Happy Employees Will Make Their Bosses Even Happier
As cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day, we all just want to be happy. How we find that happiness is, usually, up to us to decide and measure. And if you're not happy, well, that's when break-ups tend to happen (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Some people find happiness through their work, some find it through sports or healthy competition, and some find it by being a dog dad (*cough* Regan Smith).
Alas, this blog is written for aspiring financial planners in today's world, so I'll focus on the "work lens" for now. After a handful of years navigating this emerging industry, I've had dozens of conversations with young planners across the country and have started to learn what keeps them happy at work and what makes them want to leave to find something new.
Consider this post to be an open letter to anyone interested in growing (or continuing to grow) a team of aspiring planners from the perspective of the people who matter most - your employees.
The Magic Elixir and Why The Problem Exists (note: bold claim in this section)
Surprisingly, no matter which young planner I talk to or where they are located, the same topics always emerge whenever we discuss work happiness. To add to that, these recurring themes of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) are not specifically tied to financial planning at all, but basically any line of work.
If my amateur research and data sampling is accurate at all, it feels like there are a few main ingredients that every organization can sprinkle into their own recipe to keep their employees happy and motivated at work - all without paying for nap rooms, catering free daily lunches, or giving away free company gear (although all those things are very cool).
To jump straight to the punchline, it's all about how you manage your people and their emotions. This premise alone doesn't sound complicated, but I believe that it is the magic elixir that makes or breaks a firm's growth when they might need it most. Framed in another way, if a single advisor does not know how to bring on and manage new employees, their business might not ever scale up or reach its fullest potential. Not to mention, I imagine family vacations out of the country are a lot more stressful when you don't have a team to cover for you while you're out of town for two weeks with no cell service.
In my (semi-unwarranted) opinion, I think the problem is partly derived from our education systems. I went to a highly-rated financial planning program and was given incredible training which led to a great job, but the school’s training ended there. For those who are familiar with Michael Gerber's 'The E-Myth,' I was trained to become a Technician (in financial planning). Similar to the medical profession, students receive training from rigorous programs to be Technicians of the human body - doctors. But while they might be trained to conduct a flawless open heart surgery, they are typically not ready to run the hospital itself or manage teams of other doctors yet.
So there lies a major gap in our industry that I believe we are still coming to terms with - managing and growing strong teams. Once a company is ready to scale up and add new members, they run into the issue of training those people, which requires a certain subset of human skills (like empathy and leadership).
Also in Gerber's book, the next level above the Technician is the Manager. This is the person that takes care of the people and ensures that the Entrepreneur's vision comes to fruition, while keeping everyone happy. Not only is the Manager's job to develop amazing Technicians, but they are also primarily responsible for keeping new talent happy and satisfied in the workplace.
Bluntly stated, our entire industry is comprised of great Technicians (perhaps, solo practitioners), but not enough Managers. This is not the rule though, as there are some great firms out there that are successfully running and growing financial planning teams. I hope those management teams continue to more pioneer awards, but the rest of the industry is seriously lagging behind and needs help catching up.
Cries for Help and Data Gathering
My first year working in the financial planning world was a bit of a whirlwind (thank you, CFP Exam) and also a little bizarre. I graduated from a good program with an entire cohort of aspiring, and very smart, financial planners. The top students got the 'best' jobs (or so we perceived) and mostly everyone got placed somewhere.
Not so long after our journeys began though, some people were already having career doubts and I started getting phone calls asking for advice. I expected that some of my friends' jobs weren't going to work out, but I did not expect for them all to call me. I felt like I was getting career advice phone calls almost once a month.
Thus, when those phone calls came in, I listened deeply and my data gathering began. From that data, I found some common pitfalls that firms make. Using those mistakes, here are two simple ingredients for a happy, healthy new hire.
Key Ingredient #1 - Fair Expectations (and then meeting them)
The first common theme I found was that expectations weren't being met. Said differently, some of the top students in my class were recruited to firms that sold them on a particular dream, then immediately failed to deliver on those dreams. Imagine graduating at the top of your class and getting recruited to work at a prestigious firm as an Associate. The only catch is, you have to work in the middle of nowhere (5 hours from a major city), your boss doesn't enjoy communicating with you or coaching you, and you will commonly be referred to as an office 'secretary.' This happened to a friend of mine who is much smarter than me. Not surprisingly, she left as soon as she could.
It seems that some firms are more concerned with "winning" the top talent, and forgetting to follow through on early promises that were made. If you're dealing with 23 year-olds, not only are they trying to learn their new roles and responsibilities, but they are often still learning how to be a professional for the first time; shoot, I still have trouble waking up before 7:00am sometimes. Even the top tier recruits still need to learn with their training wheels on at first.
As far as setting expectations go, you've got to be honest from the beginning or your best talent will leave you. Taking it further, you need to be honest with yourself on what you have to offer. So if you require your new hires to file paperwork for a full year before they can progress, you should make that crystal clear before the offer is made. And if you really haven't thought about what you want your new hire to do, maybe you're not ready to hire in the first place. It's a delicate dance, but you should be honest to yourself and anyone involved.
Key Ingredient #2 - A Manager who wants the best for you
Nobody wants to work for a bad manager. "Bad" is a relative term, but someone is typically "bad" when you feel like your career success is not a priority to your superior.
Imagine landing your "dream job" in your dream city, living in your dream apartment, dating a dreamy attractive person - that life sounds great! Now imagine that, in addition to those great things, your manager makes your life a living hell for 10 hours a day and doesn't seem to notice that they're slowly crushing your soul. Then on a pensive Sunday afternoon over mimosas, you suddenly realize that you're giving away 5 days out of your week to please someone who doesn't really care about you.
Most people in this situation would consider leaving that 'dream job' as soon as they could, regardless of the prestige or resume padding. Why? Because your supervisor is directly responsible for your happiness and satisfaction in the workplace, which makes up roughly 5 / 7 of your entire life (Monday - Friday). Smart and capable people will opt to work for someone who makes them feel appreciated.
The best managers I've ever had did two things for me: Firstly, they made me do stuff that I sucked at, but needed to work on to grow in my career. Secondly, they had high emotional intelligence and were comfortable discussing my attitudes towards my work; at the very least, they were able to close the office door for a few minutes to let me know I was heard. More recently, the most effective meeting times for me feel more like counseling sessions than anything. Similar to personal relationships, sometimes you need to share your feelings and feel validated in order to make those relationships stronger.
I'm sure there are some good managers out there who don't fit the mold I've just described, and that's fine, but I don't know any of them personally so I can't discuss them. All I can say is that when I know that when my boss has my back at any cost, you better believe that I will do anything for them.
The Smartest Management Move I've Experienced
I think some people are innately good at management and keeping people happy, but I believe most people are not. That said, I think anyone can instantly improve their management skills if they focus on the ingredients listed above.
During my first year at my current firm, my manager and I had monthly meetings to discuss my progress and how I was feeling; quite simply, we called them “Monthly Development Meetings.” Imagine an in-depth Annual Review, except this meeting happens every 30 days. In this meeting, I was able to share what I was liking, disliking, and what I wanted to do next. It was on the calendar as a recurring calendar item (which means it's definitely going to happen). This was a brilliant move and a huge factor in my early development.
Extra Time for the Newbies
In the first year, we can't forget that a young person is still "trying to figure it out," especially if they’ve relocated for the job. Any extra touches to let your employees know that you are there and that you actually care about them will pay off in spades, much quicker than you might think.
Managing employees takes an extreme amount of patience and a huge investment of your time. On top of that, not everyone even wants to help mold the next generation of financial planners. But if you can find someone who is passionate about managing people and taking care of their people, you should seek to hire those people, or work for them yourself.