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Swim Lessons

Updated: May 4, 2022

As Seen in Financial Planning.

Don’t throw new advisors into the deep end. Here are a few smarter ways to help them.

In a perfect world, all new planners would be paired with senior advisors who were invested in helping trainees succeed. These sage advisors would bring new hires to meetings as observers, meticulously review the trainees’ client planning work and offer generous commentary and guidance.

But in the real world, a more common approach is sink or swim.

The undeniable best way to develop young advisors and put them in a position to flourish is apprenticeship. But there aren’t enough “master advisors” who can take on the responsibility of fostering someone else’s success, and even those who do take on the challenge often struggle with it.

In my work with advisors, I’ve found the following tips essential to nurturing successful planners.

1. Get the right people.

Sourcing good talent is an obvious first step. Look for the four essential success qualities that are game changers: love of learning, resilience, resourcefulness and strong leadership ability.

New advisors need an incredible amount of stamina as they build competence. And they need to be comfortable with the discomfort that comes from not knowing the answer in a given situation — and must be able to find the best source to help them bridge the gap.

2. Set clear expectations & ‘just right’ goals.

It’s extremely important to frame the opportunity for the trainee. Offer a development path, with key milestones, that extends for at least two to three years. And set crystal-clear expectations around who has what responsibility along the way. Trainees who see themselves as being in control of their own progress can take ownership from the start — and increase their odds of success.

I encourage firms to use a formal curriculum, like the CFP or CPWA, and set goals that are not out of reach. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in the arenas of relationship development, client meeting performance and the accumulation of technical knowledge.

3. Provide the right support.

Among the methods I recommend:

Targeted coaching: To help new advisors learn to apply knowledge with clients, set milestones for the handling of specific client scenarios.

Meeting summaries: Have newer advisors generate follow-up correspondence, synthesizing the key points of the client meeting.

Presentation feedback: Coach trainees in advance of a meeting to make sure they are adequately prepared, reducing anxiety for all parties.

Taking the wheel: More senior advisors must eventually sit back and let more experienced trainees lead client meetings.

Sink or swim rarely works well.

To help new hires become proficient more quickly, more advisors must learn to give swimming lessons.

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