Principle 31: Elevator Etiquette

I get annoyed when I go to step out of an elevator and two or three people try to rush in before I can get out. It’s the rudest thing. Their mothers are to blame. The proper etiquette is to allow the other folks out first and then enter. It’s a simple courtesy that everyone should practice. When you are standing outside an elevator waiting for it to open, show a little respect and take one step back instead of two steps forward. It will reflect well on your mother.

Managing Discontent

Something similar is going on when a client expresses discontent about the performance of an investment. Don’t interrupt with seven reasons why they are wrong. Don’t rush into a defense. Let them get it all out, or frustration will turn to vitriol. Stopping the flow of vitriol only backs up the toilet. You want to get a good clean flush. Instead of defending, say, “Tell me more. I’d probably feel the same way. What else is on your heart?” Keep probing until you are confident the client has got it all out of his system.

Keep the Plumbing in Good Working Order

Now, here’s how to properly flush. Go back to the original decision and thoroughly re-explain the merits, risks, and features of the investment. Make sure the client fully understands how it works, how it intends to make money, and what could go wrong. Next, discuss in detail the due diligence you and your firm conducted before adding the security to your platform. You took a product course, you did a site visit with the sponsor, you read the prospectus, whatever. Be thorough. Then, discuss why the investment was selected for the client’s portfolio and how it fits into the over all plan. Review the criteria used to make the decision to move forward with it. Finally, give your own assessment of it. It’s okay if you agree with the client, and it’s okay if you don’t.

Never Defend Performance

Remember, you never have to defend performance. The structure of the investment, the quality of the management, and the ever-changing market forces and economic conditions determine return, not you. These things are out of your control, and you are not responsible for them. There are only three things you have to defend: 1. whether or not you did proper due diligence on the fund before offering it to your client; 2. whether or not you fully disclosed the details of the investment, including its merits, features, and risks; and 3. whether or not the product was suitable to meet the client’s objectives at the time. If you did these three things right and the investment still did not turn out, then that is just how risk shows up in a portfolio. The client will have to accept that, this time, things didn’t go his way. If he isn’t up for the risk, then change his risk profile and reorganize the portfolio accordingly.

No, You First!

When a client comes in for a quarterly review, I have to remind myself that she hasn’t seen me for three months, and she probably has questions, things to discuss, a need perhaps, or something she wants to accomplish in the meeting. Let the client get off the elevator first before you rush in. After a half hour of pleasantries (no kidding), I open my notebook and take out a pen. “I have a number of things I’d like to cover today. Is there anything you’d like to do? Let’s cover your list first.” This always meets with approval. I carefully take notes, ask questions to make sure I understand her thoughts and concerns, and then initiate any action items. After we have thoroughly worked through the client’s list, then we turn to mine. The client is always eager to get to my list, and will listen attentively once her list has been put to bed.  It’s a small but effective courtesy.  Extend it every time.

Principle 30: Manage by Wandering Around

We Live in a Fallen World

No matter how high the caliber of your staff, regardless of how much time and energy you spend on their training, and in spite of the incentive program you have in place for them, never forget this truth: people prefer to focus on the tasks that give them a sense of accomplishment.  You can never assume that your job as a manager ends when the recruiting and training is done.  If recruiting and training got the job done, there wouldn’t be any managers in this world.  Yet, there are managers, and for precisely the reason stated above.  In too many cases, the personal preferences and strengths of your staff members will trump the priorities you have set out for them.  When things get busy and overwhelming, we usually play to our long suit.  If someone is strong in customer service, she will avoid processing new business.  If someone is good at problem solving, his phone calls won’t get returned.  In short, we all prefer to stay inside our comfy zone.  Everyone wants to go home at the end of the day feeling like they got some things done.  We avoid the difficult, complicated and time-consuming for the easy, simple and quick. Got this done.  Check.  Got that out the door.  Check.  Made this call.  Check.  Solved that problem.  Check.  It’s just human nature.  But, when priorities are displaced by preferences, everything breaks down.

Inspect What You Expect

As the head of your firm, you are the executive manager.  You can’t spend all day, every day, holed up in your conference room.  Once in a while (and, I mean daily), you have to pop your head up out of your prairie dog hole and survey the landscape.  I call this prairie dogging.  You have to venture out of your lair and check in with each member of your team.  Never assume that everything is running smoothly and according to plan.  It isn’t.  Remember, humans are involved.  I walk up to a desk or workstation, smile warmly, and usually begin with, “Whatcha workin’ on?”  If the answer is anything other than the person’s top-tier priority, I ask if there are any top-tier priorities that are being set aside in order to attend to the current task.  If the answer is “Yes,” I say something like, “Set that aside, and focus on your top tier priorities until they are completed.  Then move on to less important matters.”  This is sometimes met with whining and harrumphing.  Be firm.  Remind the staffer that priorities have been established for just such occasions when things get busy and overwhelming.  Priorities are the tracks the train runs on.  No one wants to derail the train.

First Things First

We have six capable and dedicated people in our operations group, for which we have established the following priorities:

  1. Trading: receiving/buying/selling marketable securities and annuities.
  2. Cashiering: ACHs, withdrawals, ACATs, rollovers, transfers, RMDs.
  3. New Business: opening new accounts, buying non-traded products.
  4. Service: address and beneficiary changes, re-registrations, online access.

The rule is that no one can work on a task with a priority lower than the highest priority incomplete task currently assigned to them.  While we use a comprehensive practice management system (Junxure),  we recognize that people are people.  Their best will be delivered when clear priorities are set and where proactive, diligent, daily monitoring and management is the norm.


Principle 29: Manage Activities, Not Results

Results Cannot be Managed

Results are what happen after you have planned and managed.  If you have planned and managed poorly, your results will stink.  If you have planned and managed well, your results will be a pleasing aroma.  So, first things first.  Before results comes management, but before management comes planning.  If you want to achieve a particular result (an administrative task, a college degree, a production goal), then you must first determine specifically, step-by-step what needs to happen in order to bring about the desired result.  Then, you simply manage the activities necessary to achieve the desired results.  It’s really that simple:

Planning + Managing = Results
Identifying Necessary Activities + Managing Those Activities = Desired Result

Once you get this concept down, nothing can stop you.  I have seen too many managers throw a fit when they didn’t get a desired result from a staffer or themselves.  The problem is that they are too often focused on the wrong end of the equation.  They need to ask themselves, “Did I clearly lay out a successful, step-by-step plan to achieve the desired result?  Did I take care to ensure that each step of the plan was executed well?”  In nearly any situation, if you do not achieve your desired result, the answer to one or both of these questions is probably, “No.”

Don’t be Results Oriented

Focus on the process.  Before we were married, I invited my wife, Stephanie, to my apartment for a classy supper.  I had called my aunt Drucilla for the family spaghetti sauce recipe, and she was delighted to share it with me.  I even picked up a nice Betty Crocker Fudge Chocolate cake mix.  When Stephanie arrived for dinner, the apartment was filled with the scrumptious smells of what promised to be an exquisite Italian dining experience.  She was going to be impressed.  I popped the cake pan into the oven and set the timer, just as Steph knocked on my door.  I had the vague notion of something amiss, but ignored the thought.  After all, I didn’t have any eggs, and when I read the instructions on the cake box at the store, I hadn’t noticed the mix required an egg.  Who needed an egg in their cake anyway?

Stephanie walked in and made a big deal about the candles and the smells in the apartment, and we sat down to dig in.  When the cake buzzer went off, I grinned slyly, and told her there was something special in the oven that I had baked just for her.  I sauntered into the tiny kitchen, drew open the oven and victoriously produced the cake pan.  Without looking at it, I presented it to Stephanie who said, “What is it?”  Crestfallen, I thought, “What does she mean, ‘What is it?’  Isn’t it obvious, its a cake!”  I looked down at the pan, and what I saw looked like a thin, miniature blacktop road covering the surface of the bottom of the pan.  The cake had not risen.  In fact, it just sort of laid there like sludge.  I was embarrassed.  Stephanie asked, “Did you follow the instructions?”  I said, “Well, it called for an egg and…”  Stephanie burst out laughing, then, reluctantly, I joined in.  We had a good laugh over my failed attempt at cake-baking.  Results are what the cake looks like when it comes out of the oven.  If it didn’t turn out, there was a problem with the recipe or there was a problem with the preparation.  There is nothing wrong with the ingredients, or the oven, or the pan.

Give Your Staff a Break

Don’t blame them when you give them a task or a goal but don’t first work out the steps to success.  Lay out a good plan (for everything you want completed or achieved), stay involved to ensure they are following the plan, and you will get the results you want.  In my office, the number one reason someone doesn’t complete a task or achieve a goal is that the person’s manager was not on top of the activities necessary to reach success.  People get distracted, they get pulled in a million directions, they have competing priorities, and it can get overwhelming at times.  Make sure you have developed good processes and steps, communicate them well and often, keep checking in to ensure the steps are being followed closely, and everyone will win.

Principle 28: Don’t Ask for Referrals

Earn them Instead

Virtually every practice growth guru I have ever come across utterly demands that you ask your clients for referrals. They say you should ask, ask often, offer incentives, and throw parties. But, I say you should view asking for referrals like you view marketing: its goal is to eliminate its need. You should only ask for referrals if you are not already getting them. If you are getting them, then better to improve their frequency and quality by earning them instead of asking for them. Not asking for referrals is itself a strategy. Asking for referrals is distasteful for advisor and client alike. Not asking gives you some mystique. Clients will think, “Maybe he already has all the clients he needs? I hope he will accept my referral.”

I am ashamed to say that I have said to clients, “Send me some business.” I have tried the “I get paid in two ways, commissions and referrals.” I have even tried the, “Who do you know that could benefit from my services?” I even know one trainer who claims he tells his clients that he will not work with people who don’t respect him enough to send him referrals. Makes me want to puke. I prefer the high road. Rather than asking for referrals, I want to earn them, and earn them I do. About 50 a year, which is about all my advisors and I can handle. I earn referrals regularly, and I teach my advisors to do the same. Here’s how.

Grow Organically

“Healthy sheep reproduce naturally.” – Chuck Smith. What he meant was that healthy Christians will win new Christians to the faith all on their own. Pastor, evangelist, church planter, and author Chuck Smith was the founder of Calvary Chapel, the newest major evangelical Christian association of churches (domination) in the United States. The Calvary Chapel Movement, as it was once known, was born during the mid 1960s in southern California when Smith began evangelizing the youth of his generation and teaching them the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.

He believed that once a person was successfully evangelized (that is, once they had accepted the good news of the Christian faith), the best way to reach others was to a). disciple his new converts in the basic doctrines of the faith by teaching them the Bible; b). love them like his own children by spending lots of time with them; and c). meet their spiritual needs with effective counsel and guidance. Once he began to raise and nurture his sheep, they became a large, healthy flock. And, as he so aptly put it, ” Healthy sheep reproduce naturally.”

Build Your Congregation

Chuck Smith founded what many consider the healthiest and most effective American church growth movement in a century. As financial advisors, we are in a similar dynamic. Our parishioners are our clients. Our pulpits are our seminar lecterns and  conference room dry boards. Our doctrines are the principles of financial planning.  Our ministry is loving and caring for the financial needs of our clients. Our counsel and guidance is the advice we give. In a sense, every investment planning practice is a financial church, so to speak, with a congregation of hundreds of families to watch over and care for. This is the key to earning referrals.

Treat your book of clients like a pastor treats his congregation. He tends his flock with love and care, patience and gentleness, generosity and kindness. He empowers them by stretching them and teaching them the deep doctrines of the faith, so that they can be resourceful and effective decision makers in their own right. He creates a vibrant atmosphere of continual personal growth that compels his members to want to share their experience with those they love and care about. He makes his church a safe haven for the lost and broken who want to come in from the cold.

Principle 27: The Book Produces (Part III)

Love the Book

Stopping all forms of active marketing and subdividing my book of clients with other home grown advisors in my practice was the best move I made since starting the firm 10 years ago.  Now that each year every client in our firm is getting 2-3 financial planning meetings and at least an annual review (if not quarterly), 2 risk review visits, 2 tax planning and tax return preparation consultations, and at least 1 conference with our estate attorney, they are feeling the love. They are no longer in the dark and alone. They are reminded of how much they value their relationship with our firm. From their new understanding of the reasonable investment returns they earn on their portfolios, and from the comprehensive, personal, and hands-on guidance they now receive from us, they can’t help sending us new clients. It is important to produce good returns through well diversified portfolios, but if clients don’t see the gains, they won’t be happy. It is important to design a system of regular and meaningful client contact, but if you don’t execute well, they will leave.

Money on the Table

Everyone knows that the number one reason clients change advisors is lack of communication. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that once a client brings their portfolio to you, and you reallocate it, there isn’t any more business to be done with that client. During the period of their neglect, we found that these “ignored” clients had amassed significant new wealth through inheritances, early retirement packages, divorces, life insurance proceeds, accumulated savings, business buyouts, and numerous other sources. Moreover, many of these clients and/or their spouses had retired, opening up their pensions, and their 401k, 403b, and 457 plans, as well as their stock options and stock purchase plans, to rollover and reinvestment. In some cases, other advisors had moved in on us and taken business. We had no one to blame but ourselves.

If you are a low-hanging fruit kind of advisor, shame on you. Stop selling and start loving. Why not take better care of your clients and get their entire portfolios? Or, maybe you think you have all the money already, so you ignore them. But, time and again we are told by industry experts that investors typically use more than one advisor and often withhold their full financial picture from their advisors. Stop ignoring and start loving. The best way to position yourself to manage the client’s complete financial life is to love them with time and energy. Remember those Easter egg hunts each spring when the grown ups would place all those beautifully-colored eggs out in plain view? That’s what new assets look like to an advisor who finally understands how important it is to love the book. Remember how nice it felt on the playground to be introduced to a new friend by an old one, or to be invited into a private group or circle of friends at college by one of the group’s members, or to be recommended for a promotion or a great job? That’s what a new referral looks like to an advisor who remembers how important it is to love the book. Get off the marketing treadmill, bring up a junior advisor, divide your book, and reap the rewards. Love the book because the book produces.

Principle 27: The Book Produces (Part II)

Dividing the Book

Passing two-thirds of my clients over to other advisors in my office was a good thing for everyone involved, but it only partially helped. Dustin and Larry started making more money, but each of them already had their own areas of responsibility in the firm. Dustin ran operations, and Larry ran tax and accounting. Sure, I relieved myself of the guilt of neglecting a significant number of my clients, and certainly they started getting some needed attention. Yes, I was able to lavish a lot more love on the clients I retained. But, Dustin and Larry quickly became overwhelmed. We needed another plan to  ensure we made good on the original promise we made to our clients when they hired us: to guide and manage their financial affairs for the rest of their lives. Dividing the book was only the first step. The next step was to expand our advisory staff. Our clients deserved not only a good advisor-client relationship and experience, they deserved great ones. Without more advisors, our clients were going to languish.

Enter the Paraplanner

I decided that I needed to bring on an advisor trainee who would act as a personal financial planning assistant and gain experience at my right hand. I had been the route of hiring advisors with licenses and experience, but this never seemed to work out. Either they were unsuccessful in their former positions and brought their unsuccess to my practice, or else they left their former positions unwillingly and brought those causes to my firm. In every single case (4 of them in a row), the hired guns ended up as liabilities and were let go. The only ones that have succeeded and remained have been the ones who were home grown. We worked out a process of paying recruits a modest base salary, sponsoring and paying for their licenses, giving them a year to learn the basic ins and outs of the business, and introducing them into our existing client relationships. We called the position Paraplanner.

The paraplanner works as my personal assistant, running research reports for client accounts, keeping prospectuses and sales kits in stock, tracking investment product performance, training clients to use our online account access system, executing securities trades, maintaining blotters, and performing due diligence on new investment offerings.  Once they get their sea legs, they are given clients from my personal book to manage on their own. Eventually, each paraplanner becomes a home grown, full-fledged financial advisor and goes full-time on straight-commission, giving up the salary and responsibilities when they feel they are personally ready. It takes about 18-24 months to complete the training, licensing, and conversion. Each paraplanner hires and trains his or her own replacement before being relieved of the position’s daily duties. None of them have ever looked back. Since I bring on about 40-50 new clients a year through referrals, a new advisor book of business is created within the firm about every two years.  The recruiting, training, and licensing process takes about as long to complete as it does to amass enough new clients to support the new advisor making the transition. It is a very effective system.

Stay tuned for more…

Principle 27: The Book Produces (Part I)

Don’t be a Hoarder

You probably have too many clients. I recently attended an industry conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. At dinner one evening, my wife and I sat at a table with a couple of other financial advisors and their wives. After a delightful political discussion (we were all cut from the same conservative cloth), the conversation finally came around to business. One advisor asked me how I marketed my practice. “I don’t,” I said. “Just referrals, that’s it.” Then, I asked him a question, “How many client families do you have?” He said “800.” I asked, “How many advisors help you manage your book?” He said, “None.” I said, “You have too many clients. You can’t possibly love that many families. You are mistreating a lot of people.” He agreed and sighed, “But, I just can’t stop marketing.”

The Mega Church Syndrome

I am always fascinated by, and not a little irritated with, large churches. (Some of this comes from my own injured pride, I’m sure, since I planted and bi-vocationally pastored  for 12 years a very small church, which never grew to more than about 50 families.) Studies indicate that the average full-time pastor can effectively minister to a maximum of about 150 families. If he visits with each family four times a year for just an hour, that works out to 600 hours, not counting any drive times. Add in sermon preparation for 2-3 weekly messages (another 500 hours), 2-3 weekly worship services (another 300 hours), evangelizing new prospects, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, business and committee meetings, speaking engagements, and community events, and the pastor is spent.

With some churches reaching weekly attendance levels of over 25,000, someone is getting lost in the shuffle. No one can pastor 25,000 people. Mega churches argue that they have additional pastoral staff members, deacons, lay church leaders, and volunteer servants who help with the work load. But, I say again, no one can pastor 25,000 people. In churches that large, it’s likely that the pastor isn’t pastoring anyone, or if he is, it is only a small select group of key leaders and perhaps his own family. But, there is little doubt that many, and maybe most, people are getting a superficial experience without any real spiritual growth. Mega churches are known for hemorrhaging church members.  Financial advisors do this all the time in their investment practices. They keep promoting, marketing, running seminars, advertising, and so on, until they burn out, retire, or die. Ultimately, a lot of their clients suffer from little or no contact, a poor advisor relationship, and a neglected investment portfolio. Sure, the money keeps rolling in as new clients are brought on board, but the older clients who are getting neglected eventually look for other homes for their portfolios where they will get the attention and nurture that they need.


If you have more than 150 client families, you have too many. Get off the marketing treadmill. I didn’t recognize my problem until I was informed by my staff that clients were complaining about waiting weeks to get in to see me. Clients would complain to my face, “You’re a hard man to see.” I was embarrassed and ashamed. It occurred to me that I had overmarketed. In my zeal and determination to build a successful, thriving practice, I overlooked the fact that I had reached my goal two years earlier than I realized. In other words, I had overmarketed by two years. I sat down with the staff and divided my client book up into 3 categories: 1). the ones I would keep; 2). the ones I would pass along, but who needed a high level of sophistication and service; and 3). the ones I would pass along, but who were smaller, low maintenance clients. My right hand man and operations manager, Dustin Martin, got group two, and my tax manager, Larry Metivier, got group three.

Stay Tuned for More…

Principle 26: Be Exclusive

Divorce Attorneys

Your little sister just called while you were driving in your car. For years she has been beaten, cheated on, and has now at last been abandoned by her loser, jobless, alcoholic husband. She has asked you to recommend an attorney. You knew this day would come. She and her husband are constantly moving from rental to rental, they are always blowing up at family gatherings, and they are raising a couple of brats (your nieces). Just then you pass a billboard that reads: Call Lawyers Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe – Bankruptcy, Speeding Tickets, Criminal Defense, Wills and Trusts, Personal Injury, Tax Planning, and Divorce. You think to yourself, well, I suppose they could handle things.  Then, you pass another billboard that reads: Colleen N. Army, Divorce Attorney – A Pit Bull in High Heels and Lipstick. Who are you going to check out? The lesson here is that a jack-of-all-trades is a master-of-none. When people are hiring a financial advisor, they want a trained specialist, not someone who can’t focus.

Branding your Practice

The name of our practice is Senior Partners, LLC. Our tagline is: Planning for Mature Investors. Prospective clients immediately know who we are and what we do.  Don’t name your practice something tired and nebulous like The Amalgamated Diversified Financial Planning Company or the one-size-fits-all Investments Are Us. Instead, use your own name in the name of the business, or allude to your target client, like my good friend Megan Phelps, whose practice is named Empress Investment Group. Yep, you guessed it. She works with women and wants them to feel like royalty.

Our value proposition is: Innovative financial planning for mature investors who value alternative investments, comprehensive wealth management, and a personal and intimate relationship with their advisor. We arrange our clients’ portfolios and affairs so they can generate robust income, ignore the stock market, live life again, and leave an enduring legacy. Don’t use terms like integrity, honesty, and loyalty to describe your attributes (yawn). Everybody expects and demands those kinds of things. Instead, lay out for your prospective clients exactly what you plan to do if they call you. Set an expectation in your branding and then proceed to deliver it with verve and aplomb. You need to be known for something. Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “He’s crazy. That will never work. He is leaving all kinds of business on the table because he is alienating everyone outside his client profile.” People who say something cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Kids and their Toys

We’ve all seen kids playing together. Things start to fall apart when one kid picks up a toy and another kid realizes he has just lost the option of playing with that toy. Often, a fight ensues. The second kid snatches the toy from the first kid, and the first kid fights to get it back. We all want what we can’t have; it’s human nature. Being exclusive means setting some limits and narrowing your focus. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t take on other clients and work. Here’s a common conversation in my conference room.

Client: Noel, we love what you do for us. You have changed our lives.

Me: Thank you. You are very kind. I love working with you. I am pleased to be of some value.

Client: Say, we were wondering. Do you only work with retirees with a lot of money?

Me: Tell me what you’re getting at.

Client: Well, my brother could sure use your help.  But, he isn’t retired yet. Would you be willing to meet with him?

Me: Certainly.

Client: But, he doesn’t have as much money as we do.

Me: If he is important to you, then he is important to me. I always accept every referral from my clients.

Client: Will you call him? We can give you his contact information.

Me: When he is ready, ask him to give me a call. We will take good care of him.

Being exclusive raises your stock, identifies you as an expert or specialist, and makes you desirable. Being exclusive helps you build a unique brand. Being exclusive puts you in the position of picking and choosing which prospects you’d like to work with and what sort of work you’d like to do. Don’t be a general practitioner. Carve out a niche for yourself, and go for it!

Principle 25: I’d Rather Say Whoa! than Go!

Lessons in Bird Hunting

I have two beautiful bird dogs, Sage and Cash. Sage is a white Setter, and Cash is a tri-color Brittany with big liver-colored spots. During the off season they lay around the house, lazily propping their chins on each other’s hind quarters, occasionally yawning or grunting in domestic bliss. You’d never know these dogs love to hunt. Each October at the beginning of bird season, we do a little hunting near Columbus, Texas, about 90 minutes west of Houston. Needless to say, the weather is still warm in southeast Texas at that time of year. After an hour or so of running full out in the field, the dogs begin to melt under the hot sun. They get thirsty and fatigued and need frequent breaks for water and rest. By the end of the second hour, their noses stop working, and they lose interest altogether. During the first hour, they range 20 yards in front of me, criss-crossing back and forth in a graceful ballet, greedily covering the terrain before them. By the second hour, they no longer work as a synchronized team and slow to a labored saunter, just under my feet. “Hunt ’em up! Bird in here!” I call. No response. All I can do is watch them with their sorry heads hung low, paunches swaying back and forth as they shuffle along, eyes bloodshot, tongues drooping. I nudge Cash with one of my boots and he just collapses on the ground. Sage follows suit. It’s pretty sad. The hunt is over. They have nothing left, and it is only mid morning.

What happened to those maniacal ornithophiles from the end of last season, when the temperature in north central Kansas was a cool 20 degrees, and they were hunting birds like heat-sinking missiles? They were so into their work that I had to constantly give the “Whoa” command to keep them from breaking their points and flushing birds, or even catching birds outright. Now, under the hot Texas sun, I can’t get them to respond.  As we say in Texas, “That dog won’t hunt.” Trying to get them to do anything at this point would be like pushing a wet noodle up hill. It can be pretty frustrating trying to get someone to do something that just isn’t in them. The problem is that, for early season bird hunting in southeast Texas, I should not be using a Setter and a Brittany. Instead, I should be using a couple of Pointers. Pointers are built for the hot weather with their lean, short-haired bodies and all-day stamina. I am simply working with the wrong staff. I prefer to work with a team that I have to reign in rather than push. In other words, I’d rather say “Whoa” than “Go.”

Admiring Your Staff

If you don’t admire them, you have the wrong staff. If you can’t honestly boast about their abilities, temperament, and accomplishments, you need to make some changes, right now. Staff fall into several categories. You have the hapless and inept, who don’t know how bad they are. You have the brown-noser do-nothings, who do know how bad they are, but think you don’t. You have the mumbling martyrs, who aren’t as good as they think they are, and who  constantly break the rules, but are sure they’re always doing you a favor in the process. You have the competent plodders, who don’t know how good they could be if they just had a little drive and ambition. And then, you have the smooth operators. These are the people who know how good they are. They’ve got moxie. They understand the system and make it work for them and your practice. Think “Radar,” from M*A*S*H. They anticipate all your moves, solve problems before you know they exist, keep you informed and on task, never make excuses, own their mistakes, and have your back. You need an office full of these people. Sit down right now and draw up a list of your staff members. Assign each of them one of the above categories.  Any staffer that doesn’t rate smooth operator, or can’t become one in a couple of months, has to go.

As I learned a long time ago, it’s hard to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys. Solution: work with eagles. They are out there in every compensation, experience, and education strata. You just have to be willing to take a stand against mediocrity. I can hear you whining right now. “I can’t afford better staff.” Yes you can. Better staff will make you more profitable and able to pay them. “I don’t have time to train a new person.” Baloney. You trained the ones you have now, and if you had better people, they’d be training the new staffers. “I can’t let anyone go or the office will collapse.” Nonsense. If you don’t bite the bullet and make changes right away, you won’t get any better. Hire and train an eagle, then decide who to let go. Then, keep on hiring and training eagles and replacing your turkeys until all the turkeys are extinct.




Principle 24: It’s the Relationship, Stupid! (Part III)

We are Proud of our Best Relationships

Jesus warned us not to brag on ourselves, and He, of course, was right. But, it is perfectly acceptable to brag on others. We all brag on our kids, and especially our grandkids (I have only observed this truism with grandkids since I don’t have any grandkids of my own, yet.). We do this because we are simply crazy about them. We love to spend time with them. We love to watch them play sports, achieve things, and graduate from anything. It is not just because they are cute and sweet (they may not be).  It isn’t even necessarily because they are our blood relations. Lot’s of families have adopted kids and grandkids. We enjoy the time we spend with them because they are our kids. We have built great relationships with them, and being with them is just fun. We have cheered their triumphs, and we have walked with them through tough times. We’ve been there when they’ve needed us (and sometimes the other way round).

The kid next door could be smarter, prettier, handsomer, funnier, whatever. But, we don’t have the relationship with him. He has never crawled up in our laps for the sheer joy of just being in our presence. He has never wanted our opinions on anything. He has never tackled us around the legs when we’ve walked in the door. He has never, well…you fill in the blank. The point here is, we brag on those with whom we have great relationships. We’re proud of them and we want others to know it. Your objective is to build relationships of such quality that your clients are crazy about you and proud of you. So crazy about you that they can’t wait to see you. So proud of you that they can’t wait to tell their friends and family about you.

The Cocktail Party: Field of Prey or Hunting Ground?

Now, I don’t attend cocktail parties, but a lot of my clients do. Some of them have weekly golf outings with their favorite foursome, or play bridge with their best girlfriends. Some have other regular get togethers with family and friends. In these intimate affairs, people let their hair down. They complain about their spouses, their golf game, their taxes, and their neighbor’s dog. What you don’t want them complaining about is you.

When my clients are in those intimate social settings, I am not worried that their dissatisfaction with me will be aroused, even if there is a pretty good reason. I am not concerned that their friends or colleagues will woo them away to another advisor. I am confident that my clients will proudly boast of their relationship with me because I have built substantive and lasting relationships with them by investing extra personal time with them, in every meeting, EVERY SINGLE TIME! When they attend that gathering and investments come up, I am not concerned that my clients are walking into a dangerous field of prey with wolves lurking about, but rather a fertile hunting ground where they will bag my next referral.

Certainly, relationships aren’t the only reason clients stay with you. But, they are the main reason they stay with you long term and send you great referrals. The longevity of your client relationships and the frequency and quality of the referrals they send you are in direct proportion to the quality of the relationships you build with them. Of course, you need to give good advice, produce a reasonable return, run a well-staffed operation, and so on. But, a healthy, growing, and sustainable practice will require your very best work in the relationship department.