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Development Rules All

Looking at cases where employees leave financial planning firms—whether by their own choice or not, “development” is one of the most common missing components. Whether firms are not meeting objectives, or team members are not working to their full potential, “development” or more of it is needed.

Why is this so challenging?

We’re not prepared to work on “development.” We think we have enough of a plan or path, or we’re not sure how to start.

Who Needs to Develop?
Start at the top. Leaders need to assess their readiness, their ability to lead. Who in the firm wants to help in developing others? Leaders have to learn and develop their skills so they can give the best development opportunities to employees. This takes careful evaluation, patience and time.

Then, work through the firm. No one and nothing stays in the same place or position forever.   Everyone on the team should identify areas to be better, to develop more.

Development has to be tied to higher initiatives, goals or missions. The mission and values of the firm are established and tied to what we will do for our clients and our employees. Once a firm knows what it is willing to do for employees in their development, the firm can promote this for effective hiring and retention.

Goals, Compensation, Career Path
Clearly outline the goals, compensation and career path for the employee in a way that articulates, “To get here, you need to do this, and here is how we will help you.” Also, list the consequences of what happens if an employee fails to respond to or take on the developmental work. In some cases it’s OK to stay where you are, but a leader of the firm gives an honest conversation of what your future might be.

Employees should give feedback and ideas to the firm leaders, and the firm should encourage that communication. Create an environment where asking for help and saying you don’t know is permitted. It’s not enough to just say you have this environment; it must actually be perceived by the team members as existing.

Some of the most difficult areas of development include working on taking initiative and being a “self-starter,” critical thinking skills and improving accountability to yourself or your team. While these areas could be developed in people, you need to carefully evaluate how much effort, resources and time could be applied to the situation. It is a harsh assessment, but if you don’t have enough resources, time and effort, or you hire or retain people who require more than you can give, you do a disservice to yourself and the people who won’t be developed properly.

In the next blog, I’ll cover ideas for what to do if you can’t fully develop team members, and future blogs will cover how to set up your resources, effort and time for development.

This is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult experts and be aware of federal, local and state regulations and exceptions.

Mary DunlapMary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting

Pottstown, Pa


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Better Answers Come From Great Questions

Over the years, I have encountered people on teams who seem unmotivated or unwilling to talk or share information during performance reviews. During the reviews, they are answering “with the usual” to questions that we give them every time. “What are your accomplishments, achievements?”  “What would want to improve on and why?” “What do you want to do next time?”

An excellent book and wonderful resource for me is Smart Questions: The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers by Dorothy Leeds.  Having been through these experiences where employees are unwilling to talk, I have some ideas to share that could help those employers wondering how to best proceed.


Prepare for the Conversation
Before conducting your next employee performance review, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why should the employee want to talk with me, make the changes I want? What would be in it for the employee?
  • What’s the best way for me to handle the situation; what’s my approach? What was my approach in the past? Does it still work? How should I change it?
  • Can I listen to the employee’s criticism of the situation, circumstances, team, etc.?
  • What might the employee need to achieve? What will I need to do to help her or him achieve the objectives?
  • How should I check in with the employee as a follow-up? How do I make sure both of us fulfill what we committed to do?


Find the Employee’s Comfort Zone
Think about what puts the employee at ease. Think of times and situations where the employee was talking quite excitedly. Perhaps you can ask a trusted supervisor or manager for some insight.

Think about where to have the conversation. Location and who is around may influence the amount and quality of your responses. Don’t surprise someone by taking them out to lunch or a breakfast one-on-one if you haven’t done it before. Maybe start with a short conversation in the office, make some progress with the employee, and then invite them to talk further offsite.

Start with easy questions—ones where you will get some response. You can start with casual questions about topics unrelated to the actual conversation. Be sincere in wanting to listen to the employee and don’t go overboard in asking these unrelated questions.

Start with questions that are general observations on the topic you want to talk about, then delve deeper.


Be Ready to Delve into the Responses You Get
When you are starting the conversation and asking the questions, avoid language (body and spoken) that can put the employee on the defensive. “Why” is a question you want to avoid; it instantly puts reluctant people on the defensive. Look for alternative wording, starting with “How”, “Under what circumstances” or “When.”

Explore what someone gives you as an answer. For the basic answers, ask for more details about other situations, other alternatives. Try to break down the complex questions into a series of basic questions that are layered and build off each other.


How Should You Help?
Ask the employee what he or she thinks needs to be done. What would the employee like to see? By asking this, you are not giving all control in issue resolution to the employee, but you are opening up a dialog. Then, decide the next steps together.

This is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult experts and be aware of federal, local and state regulations and exceptions.

Mary DunlapMary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.


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Mentoring and Gratitude

Those lucky enough to have a mentor typically speak highly of him or her. Often, even decades after a mentoring relationship ends, the participants’ bond remains strong. Generally, both the mentor and the mentee have learned a great deal from each other, and it’s worthwhile for each of them to express what they’ve gained from the relationship.

The Importance of Saying Thanks
When I was in the Air Force, I had a mentor who was known as “the colonel” (as if there was only one in the entire Air Force). She was tough, but everyone respected her. When she retired from the Air Force, we lost contact. But after a decade or so, I reconnected with her and went to visit her in San Diego while on a business trip. I wanted to make sure she knew what a huge, positive impact she’d had on me. I wanted to be sure she understood the depth of my gratitude. I’m so glad I did. The colonel passed away about six months later.

Sometimes, junior advisers haven’t had the life experience to realize just how important expressing gratitude can be. I was leading a program with a group of junior advisers recently, and a concluding activity was to write a thank-you note to their mentor. This simple exercise presented new learning opportunities for the participants—and for me!

  • First, I learned that composing a handwritten thank-you note may be an unfamiliar experience for millennials, who have grown up with instant messaging and texting. For this group, even an email may seem like an outdated form of communication.
  • Second, no matter your age, it’s all too easy to jot down a banal one-sentence thank-you as opposed to expressing what you’re genuinely grateful for.
  • Third, personalizing the message with something specific or unique to the individual recipient makes the difference between a note that’s hastily read and tossed aside and a note that’s saved indefinitely.

A Dying Art
Remembering a specific incident, restating timely words the mentor spoke just when the mentee needed to hear them, or describing the impact of a certain action the mentor took are all great ways to make a thank-you note memorable. (Isn’t it interesting that they’re also good approaches to communicate in a memorable way with clients?)

In our busy world, good intentions regularly beat out actions. The art of the well-written, sincere thank-you note is disappearing. That would be a loss for tenured advisers and millennials alike.

Joni YoungwirthJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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