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Career Counseling Underperformers

Chicago: “I agree with everything you’re saying regarding raising the bar in order to meet the needs of today’s affluent. My problem is my assistant,” said Stephen in a pained tone. “She's been with me for nearly 10 years and is very resistant to change.”

Every advisor who has ever worked with an underperforming assistant can feel Stephen’s pain, although you might wonder why he tolerated such low performance for so long. Today’s advisor reality is rather harsh; either make the necessary changes, or lose good clients to advisors who already have the right infrastructure in place.

Few people enjoy having difficult conversations, which is why many advisors avoid having performance reviews with underperforming support personnel. Yet, if you are an ambitious advisor -- and since you're reading this e-letter, I’m assuming you are -- these conversations are an essential part of the drill/game. Even if you’re at a major firm where it’s supposedly your manager’s job, you should still conduct your own performance reviews using your own assessment criteria.

The following is what I suggested to Stephen, and it can provide the context for counseling an underperformer (after I had him read my last issue of Practice Management.)

Step One: It’s the JOB, not the individual. It is important that you are clear on the role your underperformer is tasked to perform. This in effect allows you to make it a new role. For instance, in Stephen’s case the role had changed from what he termed as “purely administrative” to a hybrid of “administrative / service / knowledge.”

Step Two: Officially Reframe the JOB. Because the financial crisis has fundamentally changed the landscape of the client/advisor relationship, you have a natural platform upon which to carefully explain this new (reframed) role. Whether it’s expanded responsibilities, a higher level of service, mistake-free work, or an entirely new role, it is important that you communicate the Why and What:

Why the role has changed -– “Because of this financial crisis;”
What specifically has changed within the role -– “We have to raise our game with client service;”
What you envision in the reframed role -- “Raising our game means better follow-up, more attention to detail, etc.”

Remember, you are creating new expectations, for both you and your underperformer. This is a new role, performance expectations will be monitored, and underperformance will not be tolerated.

Step Three: Official Job Offer, Conditional (expanded role). Even though Stephen had been working with his assistant for nearly a decade, he was now conditionally offering this new role to her. At this step, career counseling becomes personal. How? Because Stephen must explain that the old role is gone forever, and the new role and performance requirements are non-negotiable. In other words, this is how it’s going to be going forward.

At this point Stephen would prefer his assistant to raise her game, accept the expanded responsibilities with a positive attitude, and then work hard to perform up to expectations. Although it might not be apparent on the surface, this conditional job offer is career counseling.

The conditional aspect is reinforced in Step 4, as it is important to inspect what is expected, making certain that you’re being perfectly clear in your expectations and the follow-up involved. You might offer some variation of the following:

“This is the role I need going forward. I know you can do the job and I’m going to support you in every way. However, because of the importance, I’m going to conduct an official performance review in 30, 60, and 90 days.”

Step Four: 30-60-90 Day Reviews. Because jobs are difficult to find in today’s environment, it’s most likely that your underperforming individual will tell you what you want to hear, providing verbal commitment to this new role. Whenever you are career counseling an underperformer, the probability that this person will excel in their expanded role when they couldn’t perform to your standards in a less challenging position is remote.

Being aware of this, you might be thinking, “Why don't I simply fire my underperformer?” That’s always a possibility, but it’s been my experience in coaching personnel issues that many advisors haven't created role clarity and performance expectations for the underperformer. So, essentially, you are making up for lost time, framing the job and putting your underperformer on notice.

At this juncture, you must be diligent, both in remaining firm in the reframed role, expectations of that role, and adhering to the official review process you have established. Make certain that everything is in writing, signed by you and the underperformer.

After reading these four steps, it’s easy to understand why many advisors don't confront underperformers using an official process that leaves a clear paper trail. It’s work. However, this is the perfect environment to begin the process of career counseling underperformers.

If you would like 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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