As the next generation of our profession, we are stepping into organizations that have established cultures and business practices. The pioneers of the profession have laid a strong foundation for us to build upon. Their willingness to train us as young advisors in their businesses enables us to focus on tuning our skills as advisors. Their willingness to share wisdom learned from years of experience enables us to grow personally and move the profession forward.
However, sometimes being “next” in an existing structure can be challenging. We are young, energetic and ready to help shape our companies and our profession. That youthful energy can be just the fresh breath and new perspective needed. We may be eager to embrace change and the next evolution of the profession; however, advocating for change requires a delicate balance between respecting the past, honoring the status quo and encouraging open-mindedness that leads to progress. Keeping a few simple principles in mind can help us handle those conversations.
Always be humble.Try to enter a situation with the basic assumption that there are facts and details of which you are not aware or do not understand. Take the time to understand the current situation and the reasons for it. Sometimes things are more complicated than they appear on the surface. As employees, we may not have complete information or an understanding of possible implications. Remember to think about the big picture and ask firm owners about strategy and vision so that you can better understand how even small issues fit into the overall mission of the organization.
For example, young advisors hoping for more meaningful client interactions should have a clear understanding about their career path and the milestones for advancement when they have conversations with leaders about how developing client relationships fits into that role. An inquisitive approach is a much better way to build collaboration. It will not only help you learn, but it will also help demonstrate you have an appreciation of your role in the firm and a willingness to earn the capital to influence change.
Be part of the solution. Once you have done your homework by humbly asking questions, you will be in a better position to determine what change is necessary. Sometimes it is easier to identify what you want to change than it is to find a solution and implement that change. Be cautious that you are not too eager to voice concerns about what to change from without also proposing a suggestion for what to change to.
For example, a new associate at one firm suggested a new tax planning program. He pitched the idea and offered to lead a committee to compare the alternatives. In the end, the suggested program was adopted, and it turned out to be less expensive than the existing program.
Being part of the solution is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate an ability to think like an owner. Ask yourself a few questions: Does your solution fit into the strategic vision of the company? What are the possible objections to the solution and how can they be overcome? How can the solution be implemented effectively? A formal proposal may not be necessary, but asking and answering these questions will help you initiate a good conversation (and may help you discover that you still need more information).
Accept the outcome. If your proposed changes are approved, be prepared to be the champion of change within the organization. Help create buy-in among other stakeholders and take the initiative to help implement the change, if appropriate.
However, you should be prepared to accept when your suggestions are rejected. Trust that the managers of the organization are making decisions based on what they truly believe is best for the firm, its clients and the team. Even in the best circumstances, there may be instances when you still do not understand the rationale for decisions. In some situations, managers may just not be in a position to share complete information (even those who genuinely believe in transparency). Remember, what you view as an unfavorable outcome provides continued learning experiences and can become part of your professional development.
As the next generation of leaders in our firms and our profession, initiating conversations about change gives us an opportunity to start leading today. Maintaining a humble spirit and big picture perspective will enable us to engage in respectful conversations. I encourage you to be grateful for opportunities to initiate these conversations and be heard, regardless of the final outcome.
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