know how to find out.

I told the principals: Meet with each one of the support staff. Get buy-in from each one. Have a team meeting. Outlook everyone’s new duties. Run it. In a month or two, we will find out if it’s working, or if we underestimated the number of staff we need to support $3 million.

As usual, I have more to say than space to say it. I have a website for team resources. You will find it at I have posted a “Service Receptionist Job Description” and “How to Brand Your Service Department” there.

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