Dallas—“I’m really enjoying this team-building workshop; we’re getting a lot out of it,” gushed Debbie, full of enthusiasm. Then she continued, in almost a whisper, “I only wish our senior partner was here.  He’s full of knowledge but just not as involved as we’d like.”

Debbie and the junior partner of the team were attending my two-day Elite Team workshop. The issue Debbie brought up was all about the working relationship between the advisors and their assistants or support personnel.   As the old saying goes, if the shoe fits, wear it.  The working relationship between advisor and assistant doesn’t have to be as distant as Debbie’s to benefit from just a handful of adjustments.  This isn’t always predicated on the advisor taking the initiative.  We’ve witnessed assistants like Debbie take the lead and have a significant influence on strengthening their working relationship. 

Most advisors would love to have a healthier and more productive working relationship with their support personnel.  Ditto assistants.  Then why don’t they?  Advisors and assistants have received little if any guidance regarding how to develop an effective working relationship.  In addition, the old advisor–assistant model, whether intentional or not, has continual reminders that assistants are in a definite subservient role.

Before I outline three action steps, it’s important that both advisors and assistants understand that the more focus placed on attracting, servicing and developing loyal affluent clients, the more important the advisor-assistant relationship.  It’s virtually impossible for an advisor in today’s world to deliver a consistent Ritz-Carlton quality of service with a FedEx level of efficiency without strong support. 

 Action Step 1:  Advisor and assistant (all team members) should meet to review the team’s business plan, the annual goals, and progress year-to-date.  This is not an accountability exercise; rather, it’s a communication drill.  The idea is that everyone, assistants as well as junior advisors, are clear about the team’s goals and are on the same page. 

If goals have changed or if senior advisor commitment has weakened, this needs to be communicated.  There is no shame in shifting gears or changing focus, but we’ve never seen anything productive from advisor “radio silence” when goals and/or commitments change.     

Action Step 2:  This step has three parts.  First, both advisor and assistant need to independently outline how they perceive the structure of their communication.  This might take the form of a Monday morning team meeting, daily huddles, ongoing communication throughout the day, etc.  Upon completing their communication outline, they should compile a list of suggestions for improving communication. 

The second part is to meet and review each other’s outlines and suggestions.  It’s important that everyone is open to new ideas, including senior advisors.  It isn’t unusual for advisors to think that communication among team members is fine because everyone is talking to each other all day, when in reality it’s merely a reactive form of communication dealing with day-to-day tasks.

The third part of this step is agreeing on actions to take to improve communication.  Maybe it’s having an agenda for the weekly team meeting or holding five-minute daily huddles—whatever is agreed upon must be collaborative, committed to and executed.

Action Step 3:  Here is where things can get a little more personal.  In this step, we address that proverbial black hole of “time-wasters.”  First, each person (advisor, assistant, junior advisor, etc.) takes an honest self-assessment of his or her day.  They determine the priorities within their role, what tasks they handle that could be delegated or eliminated, and then identify what gets them off-track.  Whether it’s the telephone, advisors or assistants stopping by to chat—whatever the distraction, recognition is the key.

The second part is to meet and review each other’s “time-waster” assessment.  The idea is to create the framework for objective outside feedback.  People often develop work habits and get set in their ways, so outside advice can be very useful.  During this meeting you need to categorize three “time-wasters:” events that are controllable, events that are outside individual control and can’t be influenced, or events that are outside individual control but can be influenced.

 For instance, an advisor answering his own telephone is within his control, since calls can be blocked by an assistant Incoming client calls are outside the individual and team’s control;however, they can be influenced in a number of ways—client segmentation, jettisoning smaller clients, creating a client communication agreement, and so on.  Whereas mandatory firm meetings, FINRA regulations, and the markets are outside of one’s control, and should be handled accordingly.

The third step is to agree on a “time-saving”action plan for influencing what’s within one’s control. My advice for Action Step 3: Less is more.  Each individual should work at correcting two or three “time-wasters” at a time. After two weeks, each party tackles a couple more.

As I explained to Debbie, any or all of these steps will strengthen the working relationship between advisor and assistant.  It doesn’t matter who takes the lead, but it does matter that everyone is committed to this type of fine-tuning.  Today’s affluent require a strong advisor-assistant working relationship.