Expanding Your Practice: Building the Proper Team

A successful growth strategy can result in the need to hire additional staff, or you may be looking to hire staff to help your firm grow. Expanding your practice successfully, however, requires more than simply increasing the number of employees in your ranks. It’s about finding and cultivating the right mix of talent—and being able to distinguish the flowers from the weeds. Read on for some pointers on how to make the best hiring decisions for your budding practice.

Do a Thorough Skills Self-Assessment
When it comes to building your team, it’s all about figuring out who you are, what your skills are, what your long-term goals are, and formulating a staffing strategy that will complement you. One problem, however, is that many advisors aren’t clear about what help they actually need. Figuring this out is the first step. Start by identifying your unique abilities—namely the things that only you can do, that you like to do and that generate revenue. Honing in on this will help you figure out where the gaps are in your organization, says Chris Noonan, a branch manager who’s in charge of several Texas offices for AXA Advisors LLC.

Carefully consider where your weaknesses are. Some advisors have a flair for working with clients, while others are more suited to money management and still others are more adept at marketing. The goal with whomever you hire should be to round out your practice, leaving you time to do the things you like and are good at.

Next, create a job description that lays out precisely what you are looking for, the background and values potential candidates should have and what you are willing to pay. Only when you’re clear on the type of person you are looking for and what you want accomplished, should you start your search, Noonan says.

Before you start your search, it’s also important to understand your firm’s culture because hiring people who don’t fit is a waste of time and energy, and can be detrimental to your organization. Indeed, many productivity problems are tied to a poor cultural fit, says Jamie Ziegler, a partner with AUMPARTNERS LLC, a consulting firm in Highland Park, Ill., that focuses on talent management. For example, Ziegler once worked with an advisor whose office had frequent “laughing club breaks,” where they would perform various activities to get people to laugh as a form of stress relief. Not everyone is suited to that type of environment, she says.

At Tuttle Wealth Management LLC, White Plains, N.Y., much of the staff works remotely from home. As such, Matthew Tuttle, president and chief investment officer, spends a lot of time trying to find people who can work effectively in that model, which includes determining whether they are entrepreneurial or an employee by nature. “Either way is fine, but we just don’t want to put someone who has an employee mindset in an entrepreneurial role,” he says.

The bottom line is this: No two firms are the same; so make sure that when you are looking to expand you recognize your firm’s cultural nuances and take them into account in your hiring decisions. Ask applicants questions that help determine what kind of work environment they do well in and what kind of team they like to be on, Ziegler says. For example, ask about their favorite job so far, what they liked about it, the manager and the work environment.

Solicit referrals
Don Patrick, managing director of Integrated Financial Group, Atlanta, says the best applicants come not from newspaper ads, but from referrals from friends and family. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advertise for applicants in newspapers, trade magazines and the like, but it does underscore the importance of telling people you know what you are looking for. “We’ve found much better candidates and success through introductions from people,” Patrick says.

Personality counts
Personality tests also are useful to help identify people’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether they are suited to the job you’re hiring for. Tuttle Wealth Management, for example, uses Kolbe tests and conducts a lot of profiling to make sure the right people are in the right positions and that they complement the strengths and weaknesses of others within the firm.

Think outside the box
It is okay to ask standard interview questions, but make sure you tailor some questions to the position you’re hiring for, says Patrick of Integrated Financial. For example, when he’s hiring for administrative positions, organization is paramount. So to weed out the disorganized, he always asks candidates what he would see if he looked inside their car right now. “It’s such an oddball question, they don’t understand why I’m asking it,” he says.

Recognize that people aren’t Play-Doh
If someone doesn’t seem quite suited to the job at hand, don’t hire him. You need to identify the winners instead of putting yourself in the position of trying to turn that person into someone you want, says Noonan of AXA. “The trick is finding winners, not trying to make winners.”

Indeed, look at the applicant’s history to get a flavor for how the person will perform in the future. “When it comes to people, past performance is the best indicator of future results,” says Ziegler of AUMPARTNERS.

Seek input from your existing employees
This advice is especially important for small firms where everyone works closely, Ziegler says. It’s important that everyone is on board with the new hire. Some advisors believe that as long as four out of five people like the candidate, the other eventually will too. “We’ve seen that blow up again and again,” she says.

Take your time
You might feel pressured to build your staff quickly, especially if you’re already overworked and business is growing, but don’t give in to the temptation to hire the first person you interview, says Patrick of Integrated Financial. "A bad hire is worse than going without."

Questions or feedback? Please email us at nextmove@penton.com.