This is Part One of a two-part post on how talent influences practice growth, efficiency and success.
Sometimes, doing things the old-fashioned way can be eye-opening.
I recently completed in-person visits with nearly 20 of our firms, as well as due diligence meetings and meaningful interactions with an additional 25 prospective firms.
The insights gleaned from visits with clients and prospects—and in many cases, key members of their staff—are invaluable and cannot be replicated in phone conversations, email exchanges or video conferences. Face-to-face interaction is the most powerful and memorable way of connecting with others, and while in-person visits do not scale well and are limiting in a sample set, their interaction, information exchange and subtle nuances reveal a layer of perspective that is otherwise lost.
Throughout my travels and in conversations with dozens of advisors, practice growth and operations management emerged as the most prominent recurring themes:
- The war for talent is real.
- The hunger for better, faster, more efficient technology that integrates into existing applications is in high demand.
- Being a successful lead advisor in a firm is not synonymous with being a great leader.
- Pipeline management should be a team effort.
The common thread running through each of these trends and issues is deceptive. While elite, growing advisor practices hunger for top-tier resources, operating efficiencies and sophisticated technology, the key component of what makes a business successful—and what they truly want—is the right people with the right skills and specialties.
This post will cover the first two topics listed above: talent and technology. Part Two will discuss items three and four: leadership and pipeline management.
The war for talent is real
The current job market is as competitive for employers as it is for prospective employees. Nearly 100 percent of the firms and practices I met with want to add talent to their teams, but are finding it more difficult than expected to identify qualified candidates.
Sourcing quality candidates is a battle in and of itself, and most firms and advisors are not quite sure how to determine whether a candidate has the personality to meet the expectations of the role as well as align with the established culture. Identifying the desired characteristics and qualities requires the knowledge, support and collaboration of three distinct groups of subject-matter experts: a highly skilled and experienced human resources team, a culture consultant and a practice management consultant.
Traditionally, HR evaluates whether a candidate has the requisite background, experience and skills to meet the job requirements, but sourcing the right candidate requires additional—and equally important—considerations. A culture consultant provides a personality profile and assessment to determine a candidate’s cultural fit. While a prospect may seem ideal on paper, if their values do not align with the practice’s core beliefs, the individual can weaken or poison the culture. Additionally, the practice management consultant assesses how a candidate will be additive to the firm’s results and enhance the team’s efforts to reach their business objectives. Business efficiency is not measured by the number of employees, but rather, the firm’s operational processes and the meaningful contributions of each individual.
Without these resources, the responsibility of finding and vetting talent falls on the firm’s staff, who may not be qualified or have the proper experience to perform the aforementioned assessments. Ultimately, the firm suffers the consequences of hiring talent that is not a good cultural fit or is an unnecessary addition.
Better, faster and more efficient technology
Technology is critical to a practice’s operating success and growth plan. However, with a vast marketplace for technology that caters to every aspect of a business—including CRM, portfolio aggregation, performance reporting, financial planning, digital marketing and website design—the selection and due diligence processes can be both daunting and time-consuming.
While technology decisions typically fall to lead advisors, chief operating officers and principals, there are more choices, considerations, and cost and integration implications than one person without this specific expertise can possibly manage. Advisors need to consider whether or not their practices will benefit from hiring a chief technology or information officer.
Without the requisite expertise, firms are likely not making well-informed decisions about their technology (acquisitive or otherwise). With a technology marketplace that is as sophisticated as it is robust, firms must be able to discern that all of the technology they are currently using or considering (1) integrates into their existing structure, and (2) ensures a sensible and efficient operating scheme.
The implications of any IT decision can be severe; without a subject-matter expert, a thriving business can potentially suffer adverse or downright devastating consequences.
Strong talent and powerful technology are building blocks of a successful practice. Stay tuned next week for insights on two other topics that are critical to growth: leadership and pipeline management.
Michael Parker is National Director, Enterprise Development for Hightower Advisors.