Written by: Jay Veale
The continued tear of M&A activity throughout the RIA industry has resulted in some firms reaching critical mass very quickly. These firms are learning that with size comes all the troubles associated with scalability. Beyond the structural challenges of now belonging to an enterprise that stretches across numerous offices in multiple states, employees now find themselves inside organizations far larger than those typically encountered in the RIA landscape. To add to the complexity, these firms must find their niche while largely working remotely. Because of this, it is incumbent upon firm leadership to find ways to make their increasingly large firms feel small to keep that intensely entrepreneurial culture that was born from the very nature of their smaller size. By proving to their employees that they can ward off the specter of corporate sluggishness and facelessness by maintaining a culture of personability and accountability, they can create a vast enterprise that is able to maintain both morale and efficiency.
The number one way to make any organization feel smaller is to reduce anonymity. While many large RIAs may pay lip service to the idea of cross-firm familiarity, when it comes down to it, there may be very little actual understanding of who to contact about one administrative task or another. While it may not seem important at face value for the marketing staff to know the estate planners, there may come a time where they do need to connect and employees are far more likely to be able to work cohesively and be responsive when they see “John from our virtual happy hour every Thursday” rather than “John Smith, Estate Planner.” While everyone may be experiencing some video call fatigue or have abandoned attempts to make the constant calls “fun,” it is important to be able to have numerous small virtual events where employees have the opportunity to have real conversations with one another, rather than just seeing each other as one of a hundred tiny boxes on an all-hands video session.
Beyond breaking down the barriers of anonymity, one of the best methods to keep your employees motivated is to increase accountability. While the average day might be too busy for multiple check-ins, having each manager maintain a collaborative document where all team members can see their team-based and individual tasks helps them remain accountable to themselves, their supervisors, and each other. No one wants to be viewed as a drag on the organization and knowing that others can see how long a particular task has been on an employee’s checklist can really motivate them to get things done in an efficient manner. Furthermore, clearly communicating soft and hard deadlines has become even more important in today’s world when every day looks the same to those working from home. Feelings of urgency might be more lax while working in sweatpants, and having very real deadlines to use as landmarks can help their seemingly less structured life have a bit more rigidity.
Just because your employees have the right structures in place and are consistently communicating on projects doesn’t mean that they are actually speaking up when they feel that the structures could be improved or simply want something explained a little bit more. This is why firm owners need to discourage silence by promoting employees to speak up and leaders must establish a culture where “there are no dumb questions.” By conducting regular town halls or “ask me anything” sessions, the barriers that might exist in an employee’s mind between them and management might disappear, and they will be able to speak more freely. These sessions provide management with a better litmus test for what is and isn’t working, and which systems require a bit more explaining for better adoption and utilization. It is important to have events like these and have feedback gathering sessions on new initiatives — not just to check in on employees’ comprehension, but also to hopefully uncover the next big idea for how to make the firm run faster and more efficiently.
As the best ideas and outstanding job performance truly can come from any and every level within your organization, it is paramount to maintain morale by celebrating recognition. If someone makes a suggestion, it can’t go unnoticed. While it’s important to listen to employee ideas on how to improve your processes and strategies, it’s even more important to ensure they feel heard by implementing the viable ideas as they are suggested. If you do not highlight these ideas and show the firm that management embraces the best ideas, wherever they may come from, then your employees may not be inclined to share their ideas because they may either feel that they won’t get the credit they deserve or that their ideas will simply fall on deaf ears. Nothing kills innovation faster than disheartened employees. Beyond recognizing specific contributions during feedback sessions, it is even more important to recognize and highlight consistent strong output or the specific process improvements employees may be contributing through the normal performance of their roles, and doing so in front of the firm overall. By shining a spotlight on strong job performance across your firm, you are able to ensure that your employees will have the opportunity for validation from all of their peers, even in a virtual environment or across an organization that is scattered geographically.
Through these four key elements of reduced anonymity, increased accountability, discouragement of silence, and proper employee recognition, firm owners can ensure that their employees are not just productive but fulfilled in their quest to drive the firm to new heights.
Related: The New Financial Advisor Workplace