When independent advisory firm owners think about “training” one or more of their employees, it’s usually because the owner(s) or advisory teams are overloaded with work and are looking to offload some of that responsibility. A common example of this is a firm owner transferring some, or all, of the firm rainmaking responsibilities to one of their partners.

While there’s nothing wrong with owners delegating some of their responsibilities to allow themselves more time to actually run the business or work with more clients, we find they often fail to achieve the results they had hoped for. Plus we find these disappointing results almost always are tied to poorly designed training programs.

Here’s the problem: When the motivation for shifting responsibilities is based on short-term goal(s), such as giving the owner more time to work on other things, the transfer of responsibilities is done as “quickly” as possible — rather than as “thoroughly” as it should be done. This means that the employee taking on the new responsibilities generally is set up to fail, or at least will perform the new duties below the owner’s needs.

A common example of this dynamic is the transferring of rainmaking duties. In the growth process of independent advisory firms, the founding owner advisor typically assumes the responsibility of attracting the firm’s first clients, commonly referred to as rainmaking, as well as providing financial advice to those clients.

But as firms get larger — with more clients, more employees and higher revenues — most firm owners realize they have to make a choice between running the business or bringing in new clients. They often choose running the business, which creates the need for someone else to attract new clients so the firm can continue to grow.

This frequently means that the owner advisor will cut back on or give up his/her rainmaking duties, either handing over that responsibility to someone within the firm or bringing in someone from outside. Either way, the new rainmaker must be trained in how to do their new job, handle services the firm provides to new clients or both. And that takes time.

Training Compounded

We know, through experience, that almost anyone can be taught to be a successful rainmaker. To accomplish this, firm owners need to take the time and effort to teach the new rainmaker what it feels like to receive the financial advice and services offered by your firm.

They need to be walked through your advisory process, from beginning to end. This way, not only do your rainmakers know exactly what your firm does for clients, they also know what this process feels like. Having a firsthand experience with it makes them much better at selling it.

Rainmaking is a simple example, but training doesn’t start and stop there. Every task that overloads owners needs to be backed by a training process. We find that the key to creating a training process that truly will free up a firm owner is to think about training as a “compounding” process — similar to time value of money.

The better you train your people, the more responsibilities they can take off your desk, and the faster your business will grow. The compounding effect of knowledge is key to any training program.

What To Do, Not To Do 

As you begin to build a training process, think about what you can teach employees that will compound into better knowledge for them in the future.

Everyone teaches their advisors the technical details of financial planning and portfolio management, because they want to reduce their workloads in these areas. But what if you taught people skills instead? Does technical knowledge or people skills compound faster?

For instance, which is the better method? To start by training young advisors to learn technical info or have them begin by observing the delivery of financial advice by seasoned advisors? In our experience, it’s the people skills that keep clients with an advisory firm.Regardless, these are the types of questions that should be answered when building a training program.

Also, when creating a training program, it’s good to plan one that doesn’t take up all your work time; focus your training on skills. We recommend starting with people skills.

When you give your employees a checklist of specific tasks to do, you’re not cultivating skills that compound knowledge. What happens when they run out of tasks? They always come back to you for more.

One of the most common mistakes of building training programs is creating task and check lists on what an employee “should do” rather than what “skill” an employee needs to learn. A better plan is to make a complete list of what skills an employee needs to learn for the position you have hired them.

To be a great rainmaker, the first and most critical skill to teach is attentive listening. You can send employees to sales training, networking or marketing classes, but if they cannot deeply listen to succeed in understanding, interpreting or identifying a prospect, the value of meeting someone at a networking event or client needs and wants, they have no chance at building trust and/or closing the client relationship.

How do you teach listening skills? Have your employees observe and listen during hundreds of client meetings and prospect appointments.

Most firm owners are too rushed to allow time for trainees to develop these skills. Instead, they think they can speed up the process by explaining their way through training and telling employees “how to listen.”

For a trainee to truly learn a skill they must hear it, see it and feel it — three elements of true experience. Giving them just a checklist of tasks and explaining how they should complete it doesn’t give them an experience. Also, the only skill being developed in this training process is taking orders from you.

What do you think the compounding effect is for your employees’ order taking? You will always need to manage what they do. This doesn’t save you any time and, in fact, takes takes time away from you.

As you begin developing, creating and implementing a training program at your firm, whether that be for rainmaking or administrative help, start by listing the skills that need to be learned, such as listening — not the tasks that need to be done.

If you do this, the compounding effect on your growth rate will reward you in return.