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Journey Strategic Wealth

How to Get Employees to Lead Themselves

Reframe professional development review meetings to put the onus on the employee to hold themselves accountable.

One of the most challenging parts of running a successful practice is the responsibility that comes along with managing employees. Advisors often express that helping others professionally develop, stay engaged, and maintain positive morale can feel like a full-time job. You may be at a point now where you feel the team has become too dependent on you for their own success and happiness. Conversely, you may feel completely overwhelmed by the idea of managing people and have become disengaged from your employees.  

Either way, it’s helpful to take a step back and redefine what leading a team means in your business. Great leaders do very little “hand holding” or micromanaging of anyone. Instead, they work to create a culture where others feel empowered and educated enough to manage their own development and success.

If you find yourself dreading your next professional development review meeting with a key employee because it feels like more work for you, hopefully this can help you reframe.

Co-Create Expectations With Team Members

Before you on-board a new team member, make sure they are clear on your expectations and how success is going to be defined within their role. Allow them space to share feedback and provide their perspectives and insights on how they feel about the new role. By the time they start on your team they should have a solid understanding of the following:

  • Their objectives or what they should aim to achieve in their role on an ongoing basis (e.g., creating capacity for senior advisors, efficiently managing workflows, etc.)
  • What metrics they will be using to track whether they’re succeeding at achieving objectives (e.g., NIGOs continue to reduce each quarter, 24-hour response time to clients, additional time on senior advisor’s calendar, etc.)
  • The objectives and key results of the practice overall.  (i.e., What the practice aims to achieve on an ongoing basis.)
  • The possible development pathways that exist for them in the organization.
  • The possible compensation pathways that align with the various roles they can develop into.

Once an employee has this roadmap to follow, it is much easier for them to hold themselves accountable and figure out, on their own, whether they’re exceeding expectations or falling short. Make sure to let them know before they start, that every employee is responsible for being proactive about reflecting on their role and asking for support in real-time, as they need it.

Reframe Your Role in Professional Development Review Meetings

Traditionally, you may have done most of the “heavy lifting” in your professional development review meetings with employees. I’ve often heard some variation of the following, from advisors, about reviews:

  • “I wish my team member would come to the meeting with ideas rather than just waiting for me to give them feedback.” 
  • “For some reason the feedback I’m giving isn’t resonating. It’s like it goes in one ear and out the other.”
  • “My employee becomes very defensive when I give feedback and the review meeting never goes well.”

The key to shifting the dynamic of employee review meetings is to set the expectation that it’s the team member’s responsibility to come to that meeting with an update for you about how they’re doing in their role. One way in which they can do that is by giving you an update on how they’re progressing on their objectives and key results.  Are they achieving their objectives? Why or why not? If not, what do they need from you, the practice and/or the team in order to achieve their objectives? Your responsibility in that meeting is to listen, provide feedback and help them figure out what resources or support they need in order to exceed expectations moving forward.

In addition to how they’re doing in their current role, the professional development review meeting gives the employee space to discuss what they want to achieve personally and professionally over the short and long term. (Having employees fill out a simple survey, 24 hours before the meeting, with an update on their OKRs, and one or two personal and professional goals for the next year is a great way to frame the meeting and provide you with the information you need to be prepared for the conversation.) 

Be prepared to share feedback around the following areas in the review:

  • The person’s skills and competencies,
  • The person’s capacity to learn new skills,
  • The person’s attitude and whether it’s conducive to evolving and adjusting.  

Serve as a Coach, But Not in the Traditional Sense

Unlike in sports, coaching in a business sense requires you not to help others do things the way you want them to, but rather to help them succeed in a way that brings out the best in them.

To hone your coaching skills, you have to be willing to let go and trust that others on your team

have the capacity to lead and succeed, regardless of whether they have showed you that yet. Here are a few ways you can coach team members on an ongoing basis, and evoke the best out of them:

  • When having conversations with team members about a business challenge, or their own development, ask predominantly open-ended questions starting with “what” or “how.” For example, “What resources do you have at your disposal to solve this?” “With all of your experience, and with everything you have observed, what do you believe a good next step would be?” This way the team member will be prompted to figure out their most powerful next step to solve whatever issue is being discussed vs. waiting for you to provide the answer.
  • Provide positive feedback and reinforcement, especially with younger employees. In an age of social media “likes” and “comments,” most people gain confidence and empowerment by receiving encouragement from others, especially when they have failed to meet expectations. This might not feel natural for you at first, as you may have “grown up” in an era and culture where bosses and leaders used “negative reinforcement” as a motivator.
  • Practice entering into conversations with team members free of judgments, preconceived notions, and assumptions. This will enable you to provide helpful, objective feedback.
  • Assess and note the unique preferences and communication styles of each team member. Tailoring communications (i.e., the way someone likes to receive feedback) in a way that is most impactful to a team member will ensure the message resonates.    

On a final note, keep in mind that the best leaders have the ability to unite people around a common cause and get them excited about the future and what is being built. Make sure that you are always sharing with and reminding team members of the vision and mission of the practice. Allow them to provide feedback on the direction of the firm and genuinely listen when they provide ideas on how to prioritize strategic initiatives. The more team members feel like they are a meaningful part of what you are building, and the success the practice is having, the more likely they are to stay engaged and imagine themselves as part of your future firm.

Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth. 

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