When I started in financial services over 28 years ago, most firms hired financial advisers — who were then referred to as “brokers” or “insurance agents”, even “special agents” at Northwestern Mutual — based upon autonomy: The ability to work alone.
I often joke that 20 years ago, this industry was a “game of survivor before Survivor was even a game show.” You were successful if you could hunt.
Fast-forward almost three decades and we've redefined wealth management. There is no real autonomy, even if you work alone. Every adviser is part of a network, no one hunts alone anymore; they hunt in packs. The complex needs of clients, the aging of the adviser, continuity and succession planning, the need to connect with and gain trust from the heirs of your clients … All of these are crucial reasons why advisers need to embrace the pack mentality, and understand the power found in numbers. The fastest way to do this is to build a team to help you achieve greater success in complete partnership with others.
There's an element of team building that works entirely against the status quo for many financial advisers who have spent their careers building a business in which they've maintained total control. My take is that advisers need to let go of this mindset. There is no formula, and the path is different for every advisory team, but here are a few ideas to consider if you're open to adjusting:
1. Understand that having less control actually gives you greater freedom.
This may seem obvious, but the longer you wait to engage the ideas and capabilities of your team members, the harder it is to let go of the belief that you are the only person capable of successfully contributing to your business. And the longer you will rob yourself and your team members of the potential to really see their value, and give you the freedom and lifestyle you've been working toward.
2. Determine where you are having trouble letting go.
Make a detailed list of the activities that keep your practice running, then take an honest look at what you're capable of entrusting to someone else on your team. The tasks you feel comfortable transitioning should be moved off your plate as soon as possible. For those items you're having trouble letting go of, consider discussing them with your team, as outlined in the next section.
3. When you're stuck, bring it to the table.
So you can't seem to bring yourself to relinquish control of operations and client follow-up, but have you truly considered what it would be like to involve your team in these processes? The great thing is, there are ways to determine how your team would contribute to these processes before you give them control. Look at where you experience weakness and involve your team in a discussion about how to improve those areas. The contributions they provide could reveal insight you hadn't even considered. This process also gives you the opportunity to weigh the capability of your team members in these areas before you further involve them.
4. When reason isn't getting you there, take the leap.
Remember, when it comes to what feels like the point of no return — actually passing off responsibility — that you're still at the helm. You've used reason and logic to put the pieces in place to build your team. Now it's time to trust the decisions you've made, and be OK with being wrong. If you are so afraid of failing that you never take the leap, you will always be in the dark about what you and your team are capable of achieving together.
5. Actively understand the difference between delegating and collaborating.
Once you've successfully built a team, understand that it is very different to delegate tasks to your team than it is to collaborate with them on determining the goals that need to be reached and the tasks necessary to reach these goals. At ClientWise, we refer to this as creating common intent, and it is the first and most important indication that you've stepped beyond delegating to leading and collaborating, and that you're on a path to effectively engaging your team.
Letting go of your assumptions about how you run your business and getting to the point of creating common intent among team members doesn't happen overnight. It takes careful consideration and planning, but it ultimately will allow you greater bandwidth with more freedom, and put you on a path to building a self-sustaining business that continues to serve clients in your vision.
Some questions to consider
1. In which areas should you be tapping into the support of your team but continue to take on the brunt of the work yourself?
2. Where could you use your team members to help create and maintain scalable processes around the most important aspects of your business, such as client acquisition and pipeline management?
3. How reliant is the success of your business on the value provided by your team as a whole rather than your sole contribution?
4. Are you successfully engaging your team members through common intent and avoiding the pitfalls of delegating rather than collaborating?
5. If for some reason you chose to or weren't able to be there fully for your clients, is your business positioned in a way that your clients depend on the structure of the team, rather than solely on you? What shifts or changes would you need to make in order to achieve this?
Ray Sclafani is the founder and chief executive of ClientWise LLC, a business and executive coaching firm working exclusively with financial professionals and teams. Learn more at clientwise.com.