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No Firm Is Perfect

If you insist on finding the perfect firm, you may be waiting for quite a while and miss out on a good opportunity elsewhere. 

Many advisors express some level of unhappiness with their current firm, citing such things as too much bureaucracy, a desire for more control, lack of support and a change in culture. These folks long for the “perfect” scenario, where each piece falls into place exactly the way they want, solving for everything that they perceive to be wrong at their current firm.

Aiming for perfection is noble and what propels many to greatness. But without clarity of purpose and priorities, and the willingness to compromise, you’re likely to be stuck at your current firm waiting a long time for perfection rather than identifying what may simply be “better enough.”

Many advisors who reach their pain threshold at their current firm will typically loosen their grip on perfection and give on the things that aren’t essential. The more frustration one feels, the more flexible they are willing to be about what the next opportunity will look like.

When an advisor starts to recognize the imperfections at their current job, three things happen:

  1. They spring into action. Many begin looking for ways to improve their job, and when that doesn’t work, they begin to evaluate the landscape, sorting through an array of options. They ask friends, call recruiters, read headlines and dream about uber-sized paydays that would make a move worthwhile.
  2. They settle in. Some advisors decide it isn’t so bad where they are and simply choose to stay put. This isn’t a bad thing; it means they’ve compared their firm with others and decided that inaction is the best strategy for now. Yet many other advisors dwell in discontentment. They feel no opportunity would provide the perfect work life, so they immobilize themselves, regardless of how miserable they are.
  3. They hit their pain threshold. Once an advisor reaches this point, perfection is no longer an option, and the motivation to move is driving the mindset. To make a move, an advisor must identify the “must haves” (the things one can’t live without) and those demands that they’re willing to leave on the table.

Unfortunately, many people in an untenable situation get “stuck” at stage two, choosing to do nothing, settling for a situation that can’t be further from perfect.

Take Benjamin, a wirehouse advisor in the Midwest who’s been in business for more than 30 years. He and I had a good relationship spanning more than a decade, talking every six months or so about possible opportunities. He was happy at first, and then over the years he grew increasingly dissatisfied. His frustrations were mostly with regional management, increasing bureaucracy, the inability to customize the service model for his ultra-high-net-worth clients, and the feeling that the firm was constantly tweaking compensation and taking a greater share of the revenue he generated.

About five years ago, he watched a number of colleagues—whom he had great respect for—move on to other firms, so he figured it was time to explore his options, too. While the deals were compelling, he realized that he just wasn’t unhappy enough with his firm to justify a move. It would mean having to put his clients up for bid and would involve a lot of work. So he decided to stay put. 

But then things changed. Six months ago, when his beloved branch manager left and he lost a big client because of his firm’s unwillingness to underwrite a commercial loan, he knew the pain of staying was great enough. No matter how much of a hassle a move was, it was still better than continuing to work for a firm that no longer served him. 

How Clarity Enables Flexibility

In order to define what matters most to you, I recommend making three lists that answer the following:

What are the things you want to change about your current work life?

How much are your frustrations impacting your life, work, clients and overall business?

What would you hope to achieve by making a move? That is, what are your long- and short-term goals?

The answers will help you better understand what’s most important and most frustrating in your work life.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking perfection. Yet, having realistic expectations and flexibility can enable you to choose from a variety of options in a market that’s favoring advisors.

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