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With or Without a Pandemic, Employee Onboarding Can Be Tricky

Your revenue-generating employees are just as important, if not more important, than your revenue-paying clients. Make sure they know that starting on their first day.

Much has been written and discussed regarding the fight for talent in the RIA industry. Older advisors are retiring, and college grads seem to be more interested in technology-related fields than finance. Young and old, our industry is being squeezed for talent, all while clients continue to demand a broader spectrum of services from advisory firms. In the midst of this talent shortage, RIAs must increase their efforts to prove themselves as an employer of choice. And yet, while advisors (rightfully so) obsess over the client onboarding process, they frequently neglect the employee onboarding process altogether. 

A typical RIA firm employs 10 to 30 people. As such, each hire can have a material impact on the firm’s tightly held culture. To protect that culture, RIAs will put candidates through a rigorous interview process—asking them to meet with as many employees as possible, solve case study problems and sit for personality evaluations. All of this to ensure the candidate not only can perform the job duties but also will fit with the other members of the team. Because most RIAs wait until it’s too late to hire a new employee—meaning that everyone is buried in work by the time they begin talking with candidates—these interview processes often drag on for months while the RIA tries to coordinate overbooked calendars with as many internal employees as possible. This rigorous process culminates (rather anticlimactically) with an employee’s first day on the job, when they stand awkwardly in the reception area for several minutes until someone hurriedly walks by and says, “Your desk is over there ... someone will be by in 30 minutes or so, after they’ve gone through their morning emails and they have a free minute to start your training. Just hang tight for a bit.” After being so excited and fired up for their first day, that employee oftentimes goes home at the end of the day not feeling great about themselves or inspired by the organization they just committed to.

I discussed this phenomenon with the one and only Mark Tibergien last year when he was kind enough to join our COO roundtable podcast, and in typical Tibergien fashion, he succinctly framed the problem this way: “When we look at how important talent is to any organization, part of the philosophy we have to have is that our most valuable employee is as important as our most valuable client. Clearly, we have time and patience to do the right thing for the revenue-paying [clients], the question is whether we have [patience] for the revenue-generating [employees].”

Karen Novak, COO of Advisor Solutions at BNY Mellon Pershing, added to the conversation, “We want to make sure we are attracting employees to our organization that want to be here and that we are providing opportunities for their progression professionally and personally, and that we’re committed as an organization to investing in our people.” Isn’t this the case for every RIA in the industry? She continued, “It starts at the onset of bringing employees into the organization. It’s really daunting on that first day when you start work—you’re coming to a new building; you’re meeting a group of people that have been working together for a long time. We’ve implemented some steps to reduce that anxiety and create a real ‘Wow’ experience for the employee right out of the gate.” She added that she is a “stickler” for having each new employee’s name tag, laptop, some Pershing swag, and a desk and chair neatly set up for them. As this is unfortunately not necessarily the norm, we were able to share some horror stories of many employees not even having a chair to sit in when they arrive on their first day. In contrast to these accounts, an enjoyable experience should always be the desired outcome for the first day of any new employee.

While many RIAs struggle with employee onboarding under “normal” circumstances, onboarding employees remotely during 2020 has added more nuances to the process. While firms can’t set up an employee’s work station for them ahead of time, you can (and should) ship equipment and company swag well in advance of the employee’s start date, to give them plenty of time to set up their workspace prior to their first day. Branded coffee mugs, pens, notepads, vests, sweatpants, blankets, coasters, etc. can go a long way in making a remote employee feel part of the organization, albeit from their home. A printed training agenda, sent prior to their start date, should spell out topics of conversation and which employee(s) the new hire will be meeting with during each educational session. Even as most onboarding documents are immediately available electronically, shipping a bound copy of the materials to the employee’s home is a nice touch. Employers must be extremely deliberate with communication for remote employees, as they will not have the benefit of “water cooler” conversations as they bump into employees in the hallway. One-on-one video sessions should be planned with a wide swath of employees from different departments to give the new hire a nice sense of the firm’s culture and inner workings. In an isolated environment, it is important to allow for frequent engagement and open lines of communication.

To return to Tibergien’s comments, he pointed out, “I’ve been in small business for much of my career. The thing that’s always interesting is how we can use our size as an excuse—either we’re too big or too small. The reality is, we wouldn’t onboard a client that way, so why would we onboard employees in this way?” 

Remember, your revenue-generating employees are just as important, if not more important, than your revenue-paying clients. We all need to remind ourselves of that fact and be sure to convey that sentiment to our employees from their first day of hire.

Matt Sonnen is founder and CEO of PFI Advisors, a consulting firm that helps financial advisors build more impactful and profitable enterprises. Follow him on Twitter at @mattsonnen_pfi

TAGS: Careers
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