How to get your staff to go along with change – let them create it

Not sure your staff will go along with changes? Let them come up with the ideas instead.

Charles (not his real name) is CEO of a large advisory firm in the Midwest. The company has half a dozen offices and a dozen advisors. We had just completed a successful client advisory board meeting and the main agenda item was deconstructing the firm’s client review meetings. We asked some of their best clients what they found most valuable, what they like most, and what could be dropped from the agenda when they met with their advisor. We received great feedback. Not surprisingly for a firm that size, we also discovered that the experience was not consistent across advisors. But the board was clear on what made for the best experience from their perspective.

“Of course,” said Charles, “the hard part will be getting all the advisors to actually do all this stuff. We upgraded our process and have training meetings to introduce the new ideas and then I have to spend so much time keeping after them to make sure it actually gets done.”

One of the challenges of a growing firm is that it is less and less about providing financial advice and more and more about managing people. Add to that the complexities of the individuals involved. Advisors tend to have, shall we say, strong personalities. Many are fiercely independent. You might experience the same challenge with support staff.

Telling your team what to do sets you up for resistance. Advisors and staff have been doing things a certain way for a long time and it seems to work just fine. The clients are happy. The change just doesn’t seem that important.

There are other ways you can approach implementing improvements, especially ones based on feedback. Here are a few alternative approaches that may break down some of that resistance.

“Our clients told us this is what they wanted.” Rather than making it your idea, keep it the clients’ idea. While many people are resistant to change and don’t want to be told what to do, most want to make clients happy and give them what they want. If an idea came from your advisory board, give them credit and it may lower resistance.

Give credit where credit is due. I have had the experience that clients like some things one advisor does and others like different things another advisor does. As you work to create a more consistent experience for clients across the firm, let your team know that they each do specific things clients really like. You want to take the best ideas each advisor brings to the table and combine them into one exceptional experience.

Provide a few options and let the staff choose. Rather than coming up with a specific course of action and asking your team to do it that way, give them a few alternatives. Reflect the client feedback you received and offer a few different ways you might satisfy those client preferences. Then let the team choose the one they think would be best for the clients and for the staff.

Give your staff the feedback and let them design the solution. Vesting ownership of the change gets buy-in. If the change is obvious (clients tell you they would like meeting agendas in advance), the staff can come up with it on their own – they don’t need you for that. If the answer to a client request is more complicated (they consistently misinterpret one of the graphs on your investment reports) a few people working to propose a solution might come up with a better idea than you would alone. This approach has the added benefit of being a laborsaving device. You don’t need to be solely responsible for developing and implementing new ideas.

Getting people to change how they do things can be hard. Even if you propose something new because it was feedback from your client advisory board, your team still sees it as something new you are pushing them to accept. Rather than a predetermined answer, give them the clients request and let them participate in developing the solution. Getting the group involved in raising the level of service will lead to better outcomes all around.

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