Are you settling? How advisers can get 'unstuck'

Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Joni Youngwirth

Have you ever felt stuck, like you've lost the energy and zest to continue pushing yourself toward your potential? Our industry is full of stories of advisers who have settled for less than they were hoping to achieve—sometimes much less.

Take Bob, for example. He hired his administrative assistant, Ron, five years ago with the plan that Ron would earn his licenses and take on some of Bob's smaller clients. Five years later, Ron still doesn't have his licenses, and Bob feels like he's being held hostage until Ron passes the exams—a task that doesn't appear to be at the top of Ron's to-do list. It's obvious that Bob and Ron need to have a serious conversation about this issue and make a new plan. Yet Bob hasn't done much except inquire or make a joke about the situation every now and then.

Then there's Mary and Jim, who have been partners for eight years. Although they founded the firm together, and revenue and expenses are shared equally, Jim gets most of the recognition in their tight community; people simply assume that Jim's the boss and Mary just works there. Adding fuel to this potential fire is the fact that Mary has brought on more clients and assets over the life of the partnership. Mary and Jim discuss these issues from time to time, but Mary doesn't want to seem like a complainer, despite the fact that this is a constant source of irritation for her.

Or consider the situation of ABC Firm, which has been frustrated with its external technology provider for years. The advisors have heard about an integrated platform for client management, portfolio management, and performance reporting, but the technology firm is dragging its feet to introduce new options. Although the advisers know that they should update their systems, they continue to put up with the technology firm's mediocre service.

What's behind our willingness to settle for less?

These are just a few examples of the bad business situations advisers may find themselves in. Unfortunately, rather than tackle such problems head-on, fear of conflict or lack of assertiveness often lead us to procrastinate . . . indefinitely.

And then there's the work associated with making a change. Sticking with the status quo is simply a lot easier than doing the strategic thinking that change requires. Rather than pause, review where we are, and determine how to get where we want to go, the tendency is to stay in our comfort zone. (That's one more reason business planning is critical.)

Getting “unstuck”

If you find yourself settling for a mediocre or perhaps even unsatisfactory situation, these tips may help you get back on track:

Examine your options and ask for feedback. Most advisers willingly share their experiences with one another. To avoid “the grass is greener” scenario, talk with several advisers who have implemented the specific change you're curious about. Ask them to tell you both the pros and cons of the decision, and be consistent with the interview process to avoid hearing only what you want to hear.

Get a coach. If there is a particular change you need to make, it may be valuable to hire a personal coach to support you through the process. A credentialed coach can help you stay focused, especially if you're anxious about taking action. Whether you enlist a coach or not, engage family and friends in your support system whenever you have a major change in the works.

Time it right. As they say, timing is everything. Set yourself up for success by making a major change at a time that isn't already filled with stressful activity. Consider when you feel most motivated. For some, the New Year is an ideal time for reflection and may present an opportunity for getting off the dime to do the things that need to be done.

Energizing yourself with change

As contrary as it may seem, settling saps our energy. (Have you ever noticed that if you want something done, you give it to the busiest person?) And complacency can be contagious. First, you become complacent about an employee's performance. That leads to complacency about developing new business. Then, you start settling for lower revenue. Before you know it, your business is headed down a path of gradual decline.

Significant change requires us to dig deep. But for the passionate entrepreneur, making a big change can be the key to staying focused, energized, and excited about the future. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.” To me, that sounds like an antidote to settling.

Joni Youngwirth is the managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network, member FINRA/SIPC, a registered investment adviser in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at


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