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Assessing Your Support Staff

Although the summer is a time for vacations, social prospecting, and dialing it down, it is also an excellent time to assess the value of each of your support personnel in the form of an official performance review. If corrections need to be made and direction needs to be given, now is the time.

Chicago: "I'm uncomfortable with the bonus structure in place for my assistant," John said during the Q&A session of a practice management workshop. “Our firm has always had advisors give a bonus based on a percentage of gross production, but..."

As you probably know, without even asking a question John opened up a real can of worms. At the most basic level, the issues behind his statement involve hiring, base salary, role and responsibilities, performance reviews, and bonuses. All of which will be addressed in future Practice Management issues, but for now I want to focus on simply assessing individual support personnel. Are they doing a good job? Are they a team player? Will they go beyond the call of duty? Are they contributing to your team's goals? And so on.

Although the summer is a time for vacations, social prospecting, and dialing it down, it is also an excellent time to assess the value of each of your support personnel in the form of an official performance review. Why now, you might be thinking. You are halfway through the calendar year. Why not wait until the end of the year? If corrections need to be made and direction needs to be given, now is the time. Things should be slowing down, and it's a perfect time to spend an hour or two with each support person and discuss performance versus expectations.

Conducting a 6-Month Performance Review

Review your team's overall performance versus goals established for 2010. You will want to frame each personal performance review as it relates to the overall performance of your team/practice.

Review each individual's job description, role, areas of responsibility, and established performance expectations. Make certain that you have clarity, and if there are areas that are a bit hazy, use this review to establish clarity. Keep in mind that it is difficult to hold people accountable for hazy areas of responsibility.

Create a performance review document that both you and each individual will complete prior to their review. You will want to include areas such as: outline areas or responsibility (making certain you're both on the same page), time management, task completion, work ethic, self-direction, task competence (mistakes), communication (team, client, and firm), professional development, attitude (some support personnel are great with clients but difficult with colleagues, which is not good), accepting constructive criticism, contribution to team's goals, and commitment. You can add or delete areas as you wish. We use a 1 to 7 scale: 1 = not at all, 2 = not very well, 3 = so-so, 4 = moderately well, 5 = quite well, 6 = very well, 7 = extremely well.

You might want to simplify the scale, but the objective is that you are able to get a glimpse of how this team member is thinking about his or her performance. We have discovered that the wider the scale, the more talking points to discuss. This exercise forces both you and the individual you're assessing to spend time reflecting on the performance.

Give each individual the document you’ve created at least one week prior to his or her scheduled review.

Schedule a definite time and place for the review.

The Review:
Establish rapport. Regardless of performance, most people are nervous when it comes to reviews, so you will want to frame this around your team's goals and the importance of every individual role.

Evaluate the teams' performance. You will be surprised, but a lot of support personnel view team performance as YOUR job. It is essential that you continually reinforce the opposite - it is everyone's job.

Good, mediocre or bad - you will want to communicate an honest and accurate "state-of-the-team" six-month progress report.

Ask for general comments on the pre-work. You want to know where they are coming from. Don't let this go too long and don't debate any of the points. Your objective is to get a reading of their mindset.

Review each area of the pre-work. Ask for their evaluation first, then provide your evaluation, then discuss, and if necessary (performance needs improvement) come to an agreement on an action plan. This needs to be put in writing on the actual document.

Establish a summary and specific action plan. An excellent performer might be taking on more responsibility; an underperformance should have specific action steps that will improve performance.

Each of you signs the completed review document (action plan). This is a commitment on everyone's behalf. You are as committed to follow up with the action steps or enhanced areas of responsibility, and each individual is promising, by signature, that they agree and are committed.

I recognize this might appear to be a bit much, but this is how today's elite advisors lead their staff. They inspect what they expect. This goes without saying, but make certain you file each signed review document in the appropriate personnel file.

As I explained to John, the only way to determine whether or not someone is receiving the proper bonus is to conduct structure performance reviews.

For a FREE copy of our Individual Performance Review Guide, visit our Download Center. This will provide you with a template for your next review. Enjoy!

Also, if you haven't already - join The Oechsli Institute's Group on LinkedIn!

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].

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