5 Tips for Developing an Indispensable Assistant
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5 Tips for Developing an Indispensable Assistant

by Matt Oechsli | @mattoechsli

Orlando

“I loved your talk, but could I give you some feedback?” asked Lauren, who had been sitting in the front row. “Sure.” I responded with a touch of apprehension usually associated with unsolicited feedback. “There should have been CAs (support personnel) here. They need to hear what you’re saying. I’m in the home office now, but I began my career as an assistant, and yes they changed the title, but they’re still overlooked.”

Wow! What a flashback – 25 years ago I developed a training program for brokers and sales assistants (that was their title back then). Although the response was terrific, whenever I conducted these workshops – it was ahead of its time. Brokers and firms were reluctant to invest in developing assistants.

Fade-in-fade-out and Lauren was bringing up the same issue; her firm was running the event and only advisors were invited. So you can thank Lauren for rattling my cage – the following five steps will help you transform a capable assistant into an indispensable assistant.

  • Create Meaning & Purpose: Everyone wants to be recognized as a contributor. Assistants who feel this way report higher job satisfaction, work longer hours, take less paid leave days, and are more loyal. A study by BetterUp, reported in a 11.7.18 online HBR article uses the title to tell the story – “9 Out of 10 People Are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More Meaningful Work”. 2,200 professionals were surveyed across 26 industries, and the scary part was that only 1 in 20 found their job meaningful. Wow! I’m not suggesting you reduce salaries or that your assistant doesn’t think their job is meaningful – but I do think this is something financial advisors should take seriously. The following are a handful of actions that should help create meaning and purpose:
    • Redefine role & responsibilities – This provides clarity in performance expectations and eliminates ambiguity.
    • Connect their role to the team’s goals – Support personnel are not entrepreneurs, which means your goals, are just that, your goals. Instead of the primary focus being on your goals, shift the focus to how their contribution is an important component.
    • Stress the importance of their role – Make certain they understand the positive impact they make.
  • Meet Daily: This is basic, yet has a tremendous impact on reinforcing the meaning and purpose of their role. Everyone loves attention, and few things are more important than clear communication. The pushback is often “We talk all day” – but not all talk is the same. Think in terms of 15 minutes on Monday to discuss the upcoming week, and 5 to 10 minutes the other 4 days to discuss the previous and upcoming day. The benefits are priceless:
    • Strengthens communication – Nothing will fall through the cracks, redundancies are eliminated, problems are prevented and/or solved quickly.
    • Demonstrates I care and you’re important – The old saying “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you say” is fully engaged. I’ve seen too many advisors neglect Step 2, and not much changes.
    • Inspect what you expect – You’re following-up on both attitude and activity. There’s nothing wrong with subtle accountability.
  • Delegate to Empower: Give up control and you gain control. Elite advisors understand this and empower through delegation. The most common push back is “If I want it done right, I need to do it myself”. This is a false truth. True in the sense that the statement is factually correct. False in the sense that this mindset makes it impossible to reach one’s potential. You want to determine important tasks that could be delegated and over time be performed well by others. You will need to commit time to overseeing the transition, and be psychologically prepared for mistakes as part of the learning curve. Ways to empower:
    • Develop your assistant into a knowledge worker – This could be managing the team’s social media campaign, overseeing technology, earning the CFP designation, etc.
    • Client Relationship Management – Delegating primary responsibility for a specific group of clients is a massive time saver and real method of empowering.
    • Build confidence – Instill confidence by making your assistant the “go-to” for specific areas that will continue to build their knowledge base and expertise.
  • Be Inclusive: Assistants, to Lauren’s point, are often left out of the meetings and conferences that firms hold for advisors. Any elite advisor will tell you, it takes a team of “A” players to consistently acquire and develop loyal affluent clients. Support personnel need to be included as frequently as possible. Ways to be inclusive:
    • Engage them – Have them accompany you to workshops, firm meetings, industry events, etc.
    • Invite them to meet outside professionals with you – Expose them to industry experts, coaches, wholesalers, etc.
    • Encourage participation – Ensure they have an active role in client meetings, intimate social events, etc.
  • Emotionally Connect: We know that emotionally connecting with clients creates an ideal client. The same holds true for support personnel. However, this doesn’t happen by itself, it requires strategic intent. Ways to develop an emotional connection:
    • Surprise & delight gifts – Giving a personal and meaningful gift one or twice a year, just like we recommend for top clients, is worth its weight in gold. Not only does it strike an emotional chord in your assistant, it reinforces the importance of doing this for top clients.
    • Take time to talk about family – When an advisor shares what’s going on in their family and expresses interest in the happenings of an assistant’s family, a personal connection develops. You share, you care – they share, they care.
    • Uncover and discuss hobbies – This is another basic area that shouldn’t be overlooked. Whether it’s training for a 5K fund raiser run, gardening, cooking – it doesn’t matter. These topics are natural to discuss.

As you’ve probably already deduced, developing an indispensable assistant is a commitment that requires time, energy, and empathy. The benefits are countless. Lauren is spot on – we need to be more intentional with our assistants. Go for it – make your assistant indispensable!

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