As an advisory firm grows, so does its head count. Advisors often double as managers of an ever-expanding workforce.
Supervising a staff can pose challenges for advisors, who may lack experience in managing people. Advisors who are passionate about their job suddenly find themselves having to motivate employees — some of whom may seem apathetic or disengaged.
XAutoplay: On | Off“When an advisor becomes a business owner, the thing they’re least prepared for is managing the team,” said David Bahnsen, a certified financial planner in Newport Beach, Calif. “It’s a gargantuan task.”
Bahnsen, 43, founded his firm in 2015. It now has 14 employees.
Like many advisors who build their own business, Bahnsen has found that motivation is more art than science. Initially, he concentrated on compensation as a leading factor in spurring top performers.
“With my background as a finance guy, I assumed that money was the No. 1 motivator,” he said. “You’d think that throwing more money at people would motivate them. But it’s surprising to me how incredibly different each person’s motivations are.”
Research led by Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, found that the top motivator for employees is making progress in meaningful work. When people feel they are advancing in their craft — or simply accomplishing a small but challenging task — they tend to feel great satisfaction and heightened engagement in their job.
Advisors who want to prod employees to excel can help them derive more meaning from their daily activities. Coach them to tackle tough but stimulating assignments. Sweep away obstacles that divert their focus from what matters most. And recognize their effort as they pursue goals that enhance clients’ lives and strengthen the firm’s reputation.
Like Bahnsen, many advisors assume that money tops the list of carrots. They may align their pay structure so that workers earn relatively high salaries along with generous benefits and other workplace perks.
Yet an overemphasis on money can prove misguided. Coaching people to forge ahead — and attain even “small wins” like mastering a new process or financial technology platform — typically makes a more lasting impact.
Bahnsen highlights other motivators that appeal to certain individuals such as advancement opportunities within the firm and a flexible work schedule. He says he’s now more attuned to identifying each person’s hot buttons.
“I’ve learned to be more intentional in trying to understand each (employee’s) personality,” he said.
Another aspect of motivation involves a commitment to transparent communication with everyone on the team. People feel more connected to their employer when they have a voice — and access to the top brass.
When John Bucsek’s firm changed ownership in 2016, employees’ concerns about the transition led him to host a few town hall meetings. A managing partner, Bucsek took questions, even stinging ones, from his workforce.
“You have to let people vent,” said Bucsek, a certified financial planner in Iselin, N.J. “It’s one of the best things you can do, to let them say, ‘I don’t have confidence in you’ and not get defensive.”
Coaching Up Close
To update over 200 advisors and support staff about organizational changes, Bucsek recorded each town hall session for those who couldn’t attend. As a result, everyone was on the same page and more apt to feel motivated about the firm’s future.
Bucsek also held Monday morning conference calls with his advisors and staffers, offering weekly news updates. Such regular communication tamped down the rumor mill and helped unify the workforce.
To raise morale, advisors enthusiastically coach employees to learn and grow on the job. When individuals feel comfortable seeking out the firm’s leaders for advice and insight, they form stronger bonds of loyalty with their employer and strive for excellence.
“I do coaching all the time,” Bucsek said. “A team takes on the personality of its leader.”
Bucsek says that his eagerness to support his colleagues’ success proves contagious. It leads other advisors to look for ways to boost their peers’ performance.
Motivation sometimes unfolds in intangible ways. During casual conversations with employees, Bucsek showers them with attention.
“It helps to show an intense interest not only in what they’re doing at work, but also what’s going on in their lives,” he said. “It involves asking questions, listening really well and being someone who is happy to be around people.”
Like many seasoned leaders, Bucsek allocates his motivational energy efficiently. He estimates that roughly 10% of employees are internally driven so they don’t need external motivation. By contrast, another 10% are impossible to motivate regardless of a leader’s efforts.
“It’s that other 80% where I can really increase their motivation and productivity,” he said.
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