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:
- Trading: receiving/buying/selling marketable securities and annuities.
- Cashiering: ACHs, withdrawals, ACATs, rollovers, transfers, RMDs.
- New Business: opening new accounts, buying non-traded products.
- 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.