Recently I was on a prep call with a senior executive of a major firm. We’d been hired to conduct a webinar that was to include livestreamed video and also be recorded. The focus was to be marketing in this prolonged COVID-19 environment, but after asking a couple of questions about internal communication within their wealth management teams, one comment framed the rest of our conversation.
“Some of the teams have figured it out, but from my vantage point the majority of our teams need a lot of help with internal communication.”
Not only did this comment redirect the conversation, but it also changed the focus of the webinar. I was asked if I could focus on how elite teams communicate in our new world while weaving in business development where appropriate.
Communication is a broad term that covers a lot of ground. You have external communication, which involves clients, COIs, prospects and industry experts. And then you have internal communication, which involves members of your team.
The focus of this article is on internal communication as this has always been a harbinger of a wealth management teams’ future success. Good, clear and open communication signals a team that’s operating on all cylinders.
One would think that with most people working remotely for a full year all of the rough spots would have been ironed out. But the opposite has occurred. Team leaders, who once could inspire with just a few words while stopping by someone’s desk, are now challenged to lead their troops remotely. Further complicating the issue is the fatigue people are feeling from this prolonged coronavirus pandemic. All of which requires more attention on internal communication.
The following are the foundation of internal communication best practices:
- Weekly Team Meeting—This has always been a staple in elite teams. However, this must not simply be a weekly team meeting, but an effective team meeting. In our new world, this is even more important. Videoconferencing (Zoom, WebEx, etc.) with every team member both present and visible should be the standard. Everyone should have a copy of the agenda, and it should be followed with everyone participating. Team leaders typically lead these weekly meetings. Larger teams have additional meetings; administrative, marketing, portfolio management and so on.
Keeping everyone focused on the team’s goals requires repetition, progress reports and celebrating team member contributions and successes; both big and small.
- Role Clarity—Working remotely has expanded the roles of many team members. Peers have become project leaders with supervision responsibilities. Team members are also training other team members remotely, as well as making the necessary adjustments to continue enhancing the client experience.
- Personal Telephone Calls—The daily team huddle isn’t practical when working remotely. However, a personal phone call by the team leader, when done properly, can be magical. By properly, the idea isn’t to police work effort but rather to strengthen the emotional connection. This requires sincerity and empathy—and if there’s a performance issue, it always surfaces and is more easily worked out. Keep this simple—larger teams, think of one call daily; smaller teams, adjust accordingly—but at least one or two “touch base” calls per week.
- Peer-to-Peer Training—Few things are as powerful as peer-to-peer training. We’ve seen a team have one team member who was a natural in delivering personalized service make a five-minute video on her approach. Another who was super organized then made a video on his organization process, while another team member made a video of her home office setup.
According to the team leader, initially, they were all hesitant, but they took ownership, got into it and it was spectacular. “Not only did everyone get a nugget or two from each presentation, the presenters felt empowered and everyone raised their game.”
- Internal Messaging—It’s important to make sure communication among team members is seamless and expected. After all, they’re not able to walk over to a colleague’s desk to ask a question or discuss an issue. There are a number of tools you can use; Slack and Monday (we use Slack) are the most popular.
Internal messaging should be monitored. Occasional mindless chatting is OK, but too much gossip is counterproductive. And have your antennae out for hints of internal dissension. We’ve seen this occur regarding compensation, performance expectations and bad-mouthing leadership. It’s important to inspect what you expect and nip any potentially destructive messaging in the bud.
- Happy/Social Hour—Think of this as simply a structured way to have social engagement within the team. Alcohol isn’t required but is usually allowed. The feedback we’ve received from this simple nonbusiness activity is that it does wonders for morale. Team members discuss life, and we’ve found that there’s more personal sharing than when the happy hour was a quick stop at a pub on the way home from the office.
- Performance Reviews—Structured performance reviews have always been an essential component of elite teams. Our current working environment, with most of us still working remotely, has increased their importance. Not only are you inspecting what you expect from each team member, but you’re also able to connect with them on an emotional level—essentially, take their attitudinal temperature.
It’s come to our attention that many teams have forgone this critical aspect of communication during this pandemic. This is a mistake. Granted, it’s challenging to conduct a performance review remotely, but it’s essential, and elite teams are doing it effectively.
None of this is complicated, but it requires time and attention. Everything has changed, including how we communicate with the people we work with. Paying close attention to internal communication improves external communication, which in turn improves productivity and has a direct impact on a team’s growth.
Matt Oechsli is author of How to Build a 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing, and Retaining Affluent Clients. www.oechsli.com