I can’t tell you how many times an owner-advisor client has cometo me about an employee who is “not working out,” and most of thetime they have already decided the employee just has to go.

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I usually can talk them back from that ledge, at least longenough to for me to talk to the employee in question.

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Related: 25 things successful people refuse todo

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When I do, what I find way more often than not is an employeewho very much wants to do a good job, but is prevented from doingtheir best by various roadblocks created by the firm owner or theirdirect supervisor.

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Set employees up to succeed


Now, I’m not some “do-gooder activist” trying to protect employeesfrom “the man” (or “woman,” as the case may be), but advisory firmowners are my clients, and I give them advice that’s in their bestinterest. And having unnecessarily high employee turnover is definitely not in anyowner’s best interest, especially when it involves employeeswho could have been valuable assets to their firms.

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What’s more, in my experience, no independent firm owner eversets out to undermine the performance of their employees. Whileinitially they may resist the notion that they have done just that,after understanding which of their actions lead to that outcome, Ihaven’t met an owner yet who didn’t willingly take steps to correctthe situation.

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This, of course, leads to the question of why firm owners wouldever act in ways that hamper employee success. The simple answer isthat they don’t realize what they are doing: Most of today’s ownershaven’t had any formal business management training, or much priorwork experience under managers who exhibited thesecounter-productive behaviors. In fact, I believe that these ownersbelieve they are helping their employees, when in fact, they aredoing just the opposite.

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Common mistakes


Here are the most common ways that advisory firm owners set theiremployees up to fail:

  • Misleading job titles. We all use job titlesto communicate what each member of a firm is supposed to do and howthat differs from other employees. However, many firms usepre-existing “industry” job titles that sometimes don’t apply to aspecific job in their firm. For instance, I frequently see thetitle of “associate advisor” used for what, in reality, is a clientservice job. This creates confusion among management, otheremployees and the employee him- or herself about what job he or sheis supposed to be doing. When those expectations don’t meet thereality of the job, it can appear that a very good employee isn’tdoing their job — when, in fact, they are.
  • Pre-existing expectations. When they hire anew employee, most owners have a pretty clear notion not only ofwhat the job is, but also how it should be done — which is usuallybased on how they would do it or how a former employee did it. Theproblem is that no two people have the same mental skill sets orthe same approach to problem solving. If they want their employeesto succeed at their jobs, firm owners and managers need to givethem leeway to do their job their way, not someone else’s way.
  • Projected motives or behaviors. Most newemployees are hired to take the place of a former employee. Whenthat employee had left the firm or was let go under a “cloud” ofone kind or another, it’s not unusual for the owner to fear the newemployee will behave the same way. It’s pretty obvious why this isunfair. What’s more, starting a new job is stressful enough: Whenyou add a level of undeserved distrust, it can be overwhelming.Owners need to deal with their own baggage and give other employeesthe benefit of the doubt.
  • Failing to adequately train or to equip.Without the tools they need to succeed at their jobs, employees areset up to fail. This includes training about how the firm operatesas well as what they need to know to succeed at their jobs. Thesedays, it means having the right technology. As a rule of thumb,technology is cheaper than people. And you’ll need fewer people ifthey have the technology to tap into all the resources they needinside and outside of your firm. Today’s clients want technologyinterfaces, and you can meet those demands best when your employeesare as tech savvy as your clients.
  • Failing to understand what employees reallywant. Many firm owners assume what their employees want,often based on what they themselves want. But people work for manydifferent reasons, which often don’t include more money or careeradvancement. To motivate employees, you have to know what motivatesthem. Asking them is a start, but to really find out, watch forwhat makes them happy, what they smile about. Listen to when wordsmatch their actions — that’s how you know what they reallywant.

As I said, I don’t believe any owner-advisors intentionally setup their employees to fail. But even when it’s unintentional, ithurts both the employee and the firm. To set employees up tosucceed, let them be themselves, provide the tools they need andhelp them align their personal success with the success of yourfirm.

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Related: 4 ways the insurance industry can win the war fortalent

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Angie Hervers is founder of San Diego-based Angie HerbersLLC, where she guides independent financial advisors to long-term,scalable growth by creating and executing customized growthstrategies. Email her at [email protected].Follow her on Twitter @AngiHerbers.

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Angie Herbers

Angie Herbers is chief executive and senior consultant at Herbers & Co., an independent management strategy consultancy for financial advisory firms. She can be reached at www.HerbersCo.com.