West Palm Beach—“I’ve got a veteran staff, they all know how to do their job, but could they improve?” Steve asked rhetorically. “Sure they could. But what I really need is what you refer to as a practice manager, and I’m not certain any one of them is ready for that.”
Not knowing the strengths and weaknesses of Steve’s support personnel, I was unable to provide much specific guidance. However, I did explain that it’s been my experience that most practice managers have come from the ranks of assistants.
Determining whether or not an assistant is ready for this new role becomes more feasible when the role is clearly defined. Then it becomes obvious whether or not an individual has the competency/personality to be successful. This benefits both the advisor and prospective practice manager.
Although many firms have changed the title of the sales assistant to “client service specialist,” “service associate,” “client associate,” etc., these changes don’t always translate into the improvements necessary to service today’s affluent. Elite teams no longer employ sales assistants, in name or in reality. The following is a glimpse into how elite advisors have made the transition to practice manager.
Step One: Define the Role.The best teams have created a role that involves managing the practice, supporting client relationships, and supervising personnel. This goes beyond the operational/administrative tasks associated with the typical assistant role. The following is a list of typical responsibilities of a practice manager. Yes, it’s an incomplete list, but it should provide you with a working outline for the role:
· Supervises support personnel (in some cases, the junior advisors and outside experts).
· Manages the scheduling, including day-to-day appointments, vacations, holidays, etc.
· Conducts performance reviews of all direct reports (other support personnel).
· Holds direct reports accountable for job performance daily.
· Solves operational, administrative, and personnel problems effectively and quickly.
· Is current with technology and has good computer skills.
· Is good with clients.
· Has good communication skills.
· Possesses excellent organizational skills.
· Has an open mind and a flexible problem-solving nature.
· Is an effective delegator; routinely assigns smaller operational tasks to other support personnel.
· Is a life-long learner.
· Consistently exhibits a high level of professionalism.
· Is committed to your long-range vision (business plan).
Step Two: Define Other Support Roles. It makes no sense to have clarity in the practice manager role with the remaining support roles loosely defined. This will make it extremely difficult for your practice manager to supervise these positions. Determining what is expected in other support roles requires having clarity in the expectations of that role. You don’t have to concern yourself with perfection as you define these roles; think in terms of creating the framework for the role. Your newly appointed practice manager will help refine each of these additional support roles.
Step Three: Select the Candidate.Elite teams will usually elevate the most capable support person on the team into the role of practice manager. Their compensation is increased and their responsibilities are expanded, as they are now responsible for managing subordinate support personnel (at times, junior advisors). There are cases where the individual selected for practice manager refuses to accept any type of supervisory responsibility. Usually it’s because these individuals don’t want the added responsibility, and managing former colleagues is simply too far outside of their comfort zone. In these instances, advisors will hire from the outside.
I know what you’re thinking: How in the world am I going to find a person like that? What are the next steps I need to take to make this role a reality within my team? Will I create internal conflict within my team if it appears that I show favoritism? What if I share an assistant?
As Steve worked through his version of these questions, he wasn’t sure anyone on his staff would qualify. Yes, he’s got some work ahead of him.
The bottom line is that this role of practice manager is becoming increasingly more important. In fact, I’ll predict that it’s soon going to be indispensable. This role is what enables elite advisors to spend 70 percent of their time with their affluent clients, socializing with friends of their affluent clients, meeting with referral alliance partners, and romancing affluent prospects into clients. All of which requires spending quality time out of the office. The remaining 30 percent of the typical elite advisor’s time is spent leading their team, which involves working closely with their practice anager.
You might not currently have someone ready for this role; there’s a possibility that you’re not ready for this role yourself—but if you prepare yourself and work toward developing this role, you will be working toward long-term success.