“The aim of the LIG [Leadership, Innovation and Growth] program at GE was to embed growth in the DNA of our company,” GE CEO Jeff Immelt says in an interview in the January 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
You will have to read the article yourself to fully understand the four-day Leadership, Innovation and Growth (LIG) program that is transforming GE, but for our purposes this month I want to focus on Immelt's primary objective: embedding growth in the corporate DNA.
His message is one every financial advisor should digest in its totality. GE defines growth not simply as doing more of the same, but doing it more efficiently. Jack Welch's Six Sigma program — the ongoing improvement of efficiencies — has long been part of GE's DNA. But now the conglomerate is looking to radically change how it defines growth and how management can lead to encourage growth.
If a company as large and diverse as GE, with some 320,000 employees worldwide, can transform its leadership to instill growth into the corporate DNA, every financial advisor — whether solo or part of a team — should be able to do the same. To paraphrase Jeff Immelt: “It's easy to talk about growth and innovation when the economy is growing. Every employee of every company is scared right now. So working on stuff that's going to be important for the future is critical now.”
Let's take a look at GE's “growth values” (as listed in the Harvard Business Review) and see how they might apply to your business. GE's growth values are broken into five principles:
External Focus: “Defines success through the customer's eyes. In tune with industry dynamic. Sees around corners.” FA translation: Know how your clients truly define a successful financial advisor relationship. “Seeing around corners” requires that you interpret industry events in a way that will help you predict future developments.
Clear Thinking: “Seeks simple solutions to complex problems. Is decisive and focused. Communicates clear and consistent priorities.” FA translation: Understand your affluent client's concerns and problems and provide clear, easy-to-understand solutions. All of your marketing efforts should focus on acquiring the ideal client. Make sure your clients know they are your “number one.”
Imagination: “Generates new and creative ideas. Is resourceful and open to change. Takes risks on both people and ideas. Displays courage and tenacity.” FA translation: You need to think of new ways to create tangible value for clients. That may mean developing a new service model. Look at what your competitors are doing and take it one step further. Look for solutions that are outside your comfort zone.
Inclusiveness: “Is a team player. Respects others' ideas and contributions. Creates excitement, drives engagement, builds loyalty and commitment.” FA translation: Treat everyone you work with as a knowledge worker. Use their expertise. For example, even if you share an assistant with another advisor, you must consider this person a part of your team. Their ideas and contributions should be encouraged and ultimately required. Communication with support personnel and junior advisors must be clear and ongoing. Delegate responsibilities, not just tasks, and take the time to teach subordinates new things and build their expertise whenever possible.
Expertise: “Has in-depth domain knowledge and credibility built on experience. Continuously develops self. Loves learning.” FA translation: Developing a deeper understanding of demographics, industry changes, political developments, consumer trends, and current affluent needs and wants will give you greater credibility with your clients and subordinates. Cultivating greater knowledge of yourself and engaging in physical exercise are also crucial to your ability to overcome future challenges. Commit to lifelong learning. You can start by reading one non-fiction book a month throughout 2009.
If a company the size of GE can execute on these commitments, so can every financial advisor — or at least every advisor who wants to have a viable career over the next 10 years.
Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.