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Among the most complicated aspects of an enduring business is people; specifically, recruitment, retention and development of talent. Yet this area seems to get short shrift in most advisory firms.

Witness the shocking demographics within the profession. Our average professional is in his or her mid-50s. More Certified Financial Planners (CFP) are over the age of 70 than under the age of 30. Fewer than 25% of the advisory population is made up of women and only 8% are people of color. Think about these figures compared to the demographics of the general population.

However, the most obvious clue to our profession’s challenge is that the average advisory firm has seen a material slowing of their growth rate to under 8%, while the equity markets have continued on a raging ride. This disparity indicates that advisory firms lack the capacity to grow. Advisors and advisory teams have a physical limit to the number of client relationships they can manage; after that, they simply cannot take on more business.

We measure capacity in advisory firms by examining trends in several key ratios: revenue/client, revenue/staff, client/staff, client/professional staff, profit/client and profit/staff. These factors are tracked in industry research, most notably the IN Research Financial Performance Studies sponsored by Pershing Advisor Solutions and which InvestmentNews acquired from Moss Adams LLP several years ago.

The data suggests an oversupply of clients and an undersupply of people to provide advice. In simple economic terms, this dynamic typically increases both prices and the cost of labor. Not enough new people are entering the business and many firms resort to recruiting talent away from their competitors or providers. In their desperation, employers do not always make good choices about who they bring into their culture.

What are the keys to recruiting and retaining talent? Why do people leave a firm?

Some employees change jobs because of money, especially if the offer is greater than 10% of their current compensation. However, most people with years left to ply their trade choose to leave because the position lacks something they need to feel fulfilled, they have experienced a bad situation or they are ill suited to the role to begin with.

I have seen many employees and managers come and go over the years. While I’m not indifferent to it, I’m also not surprised when it happens. We all experience different circumstances in our lives that compel us to seek change. Heck, I myself have worked for seven different companies in five different cities over my 45-year working history. In most of those cases, I even changed careers. So it’s hard for me to judge others who choose to move on.

One-off departures are not cause for concern, but persistent turnover should raise a red flag. In this case, firm leaders must determine why people are choosing to leave. Contributing factors range from compensation to leadership and management to work environment to firm culture.

Objective components such as compensation and benefits are easier to adjust, though most business leaders resent having to pay to persuade someone to stay. Monitor and review compensation models annually to ensure that your firm is competitive with the market and that employees feel valued.

An ineffective culture or leadership style is harder to get a handle on. Having served as both a consultant and as a manager of people, three areas have emerged as the most critical components of a human capital plan:

  • Defining the work

  • Matching the employee to the job

  • Creating an environment in which motivated people can succeed

Defining the work. In workshops and seminars, I often ask the audience of firm leaders if they use job descriptions for their employees. Most participants raise their hands. I then ask whether they know what the job descriptions say, whether they have defined excellence in the roles and whether their employees are performing the jobs as written. With each question, fewer hands go up. A clear grasp of the nature of a job enables you to see the grander scheme of the business, and therefore better define the characteristics of the people needed for each role.

Matching the employee to the Job. Each one of us offers a unique set of skills. Certain job functions excite us and keep us engaged, and certain functions bore us to tears. Some folks love detail and analysis, and others love engaging with people or thinking in big conceptual terms. Sometimes we take on a job outside of our sweet spot as a stepping stone to something grander, but we know — and often our bosses know — that our path lies elsewhere. Imagine hiring someone with great analytical or programming skills to be your lead business development person. Eventually this individual will burn out. When creating job descriptions, think in terms of the optimal characteristics of the individual you seek, and how you will continue to challenge that person as you help them develop. A candidate’s education or work history may look impressive, but their success in the role requires more than that.

Creating an environment in which motivated people can succeed. Boomers like to say that millennials lack motivation and a work ethic. In truth, employers who experience this lack of passion among their employees have mismatched them to the job, failed to provide challenges or growth, or created an environment filled with distractions. The best firm leaders first hire the right people for the right roles. Then they eliminate distractions and obstacles. Among the many distractions: poor work environment and communication, persistent unreasonable expectations, unfair and unhelpful performance evaluations and inferior technology tools and software.

Most people in the advisory profession did not dream of managing a business. Rather, they dreamed of managing money or giving expert advice to families on their financial choices, of profoundly impacting the lives of their clients. Time passes while the business grows. Then you wake up one day and realize you are surrounded by employees who need effective management. Worse yet, you realize that your business has grown beyond your initial vision and you don’t have enough of the right employees doing the right thing.

At this point you have the choice of either hiring a professional manager who can help you grow to the next level, or developing the people management muscle yourself. This skill takes time and concentrated effort; what may seem intuitive could be destructive. Throwing money or a new title at an unhappy person in hopes of creating a better outcome is a common mistake.

The most effective human capital plan requires deliberate leadership. You must be clear on what success looks like, place people in compatible roles and create a compelling workplace for the talent you wish to attract as well as the valuable people you want to keep.

— Read Who Do You Love: Employees or Clients? Tibergien on ThinkAdvisor. 


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