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Advisors: Be Flexible About Your Work

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Most of us strive for perfection—it’s human nature. But one thing I’ve known all my life is that perfection is hard to achieve. In fact, some people don't believe it's even possible. Still, aiming for perfection is noble, and it often propels us to greatness.

When an advisor realizes a job situation isn't perfect, one of two things usually happens:

1. They spring into action. Many advisors begin looking for ways to improve a job, preferably without the work and stress involved with making a major change. Ultimately, they find an opportunity with their current employer, or with a new one. It's not a perfect solution, but it is an improvement, and they are flexible where they can say, "It’s good enough."

2. Inertia sets in. They do nothing to improve the situation. Discontent, they become convinced perfection doesn’t exist. So there’s no point in striving for it.

How sad the latter sounds to me. How sorry it is to stay stuck, to choose to do nothing, settle for a situation that may be intolerable. Perhaps it stems from fear that nothing else better exists.

I have huge respect for advisors who take action. I know it isn’t easy, but they can make life-altering decisions and feel empowered. Personally, I love making my own choices. I steer my own ship.

When a job isn't perfect, the first thing I recommend is making a list of all the things I want to change; then a second to indicate just how much my frustrations are impacting me; and a third for goals.

Once an advisor is clear about the direction he or she wants to take, they develop an action plan to get there. The lists can look something like this:

My Frustrations

1. I hate how bureaucratic my firm has become, and how it has impacted my work environment.

2. My commute to work is taking a toll on the amount of time I can spend with my kids.

3. The culture has changed so much around here that it no longer bears any resemblance to the firm I joined years ago.

4. I can’t stand how much power I’ve lost. I don’t like being told what size clients I can service and how to service them.

My Goals

1. To work in a more efficient environment.

2. To have an office closer to home and telecommute two days per week.

3. To recapture some of what I loved about my firm during the “good old days.”

4. To regain control over how I run my business.

My Action Plan

1. Meet with my branch manager and, with restraint, explain what’s bothering me. Make it clear I am not leaving the firm, and that I hope with his or her advocacy and guidance, we can find a way to improve my situation. 

2. Give my manager time to take my request up the chain of command and get results.

3. Evaluate what the firm can do for me, and whether it will be good enough.

If a branch manager comes back with a plan that sounds like it might work for the advisor, and they can be open to trying it out, they can proceed and re-evaluate later. When the plan doesn't sound right, then it may be time for them to create a short list of firms with better options.

My favorite example of this approach involves an advisor I counseled last year—let’s call him Sam. Sam was a multimillion-dollar producer and wirehouse veteran, who worked at the same firm for more than three decades.

Then a large established bank bought the firm. Sam was skeptical when he was told nothing would change under the new regime. His concerns began mounting. Sam worried the professional, but relaxed culture of his old firm would change. He also was upset when his new employer began encroaching on his client relationships. But Sam was loyal, and remained in that job for almost another five years. Then came the tipping point last year: His manager wouldn't defer a fee charged to Sam's largest client. That’s when Sam started looking for a change.

Sam and I had a longstanding relationship. When he called me to share his frustrations, he was unhappy about my suggestion that he consider a move. Sam insisted on staying where he was. But at the same time, he couldn’t ignore how powerless he was to help his client.

We agreed he owed it to his firm, his manager (whom he liked), and himself to personally take his case to management, and see if there was a way to address the situation to his satisfaction.

To the firm’s credit, management did try to make things right. His bosses even threw in a couple of perks that temporarily made Sam happy. In the end, though, Sam couldn’t get his client’s exception. It became clear that lack of control was a fact of life for advisors in the new model at his firm.

Over time, Sam and I explored several possibilities for his business. He was clear about his goals and identified two options: Some form of independence that could give him a shot at total control over the client experience, as well as his own professional destiny, or joining another firm that was a better fit.

Sam was a strong recruit, with leverage to make certain he would be given greater latitude over client service. Eventually, he found a firm that paid for an additional sales assistant, provided improved office space, and gave him a sizable transition package, in the form of a forgivable loan.
Sam joined the firm almost six months ago. It still isn't perfect for him, but flexibility allows him to have more control over the client experience, while staying within the employee advisory channel.
Remember, you are in control of where you are willing to be flexible, and where you are not.

Mindy Diamond is president and CEO of Diamond Consultants, a recruiting firm based in Chester, N.J.

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