To build a successful independent advisory business, it’s essential to have a very clear understanding of what “success” means to you — the owner.

Is success about generating a large amount of revenues (as many owners today seem to believe)? Being able to spend a significant amount of time with your family? Increasing your personal income? Or having control over your working environment and how you serve the client?

These are all worthy goals. And over the years, owning an independent firm has proven to be a good way to attain them.

However, there is another essential element in attaining business success  that’s often overlooked by many business owners: what “success” means to employees.

If an advisor-owner has more than a few employees, they may not spend much time thinking about what the employees hope to get out of their affiliation with the firm. This is a mistake.

The problem throughout the growth cycle is that most business owners don’t like to think that the success of their businesses depends on anyone but themselves.

The reality is that as a business grows, its success depends increasingly more on employees and partners, than on the owner. For instance, in many larger firms, most of the clients never come into contact with the owner.

The takeaway is that the success of a business depends upon employees’ happiness with their jobs: that is, their definitions of success.

How many owners have actually asked their employees how they define “success”? For owners to get what they want, they’ll need to make sure employees are getting what they want.

Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to what employees want. Like business owners, each one is different. Discovering the answer is hard work, since it means getting to know employees and taking the time to talk to them.

What Makes Employees Happy?

There are some basics that can make the job easier. Most owners think what employees really want is more money. As it turns out, even employees who seem focused on their compensation, usually aren’t any happier within a couple months after a raise.

Study after study has shown that people usually are happier for a short while after a pay raise, but then as they adjust their lifestyles, they realize that not much has really changed.

Instead, employee job satisfaction (read: happiness) depends on a number of factors — none of which has much to do with money, but a lot to do with the firm’s owner.

In our consulting work with human capital issues, here’s what employees value most today:

Advancement. This probably applies most to professional employees, but not as much as you would think. Most employees want to feel that their jobs are leading to better jobs. That could mean anything from advancement to more responsibility.

Everyone wants to feel they are making progress — growing — and that efforts are both recognized and appreciated. Knowing employees’ aspirations and helping them get there is a huge moral builder.

Respect. Most job recruiters have said that the number one factor in turnover is respect — or lack thereof. Many firm owners make the mistake of assuming that they know more about their employees’ wants than the employees do.

While that might have been true back in the day when you started out doing everything, chances are your firm has changed, and so have the people in it.

Seek out your employees’ feedback about their job needs, as well as about other areas of your firm. Listen to their responses. Not only is that motivational, it’s also possible that they know more about what’s going on in your business today than you do.

Trust. Trust is the key element to any functional and healthy relationship. For people to trust, an owner must trust themselves. When employees trust an owner’s decisions, they more easily live up to that owner’s confidence.

Owners also need to be more focused on doing their own job. Why should an owner care if employees come in late and go home early as long as they get their jobs done, and done well.

The bottom line is that it can’t be all about the owner. For an owner to get what they want from the business, they need to make sure their employees and partners are getting what they want, too. It‘s a true win/win for everyone.


Angie Herbers is Managing Director and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent growth consultancy for financial advisory firms. She can be reached at