The Three Best Pieces of Advice for Coaching Junior Advisors
by Jonathan Bega
People and culture
So, over the last few weeks, I have focused on the financial advisor and where technology will take him or her. I closed the series off with a positive note on why the future is bright for advisors, as long as they are willing to adopt technology. This week, I want to start a new series surrounding people, culture, and clients. This will be part one of this series and we will focus on coaching your juniors. I hope you enjoy it!
For many years, I actively practiced Muay Thai. Muay Thai is Thai kickboxing, or the art of eight limbs (two arms, two legs, two knees, and two elbows). It is an incredibly fun sport to train. However, I have never been half as mentally, emotionally, or physically challenged as when I practiced Muay Thai. And that was just during class. Getting into the ring was a whole other story. It was the combination of heavy endurance to survive the rounds and explosive movements to win them, all the while getting hit in the face. I was pretty bad at the first two, but really phenomenal at the last one!
Over the years, I worked with a number of instructors and coaches. I differentiate these two terms on purpose because a coach has always been something different from an instructor to me. An instructor could show me what to do. A coach could inspire me to do it. Over my time training, I had a few people I considered coaches. A good coach motivated you to be the best version of yourself. He cared about you and your success. And since you knew that your coach had your best interests at heart, you could trust his advice. When my coaches demanded more of me, I knew I could deliver, even if I didn’t believe I could. It doesn’t matter how I felt in the moment. When a good coach told me I had more in the tank, I listened.
Why do I bring this up? Is it just me trying to relive my youthful glory days? Partially, yes. After all, I can barely run a mile without collapsing at this point in my life, let alone survive a kickboxing match where someone is trying to knock my head off. Plus, just thinking about getting back into the ring makes me gasp for air. But mostly, I wanted to talk this week about coaching junior financial advisors. Specifically, I wanted to focus on what makes for a good coach in the industry. Why is this important? For a number of reasons. For one, if you’re looking at your succession plan, then training the person who will run your book is always a great strategy (check out our ultimate cheat sheet to succession planning for more thoughts on the subject). Even if you aren’t, as your book grows, it will often behoove you to begin running a team. After all, four people earning on your behalf will always be better than you alone. Plus it increases your capacity to manage clients and make sure their needs are taken care of. So understanding how to train a junior and build the right culture is key. In the end, if your juniors think of you as “coach” instead of “boss,” they will be far more productive.
With that in mind, I went straight to the source. I interviewed about 10 financial advisors who run juniors in successful books. They ranged from wealth managers to insurance advisors, financial planners, and everything in between. I wish I could provide you a survey like I have in previous blogs, but these conversations were more free-flowing and less survey-like. Instead, I’ll share you with the thematic undertone that I found most common amongst these advisors. However, please remember that this is anecdotal and qualitative. It can give you a basic understanding of what works for many advisors, but it will not necessarily be the panacea for your practice. That being said, there was enough commonality to the follow three pieces of advice that I believe it is worth considering carefully. Without further ado, here are the three most common pieces of advice good advisors offered in regards to training their juniors.
- Set SMART Goals
The first commonality advisors tended to agree on was on being very careful to set appropriate, intelligent goals for your juniors. Poorly thought out goals could lead to a young advisor spinning her wheels at best, and becoming completely demoralized at worst.
One advisor I met mentioned setting SMART goals. He was the only one to use that terminology, but when I probed other advisors, I realized they were instinctually doing the same thing. So what are SMART goals? Briefly, let’s imagine an advisor who wants to grow her book of business. The idea of SMART goals is to break that goal down into its subcomponents that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART, get it?). Let’s quickly go through these:
- Specific – The goal should be concrete, not abstract.
- Measurable – The goal should be quantifiable; you should be able to tell if you hit it easily
- Achievable – The goal should be reasonable and not constrained by factors outside of your control
- Relevant – The goal should directly lead to a result that is valuable
- Timely – The goal should be achievable on a shorter time scale
Now let’s imagine you have a new junior who has been struggling. Her clients love her, but she’s having trouble generating enough new business to grow her book appropriately. She comes to you for help and you decide to set some SMART goals. First off, you need a goal that is specific and concrete, instead of vague. Growing your business is vague, it’s the end result, but it doesn’t tell you what actions you can take to do so. Instead, the two of you realize the problem is that her schedule is often bare – she has too few client meetings set up every week. You both believe that if she increased the number of meetings, she would grow her business. As such, you decide the specific goal for her is to target 10 new prospect meetings per week. This goal is measurable – if she hits 10 meetings, she achieves the goal. At the end of the week, both you and her can immediately tell if she succeeded. Note that this goal can also be subdivided to two added meetings per day – by Wednesday, you know if she’s nearing her goal of 10 or way off track. Ten new prospect meetings per week is achievable. If you asked her to set up 50 new prospect meetings, that would be impossible. It would also demoralize her when she inevitably failed. The goal is also relevant. All things being equal, more meetings should translate to more business. And by making sure the goal is timely, you can change it if it turns out that it’s not as relevant as you thought. A goal that can be hit or missed every week can very quickly be evaluated for effectiveness. Within a few weeks, it becomes very clear whether your initial hypothesis – more meetings will translate to more business – is correct. If it is, you can continue down the path. If it isn’t, you can change your goal to something more relevant. Yearlong goals tend to simply be too big. If you don’t know if what you’re doing is effective until six months into it, you may have just wasted six months.
Coach Actions, Not Results
A second common piece of advice was digging deep into the goals set and making sure you were coaching actions, not results. This relates pretty strongly to relevancy, as described above. One of the issues with relevancy is that it’s often difficult to tell if the goal you’re targeting is an action or a result. This ties directly into the maxim of coaching actions and not results. While results give you a snapshot in time, actions tell you a much fuller story. It’s much more valuable to know what your junior is doing, and then work on those actions, than it is to just worry about whether or not she’s hitting the right results. Why? Well, when things are going well, being results-focused is great. Every day’s a party. But when things are going poorly, there may be a myriad of reasons the results are substandard and you will have no idea which one is the contributing factor. By focusing on actions, you can diagnose the issue. Best of all, you can often diagnose future problems before they come up!
Take our advisor above – we assumed that her actions were the number of meetings booked and the result was growing her book of clients. This is a good hypothesis – more meetings (actions) should hypothetically lead to more clients (results). But we may not be digging deep enough. Maybe our junior advisor’s issue is that she doesn’t make enough prospecting calls to set up meetings. Maybe when we measure that, we see that she’s only making ten cold calls per day because they make her nervous. Now when we measure the number of meetings she takes, we’re measuring an intermediate result. Instead, the action we should be focusing on is increasing the number of prospecting calls she makes. Now, you can coach her actions. If she avoids doing cold calls, you can set aside a daily target of calls and the time of day to do them. You can also discuss ways to reduce her anxiety around the cold calling. When thinking about relevancy, then, make sure you’re digging in deep. Determine if the goals you’re setting are the right goals, or if you’re confusing a result for an action.
This also ties into measurability. Good actions should be very measurable. If the action you’re targeting is prospecting calls, then you can easily measure how many calls your junior is making per hour. You can also quantify the conversion rate of calls to meetings to figure out how many calls she needs to make to hit 10 new meetings per week. After a few weeks of measuring, you have real predictive power. You and her can start scheduling the number of hours per day she spends calling and the number of calls she makes per hour. From this, you can predict how many meetings she’ll book based on her conversion rate. Notice how actionable both of these are. If, at any point, you decide she should book more or less meetings, you just have to adjust the hours per day spent on calling. By coaching actions, you are creating a straight line path to strong results.
Work collaboratively, only rarely laying down edicts
Finally, when working with your juniors, make sure you are working collaboratively instead of just telling them what to do. There are a number of reasons why this is important. First off, advisors tend to be incredibly entrepreneurial. I’ve asked dozens of advisors what drives them into this line of work, and being autonomous is at the top of the list. Financial advisors are self-driven individuals. Think about the reason you love the job and I bet you’ll find that being your own boss is at the top of the list. Now, your junior may be inexperienced, but she probably has the same intrinsic motivations as you do. She came into the financial advisory industry because she was entrepreneurs looking to build her own businesses. As such, juniors tend to be the kind of people who respond poorly to orders but well to collaboration. And let’s be honest, this is doubly true if your junior is a millennial (for more on millennials, check out our blog here).
Likewise, collaboration is valuable because your junior may have useful perspectives of her own. This is especially true when discussing goal-setting. After all, the person who is struggling with a goal may be better able to diagnose her own problems than you as a third party can. That is, collaboration is a better policy because you may not actually know best. You have years of experience, but your junior may have visibility in a topic that you are lacking. By collaborating, you’re ensuring that both of your experiences combined will lead to a better answer. Plus, by creating a culture of collaboration, the few times when you are certain that something needs to be done, you can tell your junior and watch as she does it promptly. By asking 95% of the time and telling the other 5%, you make sure the few times you tell are heard. It’s the difference between a Shih Tzu barking and a German Shepherd. The first barks at every sound so you ignore it. The second only barks when an intruder is trying to break through the door.
Finally, by working collaboratively with your junior, you become a confidante and somebody she trusts. When a member of your team has problems, he or she knows that you’re there to troubleshoot the solution with. This is a very different feeling than knowing that if you approach your boss, you will be told what to do. The former gives you a sense of self-sufficiency, whereas the latter is often soul-crushing. Working through problems together also trains your junior’s approach to thinking through future issues. It’s the old adage: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Work together with a junior on problem solving and, very shortly after, your junior will be able to figure it out on her own without needing to involve you at all.
Overall, then, the advisors we talked to had some great insights around coaching. The three key themes were around setting up good goals, focusing on actions instead of results, and making sure to work collaboratively. By doing this, you develop power team players who only ask for your time when they really needs help with something. Best of all, they will see you as “coach” instead of “boss.” Someone who they should be totally transparent with and who inspires them to do their best.
A short challenger today. If you have a junior, set up a SMART goal with him or her. Make sure that it follows the guidelines explained above and that you reach it together. If you don’t have a junior, set some for yourself instead! Let me know what you arrived at and, as always, subscribe to our newsletter!