The Great Resignation has not spared the wealth management industry, and firms would be wise to take heed of one of my grandmother's stark sayings, “You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic heightened work burnout, frustrations with firm culture and a greater need for flexibility—factors that continue to “dry the well” of available talent.
Yet many wealth management firms failed to prioritize internal engagement, even as they aggressively chased external wins. Leaders succumbed to the euphoria surrounding a historic, raging bull market, the rapid acceleration of assets under management and a flurry of firm acquisitions. Growth at a rapid pace engendered the mantras “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” or if it is broken, “figure it out,” with little regard to the cost borne by the firm’s talent and the impact on the corporate culture.
How can an established wealth management firm course-correct when facing the talent crisis?
I posed this question to my 16-year-old Gen Z daughter and 11th grade student government representative, Karis Braxton, who encountered similar leadership challenges navigating culture and engagement at her academically rigorous high school. Her words of wisdom are apropos for wealth management executives whose with lessons on leadership remain elusive.
- Pay attention to and dig deeper on widespread dissatisfaction
As student representatives, Karis and her classmate paid close attention to elevated levels of grumbling and complaints in the hallways, social chats and classrooms among students, staff and administration. Instead of ignoring the energy, they surveyed their peers to determine the source of anxiety and frustration, and collect suggestions to improve the quality of their community’s experience.
“We used open-ended survey questions focused on general concerns such as homework, social dynamics, tech problems and teacher-student communications,” Karis said. “Students appreciated an opportunity to weigh in on things that mattered to them and offer tangible solutions.”
Wealth Management Lesson: Don’t normalize burnout and dissatisfaction. Create intentional opportunities to receive feedback from your employees about their experiences without fear of repression, retribution or retaliation.
- Invite key leaders to facilitate and enact change
With conclusive survey data, the two student leaders worked closely with the dean to launch “Circle Practices,” where students and teachers could have open and structured discussions to home in on problems and solutions.
“The gatherings were designed so that everyone had their turn to share their perspective, with no interruptions, which leveled the field of communication,” she said. “Designing circles based on classes refined the specific challenges and opportunity for customized solutions such as dialing back work assignments and class time for feedback sessions.”
Wealth Management Lesson: Train and encourage managers to engage in both formal and intrapreneurial activities that facilitate courageous conversations and collaboration without the sole reliance on Human Resources for ideation and implementation.
- Empower leaders to empower the next generation of talent
By entrusting, engaging and empowering students, the school’s culture shifted from one that muted the voices of talent to one that recognized the value of their experiences and contributions.
“The administration’s willingness to create structured opportunities for community engagement even if it ‘takes away from academic time’ goes a long way with increasing student and teacher productivity and performance. It also raises our confidence when sharing with prospective high school students how supported we feel as students.”
Wealth Management Lesson: Recognize that your people are your greatest asset and referral source.
Wealth management leaders who remain regressive in advancing their firm’s culture and people stand to diminish gains from unprecedented growth by ignoring the impact of unprecedented times. The chance to course-correct may be as easy as paying attention and empowering those who are doing the work, before the work is left undone.
Lazetta Rainey Braxton is the co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, founder of Lazetta & Associates and chair of the board of directors of the Association of African American Financial Advisors.