A sure-fire approach to get employees to stay

Mark Johannessen says firms need to help each staff member grow and feel respected as a professional. Here's how he does it.

Jun 18, 2015 @ 8:24 am

By Liz Skinner

Mark Johannessen leaves nothing to chance when it comes to holding onto Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney Inc.'s best people.

The McLean, Va.-based advisory firm presents employees with a career path from the start and proactively helps them advance, or if need be, finds a new position that's better suited to their talents or interests.

“We have always had the notion of providing an opportunity for growth,” Mr. Johannessen said. “I am convinced that it's the number-one reason why we have been so successful at growing the firm the way we have.”

Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney started 25 years ago with seven people, and today boasts 43, including 11 directors.

The firm knows that in an industry with a recognized talent shortage, it has to work hard to keep its best people on the job.

(More: Elite advisers focused on employees and operations for future growth)

Compensation is important, of course, but some advisory firms make the mistake of thinking that just by paying beyond the norm they'll be able to keep everyone they want.

Compensation should be “reasonable” and based on what other firms are paying in a particular marketplace, Mr. Johannessen said. But it's more important that employees know what that compensation is based on and what they need to do to earn more, if that's what drives them, he said.

Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney spells it all out to employees, showing them what the first couple years of salary and bonus will look like for different roles.

(More: How does adviser pay in your city stack up?)

Mr. Johannessen has found that retaining the best employees also requires flexibility.

Practically, that's meant allowing an employee to work remotely from a couple states away. With another, an extra computer screen made him happier doing his job.

Flexibility is especially important with younger employees who have different work styles than older individuals, Mr. Johannessen said.

“It's about professionalism,” he said. “If they're doing the job I want them to do, it doesn't matter if they left at 5:00 because they wanted to go ride their bike.”

Tip Sheet

- Offer employees an established career path that provides a chance for personal growth. Employees should have specific guidelines on how long each step is likely to take and what responsibilities will change along the way.

- Provide training and development for employees at every level, including internal sessions on specific topics, external webinars and other educational opportunities.

- Reward a hard-working team with fun events and regular breaks, such as holiday parties, annual retreats, happy hours and monthly birthday celebrations, that are enjoyable and offer opportunities for the team to get to know each other better.

- Encourage participation in the industry by paying for memberships in business organizations and supporting employees who attend their conferences or take on a leadership role.

- Pay salary and incentive-based compensation that is based on the local market, and be clear about how raises, bonuses and other incentives can be earned.

- Provide the usual benefits like retirement-savings plans, but also think outside the box. Sullivan, Bruyette Speros & Blayney has a “chill room,” with a massage chair, music and candles to offer a 20-minute break to anyone feeling frazzled.

- Supply the tools employees need to succeed, especially high-quality technology.

- Allow people at every level of the firm to have a voice by being part of committees that help to decide how the business works and runs.

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