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A Change of Perspective

As you know, small business is not immune to internal conflict. But no matter the size of your office, a change of perspective may help you see an issue in a new light and find the resolution you’re looking for.

Of course, we’re all naturally clear on our own perspective and how to assess a certain situation or conflict. Seeing that same issue from someone else’s point of view, however, is a skill. But where do you begin? Well, someone wise once taught me a trick to view things through another person’s eyes. Odd as it may sound, it involves physical movement.

Get Moving

Let’s say, for example, there is a disagreement in your office about where a new staff person is going to sit. In this situation, each member of the team may have a different perspective.

  • One staff member feels he should move to the open cube, which is slightly larger than his current space, because he is now the most tenured staff person in the office.
  • The hiring adviser would like the new support person to be in that cube since it is closest to her office.
  • Some staff members feel that, if the most tenured staff person moves, they all should move to be close to a particular adviser or to match space with tenure.
  • Other advisers in the office think, who cares? Whatever.
  • The office manager would like to take an approach that keeps everyone happy and productive.

Discover a New Point of View

While this scenario may seem a bit trivial, it is real life. I’m sure everyone has encountered a similar situation. Here, the knee-jerk reaction that all this is silly (can’t we just focus on work?) may not be valid. Instead, what if you were to physically sit in the open cube, the adviser’s office, other staff members’ cubes or other advisers’ offices? I think you just might discover that the issue is quite real.

The act of physically moving to a different space can help you see things from a new point of view. The issue you’re dealing with could be anything—deciding whether to spend more of the budget on marketing, coming to an agreement on the planning software that will meet the needs of all or even making the firm-wide decision about the best asset allocation for a client segment. You might not find the answer by sitting in your office and trying to understand it from the perspective of others. But you may find it by moving your body to a different location—any location. Physical movement is the tool to help you stand in someone else’s shoes.

Create a Powerful Solution

I was recently reminded of the value of changing space to gain perspective while visiting China. My perspective of the country was “off.” But as I stood in a new space that was 7,500 miles away from home, saw a few of the 1.4 billion people everywhere and breathed the air, I began to understand a different culture and left with a lasting memory of a country of building cranes. A change of scenery can do a world of good. And by truly experiencing a different perspective? You will have a greater chance of creating a more powerful solution.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.


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The Value of Time and Experience

I recently visited an adviser whose business had grown very quickly. In a five-year period, he went from one employee to five and his production tripled, easily putting him in the seven-figure range. In comparison with many other advisers with similar businesses, this adviser is 15 years younger, on average and has a commensurate 15 fewer years of industry experience. Listening to his business challenges—especially those having to do with human resources—gave me pause. Did this adviser have more people problems than most or was something else going on?

Getting Better Vs. Getting Used to Things
In considering this young adviser’s situation, I believed one of two things was going on:

  1. He had not yet developed the skills necessary to manage staff, which was actually contributing to his issues.
  2. He had not yet recognized that people issues are an ongoing component of managing a business.

For example, the adviser felt that he needed to revise job descriptions and re-create a compensation system that would more specifically motivate the behaviors he desired. He wanted his employees to take more responsibility for producing error-free work, instead of depending on him to review their work and catch errors. The issue extended beyond his support staff. He had recently brought on a staff CFP® and discovered that the process of guiding and mentoring the young woman required a significant investment of time to help her understand how to apply financial knowledge and theory to clients’ reality. That’s not to mention the time he was spending helping her evolve business development skills. When I asked how much time he was investing in managing the business, he said 50 percent.

But is that really too much? Comparing his story with that of other advisers with similar business scale and capacity, I found that they were far less verbal and seemed less frustrated with their human resource situation. What was particularly thought provoking was that the young adviser had assumed he must be doing something wrong or that there was something wrong with his organizational model.

We’re Never Done
There is no doubt that if we make the effort to improve, we get better over time. We learn how to manage resources—time, money and people—more effectively. What this young adviser had yet to learn was that he was doing just fine as a manager. The reality is that just when we have things lined up to achieve the perfect organization, a lot can change—someone gets sick, leaves for a different job or needs to implement new technology or procedures, which actually causes him or her to be less effective and may even lead to performance issues.

The longer we spend in a leadership position, the more we learn that when things are going well, all we have to do is wait a bit—they’ll change! The good news is that the reverse is also true. When things are not going right from an HR perspective, focusing your attention on the issue can help improve it. The fact of the matter is that we are never done managing our people. And that’s the real value of time and experience.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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What Comes First—Changing the Tech or the Staff?

Firms are struggling with technology adoption because they believe their executives or staff can’t change or learn new methods of operating. So they stop implementing the tech (aka the change) and instead start interviewing potential hires to replace their current staff who appear unwilling to change and learn. This stoppage and hiring effort creates a dark cloud over the mood of the staff. It sends a message that the firm isn’t prepared to improve nor invest in change management. Rock star-quality staff take this stoppage as a sign and ultimately stop recommending improvements and cease their championing of change. If the stoppages happen often, your best staff might even start interviewing at other firms or start their own firm.

How do I know if my staff are able to learn new systems?
The easiest way to test the team’s ability to learn is to sell the change before implementing it. As the firm owner, you must believe in the change, know the benefits, and persistently encourage productive feedback. Remember that the administrative person might care about reducing data entry work, while the adviser will want this change to help them onboard a new client more efficiently. Staff that can’t adopt the change will stand out immediately. If they are your key team members, have your executive team talk with them and explore why they are resistant to the changes. Then, and only then, will you know if it is time to search through the resumes and start to recalibrate the staff with a new hire.

Do I lay off a loyal staff person when they can’t learn?
We all know it is very expensive (money, energy, time) to lay off and hire someone new. Any new hire requires you to use energy and time to train them on your firm’s method of operating, philosophy regarding client service and expectations. It is best to NOT lay off those who seemingly can’t embrace change and instead invest in training and change management first. Training can be in the form of scheduled weekly webinars, paying an outside expert or software provider to provide customized training, or having a staff person train his/her peer. Change management comes from the top. If you are not sure you are managing change properly, you can hire a coach to learn how to do this effectively now and in the future.

While you invest in training and management, you should also be scouring the earth for potential hires. A great employee, successor, or partner hire won’t fall into your lap the minute you decide you want to re-calibrate your team. It is never too soon to start networking and doing informational interviews and building your pipeline of candidates. If the training and change management does not produce the results you want, you know you can call upon a pool of qualified candidates.

Change isn’t easy—if it were, everyone would be doing it! Remember that any meaningful technology change—even implementing a new software program—takes more than 66 business days to adopt. Give your staff time to embrace the new tech and provide continuous training, positive reinforcement and examples of the long-term benefits. Most importantly, be sure to give yourself time to lead the troops with a positive attitude and realistic change management goals. Progress may be slow but as long as you’re seeing change transpire, rest well knowing your firm is on the right track.

Jennifer Goldman

 

Jennifer Goldman
Founder
My Virtual COO
Boston, MA

Editor’s Note: FPA members receive a $500 member discount on a My Virtual COO consulting engagement. You can find more information here