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Embrace the Individual for the Ultimate Client Experience

Regardless of labels based on generation, gender, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background, political or religious beliefs, physical or mental abilities, skill set, age, personality type, etc., we are all unique.

Diverse teams afford distinctive qualities that enhance our profession but can be challenging to lead if one does not fully understand and appreciate each person’s unique talents and contributions. We all, no matter our differences, have one thing in common—we are all human and therefore we must honor one another’s individuality.

As practice management consultants who have focused on teams for the last two decades, we strongly believe that teams are the only future of this industry. The sole practitioner model is becoming harder to execute with the ever-changing complex requirements and expectations converging on financial professionals from all angles—regulators, firms and clients. However, we wholeheartedly believe that you must understand each individual for the team dynamic to work and the business to realize optimal results.

Creating A Connective Environment for Team Optimization

Without the right people in the right roles executing the responsibilities for which they have the right skill set, motivation and mindset, the practice will not grow and cannot reap potential.

In the absence of the ultimate team experience, associates don’t deliver the ultimate client experience, which affects both the reputation of the practice and the pace at which it grows. Without a connective, engaging work environment, top talent is lost to other firms, employee retention is reduced and growth and profitability are negatively impacted. Understanding each individual is essential in creating that connective environment.

A practice benefits from multiple elements of “diversity.” There are many different types of responsibilities and tasks to be executed that require entirely different and diverse skill sets. Our clients often encompass multiple generations, so we need age diversity among our team to best connect to the entirety of our client families. Many planners serve diverse communities so building a team that mirrors your audience can be beneficial in connecting to them. The examples are endless.

To optimize a team, we must go beyond the diversity label and understand the uniqueness of each individual. We often communicate differently with each of our children because they are unique and respond in different ways. Great little league coaches alter their style with the kids because each player may be motivated differently. Great teachers adjust their approaches because students learn differently. As leaders within the profession, we must do the same. Understanding the uniqueness of each associate, their natural skill set, preferred communication style, motivators, experiences and background will all lead to more optimal results.

We need to move away from stereotypes, assumptions and judgement and see the world and people through unbiased lenses, step into each other’s shoes and listen.

10 Simple Suggestions

Below are some simple suggestions on how to build the team while valuing the individual.

  1. Challenge your assumptions. Move beyond the labels.
  2. Get to know each team member. Execute one-on-ones—periodically take each team member to lunch. Schedule regular team off-site sessions that incorporate business and fun. Create “fun fact profiles”—we create professional bios, why not have a fun facts sheet on each team member? Encourage team members to share stories from both their career and their life journey; sharing experiences and defining moments can drive understanding, connection and respect. Story sharing typically diminishes assumptions and stereotypes in favor of true awareness.
  3. Understand communication preferences. This awareness allows you to flex your style to each associate’s style and subsequently create more effective interactions. Understand drivers, which provide critical information for the team dynamic as well as awareness on how to motivate each person. Utilize assessments and use unbiased tools to complement these activities. Our MapMyStrengths.com assessment is a phenomenal resource to get to know each individual and then utilize the information to improve communication, align responsibilities to those best suited to them and create a connective team dynamic.
  4. Lead the individual not just the team. Leadership involves both unity and individualization. For example, a singular vision unites the team and ensures all understand the path forward and standardized procedures can drive team efficiency. In terms of individualization, when leaders customize their style to each person, amazing results happen.
  5. Set clear expectations and then empower your team members with trust and responsibility. Be clear on expectations as they relate to both team and firm membership—what you as a leader expect from them and what they can expect from you. Provide parameters and the desired outcome to those who prefer to figure it out themselves, but be specific with how-to instructions for those who want to know how to achieve exacting results. Teach and be taught; create mentor programs and connect people for individual learning and growth.
  6. Focus on purpose first. In the absence of understanding the why in our relational industry, we begin to turn people into robots mechanically executing the what, the how and the when.
  7. Be approachable and available. Exit the ivory tower and spend time in the trenches with your team—provide open-door time. Get to know them on a personal level, show care and concern, be authentic and listen.
  8. Frame individual failures as learning opportunities. Explain rather than reprimand.
  9. Embrace critical conversations. Avoiding them can demolish culture and diminish respect for leadership. Execute tough conversations with applicable team members in a timely manner.
  10. Celebrate team and individual successes. Reward and recognize performance and achievement.

None of this is rocket science. We must remember, though, that the ultimate success of the team is dependent on the individuals. We must understand each member, value their uniqueness, embrace the commonalities and respect the differences. As a leader, success is in part dependent on our ability to lead each individual as well as the team as a whole.


Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets are partners at Performance Insights (performanceinsights.com), where they focus on helping financial professionals increase results through wiser practice management and people decisions. They are coaches in the FPA Coaches Corner for team development. See more resources from them here.

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Differentiating Your Value: People Make the Difference

Foundational to attracting and retaining new clients is the need to consistently articulate, demonstrate and validate your value. In a commoditized industry, there are fewer ways to differentiate your value, yet nearly all financial practitioners are seeking business growth. So how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace?

Financial professionals often seem to get lost in a sea of sameness with all marketing mediums, such as websites or brochures, looking and sounding alike. Think for a moment on just how commoditized the industry has become—almost any financial professional can replicate your what and your how, but it’s much harder to steal your why, your who or the experience that you deliver.

Let’s begin with what’s easy to replicate or steal:

Your WHAT—Solutions

Clients can buy similar products and solutions from almost any company on the street or, indeed, online (a financial plan, funds, stocks, bonds, insurance, annuities, etc.) The type and the size of firm are no longer nearly as relevant as they were two decades ago where you had to go to certain institutions to purchase particular products. Today, those solutions and products can be “purchased” anywhere regardless of whether you are a planning-centric firm, a brokerage-centric firm, an insurance-centric firm or a bank.

Your HOW—Process

Almost all financial professionals have a process that begins with discovery and includes recommendations, implementation, monitoring and ongoing communication. Many will use a visual of some sort in their marketing materials but generally, the process itself is very similar regardless of where a client goes to seek financial advice.

Reality reflects that what you provide and how you work with clients can be replicated almost anywhere.

So now, let’s look at today’s opportunities to create the real differential in this industry:

Your WHY

Your personal why, your team why and the signature story that you all articulate is much harder to steal—it is unique. Financial professionals enter the industry and stay in the industry for differing reasons. Drivers and motivators vary for each human; purpose and beliefs are personal and distinct. Simon Sinek is a fantastic resource on the subject of why; watching his TED Talk or reading his book may be instrumental for you and your team in creating this distinction for your practice. And, if you need to work on your story and positioning, we recommend contacting Susan and Adam Kornegay, fellow consultants in the FPA Coaches Corner.

Your WHO—the Client

The type of clientele that you serve can also be a differentiator. Those who have become specialists in niche marketing have created a distinction from those who serve anyone or, those who qualify prospects purely through a financial-minimum! Perhaps you serve “cardiologists in the U.S.” or, “female small business owners” or “C-suite executives in the Southeast.” The more specific your tribe or your niche, the more likely you are to become known for what you do and subsequently differentiate yourself from others in financial services.

Your WHO—the Team

Building a team of professionals can also be differentiating. The industry has been revolutionized from the sole practitioner model to teams. Teams can be small or large each with varying specialists, knowledge, experience, credentials, backgrounds, passions and interests. Your associates and what they bring to the table can play a remarkable role in differentiating your practice.

There are vertical teams, horizontal teams and hybrid teams all offering something a little different. As you talk with clients, prospects and centers of influence within the communities that you serve, ask yourself if you are maximizing your team members. Are you appropriately positioning all the expertise you offer to your clients? Are clients building a trusted relationship with all members of your team? Do you have any gaps of coverage that you need to address? Should you consider expanding your team? Your team can create a tremendous differential for your practice!


The experience that you deliver to clients, prospects and centers of influence can create a unique differential that no one can replicate. Your experience should take into consideration every emotion a client can FEEL when interacting with your team—whether in-person, on the phone or online. Remember Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Consider your environment; step into the shoes of a client or prospect. What feelings do you and your team evoke throughout each encounter of your client experience? We recommend that you have a service menu of deliverables for each segment of clientele and that you systematize all repeated activities on the back end of your practice so that you have time and capacity to deliver a customized experience on the front end.

Ensuring your client experience is memorable is critical to differentiating your value. Your standards of care will have a tremendous impact on client retention and on the pace at which you grow. In part, we speak so often on the team experience because without an impactful internal experience, your associates will unlikely deliver a differentiating external experience to your clients.

As you read through this article, you will quickly notice that it is the people who really create the distinction in your business—it is rarely the products, solutions, the process or the numbers. We encourage you to meet with your team and further explore the question, “Why should I do business with you/your practice?” Do you have a compelling answer that differentiates you from the competition? Are you focusing on the right elements? Does your client base understand the totality of your value? Do your centers of influence know what makes you different and why they should send you referrals?

Knowing your value and distinction is just the beginning. You will then need to make sure you position your practice correctly in a way that stands out, and, most importantly, the team needs to consistently live your value. In this increasingly complex yet commoditized world, it is more important than ever to articulate, demonstrate and validate your value. When clients and prospects understand what makes you unique and then personally and consistently experience those elements, retention increases and growth enters a new trajectory through an increase in both the quality and quantity of introductions.


Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets are partners at Performance Insights (performanceinsights.com), where they focus on helping financial professionals increase results through wiser practice management and people decisions. They are FPA Coaches Corner coaches for team development. See other resources from them in the FPA Coaches Corner.

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Learn to See Yourself Clearly Through the Johari Window


Michael Futterman speaks at a general session at last month’s FPA Retreat.

When I’ve watched Phil Jackson coach basketball teams, it always struck me as significant that Michael Jordan didn’t go that route. Jackson and Jordan had great synergy and Jordan offered so much guidance to the Chicago Bulls.

Then again, it’s easy to attribute positive qualities to professional athletes. These hard workers are usually filled with a drive for excellence, they work well around people with a shared intensity, they have a unique ability to thrive under pressure and they condition themselves to rise to challenges.

Many of these skills helped my client, a former professional athlete, become a successful adviser. Branch management recognized his growth and recommended he take on a partner and two or three junior advisers to further grow his business.

Unfortunately, not every athlete is meant to become a coach. Being good at something doesn’t mean you are good at teaching it. Tragically, many skilled people fail to see the limits of their capability. As we train clients to build superior teams through the Knowledge Labs™ Elements of Extraordinary Teamwork, we often find that a healthy dose of self-awareness can help put people on the right track to working better with those they need to help grow their business.

A few short months later, I sat in my client’s office listening to him express frustration and anger with his junior advisers. Exasperated, my client said, “I emailed how I do it! I don’t get what’s so difficult to understand!”

What is the Johari Window and How Can It Help?

As I listened to my client explain the problems at his office, I realized a tool called the Johari Window would have come in handy before the new staff members joined his team. Created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, the Johari Window is composed of four quadrants:

The open quadrant: things you know about yourself and peers know about you. The open quadrant contains obvious or explicit information. Although it’s helpful, this material can obscure or influence the information in other quadrants. For example, one might see my client, a successful adviser, and assume he will be adept at training junior advisers.

The hidden quadrant: things you know about yourself that other people don’t know. Based on his background, branch management felt my client would be comfortable engaging in the journey that growing a new team often requires. I asked a couple of questions and learned something my client knew, but his peers didn’t.

I asked him why he chose to email directions to junior advisers, instead of talking with them, and he revealed that he felt sitting down and walking them through things step by step is frustrating. “Do you always get frustrated when you’re teaching people?” I probed.

“Yes. I had to get my son a math tutor because I get angry if he doesn’t pick things up fast enough,” my client said.

This response gave both of us insight into something we hadn’t recognized, but I’m sure his junior advisers were privately frustrated by every day—his unapproachability. The Johari Window model refers to this quadrant as a blind spot, which means your peers know something about you that you don’t know about yourself. While branch management might have quickly realized he was overmatched in the role of leader or coach, the client’s pride and quick temper made it difficult to tell him that.

My client is a great team player and highly motivated self-starter, who never had a management role. The fact that no one knew he would be poorly suited for the task illustrates the last quadrant of the Johari Window, the unknown.

Unknowns are things that neither you nor your peers know about you. The value in developing greater shared awareness is that it allows us to more quickly address the unknowns when they come to light. Creating strategies to increase illumination of the blind and hidden quadrants is our goal.

In this case, my client’s partner became responsible for the day-to-day people management, so my client could focus on his other strengths. Developing self-awareness before you bring on new team members is key to understanding what kinds of personalities work best in your office. Additionally, seeing yourself clearly in a situation can help you determine if your message and your method of sharing it are effective for your team.

In my client’s case we used the Johari Window to help us discover that being a great adviser comes as naturally to him, as being a great basketball player came to Michael Jordan. But the Michaels around us need self-awareness to help the team thrive.

Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared on the Janus Henderson Blog. See it here. Michael Futterman will also present a Knowledge Circle webinar “How Self-Awareness Impacts Team Functioning,” on May 30 at 2 p.m., EDT. Mark your calendar or simply join the Zoom meeting at that time. A workbook for the call is available also. FPA members can download it here.

Michael Futterman

Michael Futterman is an assistant vice president, Knowledge Labs™ Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, Futterman works with the Professional Development team on research and curriculum development for the professional development programs. He is a frequent speaker and coach to adviser and client audiences. Futterman leverages his experience with Outward Bound, management consulting firms and the financial services industry to bring innovative, engaging and thought-provoking content to his clients.

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