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Brandon Grandbouche and Stan Milovancev
Brandon Grandbouche (left) and Stan Milovancev

Managing Personnel During the Pandemic

WealthHarbor Capital Group’s Brandon Grandbouche and CBIZ Retirement Plan Services’ Stan Milovancev discuss how their firms are handling hiring and managing staff amid COVID-19’s disruptions.

When I ask retirement plan advisors which of their business assets they value most highly, many point to their staff, particularly those in the client-facing roles. But how do you hire and manage staff effectively during the pandemic’s disruptions? Two plan consultants, representing different ends of the size spectrum, recently shared their insights with

Brandon Grandbouche is the managing partner of WealthHarbor Capital Group, LLC in Metairie, Louisiana. The company has eight employees, five of whom work in plan consulting, plus relationships with several independent contractors. Grandbouche says the firm focuses on “bringing the level of services available to the $100 million-plan market down to the small-plan market.”

Stan Milovancev is executive vice president with CBIZ Retirement Plan Services, which is part of national financial services firm CBIZ, Inc, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. The Retirement Plan Services group has 78 investment advisor representatives and 152 advisory support staff. The total staff count represents employees who directly support only the investment advisory or investment management businesses, Milovancev notes. CBIZ Retirement Plan Services has additional staff not included in that figure who support other aspects of the business. How are you handling the in-office versus remote work decisions?

Brandon Grandbouche: Outside of the initial shutdowns, we are respecting each employee’s (and client’s) right to choose what is best for them. We stand by them and help make work a collaborative effort no matter where someone is physically located. Several years ago, we moved all of our platforms to the cloud and brought on several remote employees. This meant that our transition to remote work was relatively painless and we just had to set up our phone system.

Stan Milovancev: We have evaluated these decisions at a macro, firm-level to prioritize the health and safety of our team members and clients. We then evaluated state and local governmental and regulatory factors as they impacted each of our offices since we are a national firm with locations and constituencies across the country. We made sure that we had the technology and support tools in place to enable our employees to do their jobs remotely, and we transitioned to a heavily remote workforce while minimizing disruption for clients. Overall, we remained open, operational and responsive to clients throughout the last year and adapted quickly to have our team working from home. 

WM: Are you hiring for different jobs than in the past?

BG: Yes, we are more focused on back-office support that allows our core team to add scale to what they do.

SM: No, not as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WM: Have you changed your hiring practices for client-facing positions, both entry-level and experienced?

BG: We have a greater focus on culture and character fit now than ever before. In a remote-work environment personal accountability is critical to an employee's success.

SM: Yes. For the early stages of the interviewing process, we have shifted more towards the use of video calls. The ability to be an effective communicator through video is becoming an increasingly important factor in the hiring process. Self-starters who possess self-management skill sets were always important factors but are now even more important in a remote work environment.

WM: Are you experiencing any differences in candidates' availability?

BG: Candidates have seemed less willing to seek change if they are in a situation that is working for them, even if the change would benefit them in the long term.

SM: Broadly, no. With the transition to the use of video interviews in early stages, scheduling interviews has actually become easier. 

WM: Any changes in staff turnover?

BG: Yes, we have had to shift focus on the way that we develop new business.

SM: No.

WM: How are you training new hires now versus pre-pandemic?

BG: Our systems are the same and are built on creating repeatable processes. Our training is mostly the same and uses a mentor and mentee approach.

SM: We have transitioned from a mainly in-person training structure with select conference calls to the use of Microsoft Teams to conduct sessions via video with screen sharing, document sharing, and other communication and collaboration tools. This has increased efficiencies in training team members who work on multi-location or multi-disciplinary teams. For team members who have similar roles but are spread across the country, the use of technology has created a greater sense of team and knowledge sharing. We look forward to in-person sessions again in the future, but it is our plan to limit those sessions to ones that will truly be meaningful and continue to benefit from the value and efficiency of Teams in the future.

WM: Every organization has its own culture. If new hires are working remotely, how do you impart the company culture to them?

BG: In a remote work environment, it is very difficult to convey a living breathing thing like company culture. We find that using a mentor and mentee approach allows for the greatest transference of knowledge and passion. Before we release an employee to interact with clients, we want to make sure that they can embody our ideals. Step one is making sure that their character is a match to our organization when hiring. Lack of knowledge is a hurdle that can be overcome, but lack of character will always show through and be a stumbling block.

SM:  That part is harder. We’ve had to be more intentional at the direct manager level about reaching out to new hires and provide more touchpoints and notes of appreciation. We believe that meetings like our national all-hands meetings with executives and quarterly team meetings with divisional leaders have become even more important. We have had to become more purposeful and robust in our communication at the individual level of cultural programs to new hires, such as CBIZ Women’s Advantage, Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, and more.  We are incredibly proud of our Great People, Great Place (GP2) program that focuses on engagement. After the onset of the pandemic, our GP2 teams adapted their approach. For example, many of our teams began to publish a monthly newsletter that focused on the team’s well-being, support for each other and staying connected. 

WM: Have your job performance metrics and evaluation methods changed with the pandemic?

BG: This is one area where I think that we have fallen behind. Life is a chaotic jumble in the current environment and the only thing that has been a constant is being forced to adapt to the unexpected. Our response has been to give employees a little more rope and to be more focused on outcomes than timelines.

SM: The structure for performance evaluations has not changed as a result of the pandemic. Leaders tasked with oversight of job functional areas have had to evolve to become more specific in the metrics and factors that are most valuable to our clients they are using to evaluate job performance. 

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