A common problem in small firms is the lack of an obvious career path for employees. As a result, staff end up leaving because they do not see an opportunity for them to grow in their jobs. Firms can address this by being proactive in discussing these issues with their employees as well as by getting creative in finding solutions. A good example of this occurred with one of my financial advisory clients.
When I picked up the phone, the advisor’s sense of urgency was apparent. His assistant of many years had given notice and he was frantic about what to do. After calming him down, we were able to discuss the situation.
The advisor’s assistant joined him ten years ago. She learned quickly and was eager to assume additional responsibilities. She was his right hand and he didn’t know how he could function without her. In addition, the clients loved her. She was warm and friendly, and more importantly, she brought exceptional service to life with her actions. She understood the importance of doing what you say you will, of researching something rather than provide inaccurate information, and she had strong operational knowledge so she worked efficiently.
Through our discussion, I learned that she was leaving for what she felt was a better opportunity. After ten years with the firm she didn’t feel there was a way for her to continue growing and she was ready for something new. Her belief was that the only way to move ahead in her career was to become an advisor and this was not the direction she wanted to take.
I also discovered that the advisor never discussed growth with her. It didn’t come up in performance reviews or in their ongoing discussions. This is not an unusual situation. Often, advisors want staff to be proactive in discussing their goals and aspirations, but staff, not knowing what could be available to them, waits for the advisor to shine a light on opportunities. As a result, these conversations never take place. This appeared to be the problem with the current situation.
To address the issues raised by the assistant, first I spoke with the advisor about how he could provide opportunities for growth. We began by looking at the roles and responsibilities of the two administrative staff members, as well as tasks he was completing that could be delegated. We went through a tracking exercise to determine what he did each day that could be done by staff.
Delegating is a problem in many firms. Advisors will retain tasks that can be delegated for several reasons. Sometimes it’s a complex task they feel would take longer to train someone to complete versus doing it themselves. While this can be a viable short-term solution, long term it means the advisor is doing work that is likely not client-focused and therefore, not a good use of their time. Other times, it may be a task the advisor enjoys, even though it isn’t client-facing and can be completed by staff. There may also be trust issues that prevent an advisor from delegating a task. It could be a task that’s complex or there are serious consequences if it’s done incorrectly, like a trading error.
The next step was to determine how to respond to the employee. The advisor had not yet had a conversation with the employee in response to her resignation, so we worked together to create talking points and questions he’d ask to get a better understanding of her decision to leave. I then coached him on how to approach the employee to present the counteroffer. The discussion focused on her current needs and how he was prepared to meet them. He provided an updated job description and described how she would be trained to handle the additional responsibilities. He also provided insight into how they could work together going forward, recognizing that the current actions addressed a specific problem and offering a way to continue the discussions about her role in the firm and growth opportunities, so she had a say in how her career progressed.
I also worked with the advisor to develop a client service career path that provided progressively more responsibilities and continuous learning opportunities for both administrative staff members. We know that smaller firms tend to be flat, so growth may often be horizontal rather than vertical. The key is recognizing that employees want to continue growing and creating a career path can be a transparent way to demonstrate what progress will look like.
This was a success story. The employee gladly accepted the counteroffer and shared that she didn’t really want to leave but she didn’t know how to address these issues with the advisor. Based on this feedback, he implemented regular, bi-monthly one-on-one meetings with his staff to review work in progress and get a sense of their level of engagement. If he’d known sooner that these issues were a concern for the employee, they could have avoided the situation by having open, honest discussions. That’s now the plan going forward.
Takeaways for Your Business
There are important lessons to be learned from this case study:
- Don’t wait for an employee to present ideas for their growth and development. An easy way to address this is to include this discussion as part of the annual performance review.
- Create ways to have open communication with staff. Informal one-on-one meetings can keep everyone on track while also providing the insight you need to determine if changes are needed. Don’t assume because an employee isn’t saying anything that everything is ok.
- Show appreciation for the work your employees do. Many studies have shown that a sincere thank you goes a long way in making an employee feel valued and appreciated.
- Conduct a self-evaluation about the work you are completing. Can it be delegated to other employees? What’s preventing you from delegating? Are you avoiding other work because it’s new, complex or difficult to complete? Getting past these obstacles will allow you to focus on the work only you can do and provide opportunities for employees to assume a new challenge.
If the growth and development of your employees is top of mind for you, reach out to us to see how we can help. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.