Financial planning advisory firms have traditionally operated as brick-and-mortar establishments, with clients coming to the office to meet with their advisors in person, and where all employees would generally be available on-site every day during normal business hours. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘business as usual’ took a dramatic shift to a more ‘virtual’ reality. Businesses around the world were required to shift gears to comply with social distancing requirements to mitigate the impact of the spreading disease. For financial advisors in particular, this meant quickly developing a strategy to implement processes that would accommodate virtual meetings with clients, as well as work-from-home systems in place for employees to continue servicing clients and to maintain everyday business operations. With no immediate end in sight of the current pandemic condition being resolved, however, business owners are now looking to create more permanent workplace solutions that will accommodate social distancing practices.
Sustaining a successful future advisory firm model will require several changes to leadership strategies, including a shift in focus from a ‘presence-based’ management style, in which the key metric to assessing employee productivity is by the very fact that they show up for work in the office, to more of an ‘output-based’ management style, in which productivity is measured more by attainment of company goals and the deliverables required of employees to achieve those goals. Critical to this shift in management style is a clearly communicated career progression strategy, to convey to employees the importance of their role in the organization and how those roles are designed to meet company goals. Another leadership strategy to adapt a successful future model is the cultivation of ‘Team-Based’ (versus ‘Boss-Based’) accountability systems, in which team members themselves have more freedom and autonomy in conducting work as a means to manage their own accountability, instead of relying on bosses to guide the direction of individual workloads. Finally, allowing employees to choose between working environments (e.g., virtually or onsite with other team members) can enhance employee satisfaction and help them work more effectively.
Also important in cultivating a sustainable future advisory firm is the creation of a cohesive culture that includes all employees – including those team members who work remotely. Open and frequent communication is important in reminding employees about the core values and company goals of their organization. It is also important for management to ensure that employees know that they are valued members of the company, intentionally reminding them of this from time to time, allowing for flexible work hours to accommodate personal priorities, supporting employees in setting up comfortable and functional work environments (whether at home or in the office), and finding team-building activities to engage employees while at the same time emphasizing that the workplace can be considered a source of personal support.
Finally, infrastructure must be thoughtfully designed to support firm growth. Functional technology systems are a crucial infrastructure component and are essential for good communication across the organization, especially when employees are working remotely in different locations. Being able to assess all processes and identify the specific steps that employees are working on through the use of a well-designed workflow task management platform can help all team members to determine whether their workloads are being managed effectively (and to tweak processes as needed), and additional channels of communication (e.g., instant messaging applications) can help minimize email inbox overload. Team structures may need to be reassessed as well, such as limiting the number of a manager’s direct reports so that sufficient resources are available to support employees.
Ultimately, the key point is that as financial advisory firms evolve their organizations to accommodate a more remotely based workforce, there are many decisions for enhancing their success. Critical to this process is for firms to self-assess the needs of their individual employees, to decide how best to reshape the practices followed by leadership and management, and to maintain their culture regardless of where employees may be situated.