Once upon a time, there was a time and a place for everything.
Young professionals learned the ropes slowly and methodically. They started their careers learning how to become better technicians. Then, if they were lucky, they progressed to become senior associates or directors and learned management skills. Only then, after countless billable hours, all-nighters and patient waiting were they were promoted to partner, where they were finally introduced to the dark arts of rainmaking.
Those days are long gone. Every professional now needs to know how to work with their colleagues as part of a team, how to defend client relationships and how to win more work, regardless of how experienced they are. Good ideas can come from anywhere, so too can new clients. And if you’re not harnessing all the talent in your firm you’ll soon start losing out to someone who is.
So if you’re looking to build a program that gets everyone hitting the ground running, here’s how to do it.
A lesson from long ago
One of the happiest times in my life was when I was a new recruit at Arthur Andersen back in the early 1990s. Part of the deal was that the firm spent 10% of its revenue on training - and that included an annual pilgrimage to the firm’s ‘university’ campus at St Charles, Illinois, for week-long intensive training.
This wasn’t really a perk where we got to put our feet up and socialise. We were expected to work hard - very hard. But the quality of the training made us confident in our abilities and happy to use them for the good of the firm. In fact, the training materials from those sessions were so good that, a quarter of a century later, I still refer to the notes I took and the alumnus I worked with!
The Big Four
If you want to have the same impact on your fee earners, I don’t think you need to spend up on sending everyone abroad once a year. But I do think your training program should look at these four things.
1. Knowing thyself
By this I mean every professional should know what they bring to the table beyond billing hours. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick, how they can get along with others and where they need to develop. To get them into this, I suggest using behavioural and performance diagnostics such as DiSC. Hogan, Hermann Brain Dominance, TMS, or Myers-Briggs.
Once you’ve armed people with this information, use it to introduce workshops on the practical skills they need to be effective, such as adapting behaviour , time management, organisation, resilience and even optimism training.
2. Understanding the team
Next focus on bringing the individual into the team. “Seek to understand, then to be understood,” as Stephen Covey famously said. You want to foster respect by getting everyone to know what each other brings to the greater good. You also want to give people an understanding of the group dynamic and how to influence it. So that means training on areas such as:
● communication skills
● problem solving
● giving and receiving feedback
● ethical leadership, and
● conflict management and dealing with difficult people.
3. The big bad world
Once you’ve got this down, the third part of your program should concentrate on how to relate to and influence clients, networks and others outside the firm. Start by showing people how to build their own business development plan and then concentrate on topics that will let them give effect to this, such as:
● Building a personal profile
● Activity that leads to new business
● Building networks that work
● Presentation skills
● Asking for referrals
I think you should bring the market back to the firm when you’re doing this. In other words, get your clients to come in and tell your people exactly what they think and, in the process, let them get to know your team from top to bottom. If you’re not ready for that step then an easy way to bring your client’s voice to training is by including insights from your client feedback program.
After all, clients now expect their advisers to operate like they do - as a nimble and more democratic team where good ideas can come from anywhere. “We don’t just want to hear from the old white guys,” is how one very senior general counsel (himself an old white guy) put it at a recent conference I attended in Chicago.
4. The tools
Finally, and this is something many firms don’t do well, show your people how to work the tools they’ll need. For instance, do your juniors know how to get the most out of Outlook or Office when they’re from the Google generation? Do they really understand your practice management software or precedents? It may seem trivial, but knowing each of the tools you have at your disposal is vital to a lean and efficient practice.
And how to do it...
Finally, a word on how to put your program together. Generally speaking, there are two ways: as an intensive (ie ‘retreat’ style) or as a series of seminars (ie a ‘lunch and learn’). Generally, I like the former because it builds trusted cohorts and focuses everyone on the task at hand rather than on worrying about the work that’s piling up on their desk. But there’s merit in both approaches.
And whatever you do, don’t make this kind of skills training a compliance part of your in-house CPD program. My experience is this only makes it a chore and the value of continuous improvement is diminished. Instead, encourage people to invest in themselves.
Then you won’t just have a better performing team, you’ll also know who the people who are truly engaged.