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Who comes first – staff or clients?

Brett Davidson argues there are three very good reasons to first focus on creating a happy team if you want happy clients

What’s your role as the leader within your business? Clearly it’s to lead, but what does that really mean?

Having credibility is part of your leadership role; that is, you need to perform your specific role within the business well. However, assuming you can do that, there are some higher-order leadership skills that you’ll want to develop.

The most important of these is nurturing, guiding and strengthening the people within your organisation. Why?

To paraphrase Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, well-known for its award-winning service:

1. Focus on your staff first – because they deliver the client experience and are key to achieving success. Happy and fulfilled staff lead to happy and fulfilled clients.

2. Focus on your clients second – happy clients willingly pay for your service and refer other clients for the business to grow and expand.

3. Focus on profits/shareholders third – clients that pay a premium and refer other clients generate the profits that adequately compensate owners and shareholders for their risk.

Making happy campers

Everything begins and ends with your team. Regardless of whether they are supporting you in your client work, or they deal with clients directly themselves, this statement is always true.

Business is an evolving and ever-changing dynamic; usually in an upward direction. That is, the market gets tougher, not easier. You and your team have to be evolving too, just to stand still, let alone to get ahead.

So, how do you do nurture, guide and strengthen your team?

Live and learn

The best businesses I work with are actively creating a culture of ongoing learning and personal development for everyone on the team. They recognise that developing their team pays them back.

However, creating this type of business culture is no walk in the park. Amazingly, when you float the idea of doing some extra study or personal development, many team members can become very anxious. Maybe they’re worried about what the extra study or personal development might involve. Can they do it? Will they enjoy it? How much time will it require?

This is where the nurturing comes in. The leader’s role is to help people see and understand the imperative for development. While there are obviously benefits for the business, there are many benefits for the individual staff members too. Whether they stay with you for a lifetime or leave after a three-year stint, extra skills have currency in the job market and the remuneration of team members will rise to reflect that as they grow and develop.

Stay the course

A client I worked with a few years ago is very strong in the area of team development. He has always believed in supporting and developing his people. At one point in our work together he created personal development plans for each and every team member.

It was brilliant. They all had a plan mapped out, quarter by quarter for the next 12 months. It wasn’t onerous. All they had to do was one small piece of training each quarter, and it had been tailored to their personal preferences and the skills within their role.

What happened?

At the end of the 12 months, not one person had done one thing in their development plan. So much for that idea.

Let me be clear, this is a very good team of people, and one of my favourite firms that I’ve worked with. So what went wrong?

The truth is there may have been different reasons why each person failed to execute their own development plan. Some might have felt the time out was a bit like skiving off, even though it was encouraged from above. Others might have felt anxious about learning something new; after all it can be a bit scary. Others might not have wanted to make the extra effort required. Who knows?

The learning for this particular client was that he would have to be a little more actively involved in encouraging, guiding and cajoling people to complete on their development plans. It didn’t deter him from pursuing his vision of team development, he was simply forced to adjust his approach.

What is development?

Whenever I talk about personal development to business owners they immediately start thinking about staff getting more Financial Planning qualifications.

Whilst a few more exams might be part of that process for some team members, I’m thinking far more broadly.

For business owners it might be doing an MBA, or flying to conferences in the United States (where incidentally, all the best thinking on the business of Financial Planning occurs). It might be doing one of the various business coaching programmes available, or our very own Uncover Your Business Potential course.

For your back-office team it might be getting extra training in the basic software programs they use every day. You’d be amazed how often back-office staff can’t do something as simple as a mail merge in Word. It’s just not on. And if they’re great with the basic functions, why not learn how to get even more efficiencies out of some of these tools? It’s my guess that all of us use maybe 5% of what’s available in these powerful pieces of kit. If that could be pushed to 10% you’d see a step change in productivity within your firm.

For other team members it might be a writing course that gets them up to speed on writing clear and grammatically correct letters. It could be sending your back-office system users to quarterly user group meetings to help them (and your whole team) get more out of the existing software that you’re already paying for.

Life lessons

I’d even go so far as encouraging your team to go and do extra study just for fun. Maybe you could encourage them to do a photography course for beginners, or to learn a musical instrument. Anything that captures their interest would suffice.

Why would I suggest that, especially if you might be asked to front some of the costs?

I believe that fostering a culture of lifelong learning and curiosity adds value to the individuals involved, and to you as a business organisation. People learning in one area are often interested in learning new skills in other areas. The desire to learn new skills doesn’t happen in isolation.

So, nurture, guide and strengthen your organisation continuously. Ongoing learning and personal development should be central to your business culture. Create development plans for every person within the firm and help them to grow every year. When you lead a happy team then success will follow.

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