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Current news and trending topics for sales and financial industry professionals


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Is Your Firm’s Brand Recognizable?

Financial Advisors are more aggressive than ever in pursuing high-net-worth clients.   In order for you to join the elite pack and remain competitive you need to establish and demonstrate what makes your firm unique and how your firm is the solution to meeting client needs by creating a strong personal brand.

Your brand message should embody core principles of your practice. These principles should act as drivers and filters when you make business decisions. They should be easy to remember and summarize what makes you unique in serving your clients.

Keep in mind that your brand is also determined by your reputation among clients, prospects and centers of influence.  Maintaining a great brand will require that you make promises and set expectations, that you must meet each and every day.  Demonstrating to clients that you consistently follow through on what you say you will do builds trust and a strong foundation for your firm.

Advisors with strong brands do things that are meaningful to clients on an ongoing basis.

 

Building Your Brand

 1.   How Is Your Firm Unique?

In what way is your firm different from your competitors?  Evaluate your skills and expertise.  Consider the following and expound on how you effectively perform each component:

Communication with clients –  introducing new concepts, ideas, products, and portfolio performance, as well as maintaining contact with clients and prospects through educational seminars. Advisors typically try to differentiate themselves by focusing on a fee-only business model.  While this is a key characteristic, it will not truly set your firm apart from your competition and build a brand that speaks to your target market.

Set yourself apart from your competition by effectively communicating your expertise and knowledge and providing pro-active solutions to clients.

2.      Determining Your Relevance Starts with Determining Your Ideal Target Client

Choosing your ideal target clients takes more work than simply making a selection of retirees, pre-retirees, affluent professionals, etc.   Focus on small target groups with similar needs and determine how you can provide them with significant value.  Get to know your clients and target markets by delving beyond their financial needs.  Find out what their values, concerns, and fears are, and what is important to them in daily life.

Design your services as a gift that you give to your clients and prospects

that truly offers and delivers what they want most.

3.      Be Consistent

Consistent brands get noticed.  They achieve strong recognition through trust and engagement, which drives loyalty from existing clients and brings prospects to your firm. To ensure that your brand is recognized and understood it is vital to be consistent through all communication channels.

Review your brand periodically to ensure it remains true.  Research how your brand is perceived by interviewing clients which will give you a better understanding of how they interpret your brand.

Think of any strong brand and you are likely able to list its colors and the products it sells.  The appearance of your brand should always be clear across the foundation that you have set, including your fonts, logos, colors, images and the presentation of your firm name and services.

Your audience should know what to expect from your brand.  Avoid changing your media spokesperson or sending messages that don’t tie-in with what you stand for.  This only causes confusion.  If your target market recognizes a piece of communication they are more likely to engage with it.

4.       In Conclusion

Brand recognition is much more than a nice logo and a bit of advertising –it is the outline of everything you stand for, everything you believe in, and everything you do. It is how you look, how you talk, and how you act.

Ask several clients how they would describe you to their best friends. Their responses are an excellent way to periodically test whether you are living your brand.

Ironstone can assist you in developing a brand that is reflective of your firm.  We specialize in identifying gaps in your existing plan and will collaborate with you to develop solutions that are parallel to achieving the results you desire.

Contact us for assistance in starting and improving your firm’s brand.  We want to hear from you!   Share your best ideas here!  How do you demonstrate your brand?  What challenges do you have in presenting your brand?   We always love hearing from you!

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™! 

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series:  Operational Effectiveness-Reports & Tracking


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Implementing Team Development Programs-Often Overlooked

Learning management is a strategic component to the overall human capital mission of advisory firms and is paramount to team development.  Advisory firms should start by integrating team development programs in order to enhance employee performance.  Forward-thinking executives are continually improving the effectiveness of their teams by refining roles, expectations, and interpersonal communication in order to create accountability for results.

Your goal should be to apply and utilize a team development method that impacts your firm’s bottom line in order to gain the highest return on your learning and development investment.

Ironstone focuses on four major components that are necessary for a fully functioning workforce and implements the performance approaches to drive development.

By implementing a team development program you eliminate the need for micromanaging.

Preparation — in order to create great teams, you need to prepare to support the success of your team.  Design a culture that fuels passion, purpose, and growth.   Deliver a clear message to your team that their job is important and that you stand behind them.  Give employees the basic knowledge and skills to excel within the culture that you have created.  Share with them effective forms of communications, encourage them to ask questions, and acknowledge their contributions to the overall goals of your firm.

Incentives – Incorporate compensation into the successful execution of the firm’s goals.  One of the most powerful motivators is through the use of a performance incentive compensation plan.

Benefits –  You can become creative with the benefits that you offer to your team.  In addition to the traditional benefits such as medical insurance and retirement plans, many firms are finding that creating a flexible work environment is a good employee motivator –  increasing the desire for individual skill development for the employee.

Technology –  Providing the proper technology and training for your team to perform their job is essential to overall team development.   We have found that many firms do not take this component seriously or place much effort in assuring technology and training needs are met for employees.    Obsolete or barely functional technology tells employees their job is not important and their time is not valued.

Once you have put these components into your human capital mission, you will find that employees are capable of managing their position in the firm.  Support your team members and empower them to be as great as they can be.

“A company that does not support, empower and provide proper development

 to employees can take a great team to a problem in a very short time.”

Ironstone can assist you in developing a team development program.   We specialize in identifying gaps in your existing plan and will collaborate with you to develop solutions that are parallel in achieving the results your desire.

Contact us for assistance in starting and improving developing or starting your team development program.  We want to hear from you!   Share your best ideas here!  What does your firm do to promote team development?   We always love hearing from you!

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™!

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series:  Strategic Planning-Business Model


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Create Added Value In Your Investment Model

Designing a methodology for managing your client investments is essential for a clear representation of financial performance and aides in effective decision-making.  It is a generally accepted principle that a portfolio is designed according to the investor’s risk tolerance, time frame, and investment objectives.

Create Value Within Your Investment Model

“All good to great companies begin on the path to greatness

 by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.”

Jim Collins, Good to Great

 Your goal is to create a weighted investment model (one or many) and implement a consistent investment strategy.  Focus on actions that will provide unique added value for your clients.  Position your firm to support the highest value-to-value exchange.

Evaluate your current investment model(s) with a focus on determining if they are creating added value.  Employing a one-to-many investment strategy creates the leverage necessary to optimize your resources and elevate your delivery of services to clients.

Consider the following services (not all inclusive) while evaluating your model(s) and how you will deliver added value for your clients with each service.

  • Risk Tolerance
  • Asset Allocation
  • Manager Research
  • Portfolio Monitoring
  • Rebalancing
  • Performance Reporting

While you are ultimately responsible for due diligence and oversight of your clients’ assets, you may want to consider outsourcing services that are invisible to your clients such as manager research, monitoring, portfolio construction, performance reporting and re-balancing to a third party who specializes in these services.  Other obvious outsourcing options or strategic alliances, such as CPAS, attorneys, and insurance agents will provide you the weight to focus on your firm’s unique added value and help clients with the steps they need to take.

Communication With Clients

Look at your value proposition through the eyes of your clients and prospects.  You must be able to answer the question, “Why should a client invest their money with you, versus allocating their funds in some other way?”

When implemented effectively, your investment model should be viewed by your clients as a proactive model with enhanced services and communication.  Implementation will require that you have direct systems and procedures in place to provide each service.

Advisors are required to make full and fair disclosures about fees.  Consider the appropriate fee level for your services and investment model.  You may want to implement a tiered fee structure that differentiates the service levels within your client segmentation process.

Your investment model(s) will allow you to sharpen your focus on the unique needs of each of your clients. Understanding that each of your clients has unique needs will ensure efficient client service delivery.

Ironstone can assist you in developing appropriate investment models and collaborate with you to develop solutions that are parallel to achieving the strategic goals of your firm.

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™!

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series:  Business Development-Client Appreciation


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Performance Reviews-Take The Beast Out!

It’s that time of year again for performance reviews… I’m sure we’ll all agree that the traditional top-down performance review system is not only ancient but flawed, ineffective, and loathsome for all parties involved.  For appraisers, the responsibility is overwhelming and for those on the receiving end, there is a fear of the results.

Based on Ironstone’s research and our work with multiple advisory firms, we have experienced first-hand the harmful consequences of these flaws, which are numerous and fall within the following categories:

Clear, Consistency, & Connected:  Ineffective performance reviews often have performance goals that are either complex and therefore difficult to fulfill; inconsistently measured among team members and result in competitive and conflicting behaviors; or disconnected from any kind of common purpose.  The basis of performance goals should start with a common connection, which is the client’s need.  Every goal should be defined in terms of how it will impact the client, which results naturally in a consistency among all goals not matter what level or department.  By outlining tangible actions or objectives in this manner you automatically create clearly defined goals without even trying.

Not Goal Oriented:  Improvement goals can be both short-term and long-term, however are seldom aligned with a company’s 5 to 10-year goals.  Significant long-lasting changes don’t happen overnight and while performance goals should be attainable, they should also be realistic.

Output vs. Input:  A performance review is more than just inaccurate when it only captures results and not the work that goes into achieving those results; it is discouraging and counterproductive.  All objectives may be fulfilled and yet an employee may have performed at the minimum standards (or displayed exemplary standards).  Without recognition or rewards for “going the extra mile”, those extra efforts will wither away and team members will be reduced to mere clock punchers.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative:  Often times, there is too much emphasis on a numerical rating, leaving any qualitative comments practically useless and merely cosmetic.  In such cases, numerical averages are the only influence over incentives and employees are quick to pick up on whether their efforts make a difference to the company’s bottom line or their own.

Beyond the Dollars:  Employees are influenced heavily by what behaviors have the highest financial return because in most cases their end-of-year bonus is on the chopping block.  At a minimum, the performance interview should never include the conversation about compensation.  Beyond that, the performance interview should include an inquiry about incentives that exceed compensation and therefore uniquely important to each individual.

Power in Numbers:  Key advisors seldom focus on more than 10% of team member efforts, so when review time comes, it is impossible to rate the remaining 90% with the same accuracy and depth and almost always involves an unhealthy amount of bias.  This only provides a snapshot and therefore paints an inadequate picture of performance and renders the review system futile.

Too Little, Too Late:  On the one hand, annual performance reviews rate results over the last 12-month period and team members expect to get an accurate appraisal of objectives (whether they were projected or not).  On the other hand, regardless of the rating, there is little to no effect one can have on outcomes that have already occurred.

In our efforts to help our advisory firms implement best practices, we have developed the following checklist to create a performance review that not only rates performance but empowers employees to achieve more.

Always Be Coaching!

These checklist items are essential to the ABC’s of performance reviews, inspiring you to…

CRAFT THE JOB DESCRIPTION

This is more than just a title and description. This is the foundation of your expectations and all aspects of your performance review.

ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS

Define tangible and intangible traits/behaviors, and create a scoring system that allows employees to know what to work toward.

INSTITUE A REWARDS SYSTEM

Determine what motivates employees beyond the dollars to define tangible and intangible consequences of actions. Build a tailored portfolio of recognition and rewards that will create a wide winners circle and not a losers circle. Meaningful recognition and incentives result in gravitation toward desired behaviors. Some of the most common favorites are: work from home, casual day, gift cards (coffee, gas, books, etc…).

CREATE 360-DEGREE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

A performance review should consist of more than just an annual checklist of excellent, good, fair, and poor. There is power in numbers and is therefore important to gather information “… from people who work for, with, and above the employee, as well as those outside the company …”.*  This approach relies heavily on a high frequency of reviews and goal setting. Regular (quarterly) performance reviews and goal revisions are proven to increase performance results**.

COLLECT THE DATA

Create performance logs that supply concrete examples to ensure raters (managers and subordinates) know how to rate what they observe, and provided guidelines on appropriate vs. inappropriate criteria.

ANALYZE THE DATA

Sort the data per employee in order to make sense of it and identify the trends. Draft your interview agenda, which should include employee feedback and action items to implement.

CONDUCT THE PERFORMANCE INTERVIEW

While meeting with the employee to review the data you have collected you need to make rating consistent by keeping the interview structured for all interviewees. To alleviate the anxiety in this part of the process, see it as a collaborative learning experience for positive change based on reaffirming job expectations, correcting problems, and answering questions.  As confirmed by the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Inc., feedback can have significant legal and practical management effects.  Recommended feedback requires the following preparations:

  • Gain experience by talking to other managers and drawing from your own experiences.
  • Have a clear understanding of the message you want to convey and what you want to achieve.
  • Be fair and objective.  Focus on performance and not the personality or character of the performer.
  • Don’t give all your feedback in one session – this may be overwhelming and possibly demoralizing if negative.
  • Be consistent with company policy.
  • Take the emotion out of feedback by judging the situation realistically and practically – use specific examples.
  • Have something tangible (if necessary) to back your words up, for e.g. sales figures, written warnings, client approval, etc…
  • Allow the employee to respond.

IMPLEMENT GOALS & FOLLOW THROUGH

You know the saying “gone but not forgotten”? Well, this step in the review process is often gone AND forgotten! Regularity is an inherent characteristic of the 360-degree performance review, which ensures continuous monitoring and execution of objectives and goals that have been set.

RATE THE PERFORMANCE REVIEW PROCESS

The key to any successful program is following through, constant monitoring of effectiveness. Review the successes and failures to refine process and create a performance review that works for your firm. Take a look at the most common Do’s and Don’ts and the performance review audit below to assist in this process.

The volume of information that is collected from this type of performance review can be overwhelming, but the impact on motivation and results is undeniable. Focus on the continuous process of goal setting and a development plan to Always Be Coaching! The success rate will soar and the gratification from the initial reward is replaced with a genuine desire to produce and grow for the betterment of the firm and its employees.

We’ve outlined pitfalls that hinder effectiveness in order to help you build pillars for performance:

DO’S:

  • Clear job descriptions
  • Clearly communicated performance expectations
  • Conscientious documentation
  • Relevant rating system
  • Listen – explore all possible explanations in order to devise appropriate and effective solutions

DON’TS

  • Personal bias and emotions cloud judgments
  • Compensation concerns will detract from the evaluation of behavior/performance
  • Extreme ratings are signs of excessive lenience/strictness or false assessments
  • Prohibitive communication – condescension, comparing, overemphasizing problems
  • Lack of follow-up – strong coaching cultures encourage higher employee performance

Take this audit to evaluate your current performance review process.

5.11.12PerformanceReviewAudit

Ironstone can assist you in developing a custom performance review process for your firm. We specialize in identifying gaps in your existing plan and will collaborate with you to develop solutions that are parallel in achieving the results your desire.

Contact us for assistance in starting and improving your Performance Review Process.  We want to hear from you!   Share your best ideas here!

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™!

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series: Strategic Planning-Investment Models


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Knowledge Is Power

Knowledge Is Power, but Fruitless if Poorly Communicated

Good communicators are those who can listen just as well as talk. Fostering growth of your team members while attending to your individual growth is one of the best qualities of a good communicator. When you truly listen to team members, they feel validated and you will be providing a supportive, compassionate environment that employees can develop and thrive in.

Linking Communication To Your Business Strategy
Everyone wants to be heard. Most firms (over 95%) do not have a formal and comprehensive communication strategy in place. However, most organizational leaders will agree that linking communication to your business strategy is essential to effective and consistent business operations.

Effective communication in your firm will contribute to your organizational success in many ways, such as:
• Building employee morale, satisfaction, & engagement
• Helping employees understand the terms & conditions of their employment
• Developing employee commitment & loyalty
• Providing employees with a voice—an increasingly meaningful issue for employees
• Reducing chance for misunderstandings and potential grievances and lawsuits
• Creating greater efficiency and reducing costs

It is inevitable that companies with effective communication financially outperform those that do not.
Having a powerful and successful employee communication program takes more than just having the right tools in place. It requires building a strong foundation to ensure that employees understand their role in your firm.

The #1 key factor in developing effective communication:
You need to view communication as a critical factor to the overall success of your firm
and key to changing employee behavior.

Building a Communication Strategy
Developing a communication strategy begins with linking communication to the strategic plan of your firm, including your firm’s mission, vision, values, strategic goals and objectives; as well as your brand.

Your communication strategy should include:
• The roles of key leaders
• A budget that allows for the use of various types of communication channels
• A process by which leaders evaluate any particular situation driving the need to communicate
• A method for generating feedback

Avoid the misconception that communication is only about delivering messages to employees about business issues, policies and procedures. Two-way communication plays an essential role in your comprehensive strategy.   As a leader in your firm it is vital to train employees and provide tools needed to continually develop better communication skills.

Our experience and expertise in developing communication strategies will aide your firm in team efficiency and effectiveness. Ironstone has tools available such as the Myers-Briggs Personality assessments that will help you understand and convey meaningful information and express ideas effectively to attain a deeper level of understanding.

We specialize in identifying gaps in your existing plan and will collaborate with you to develop solutions that are parallel to achieving the results you desire.

Contact us for assistance in starting and improving your Communication Strategy. We want to hear from you! Share your best ideas here! What services do you provide that are unique from your competitors? We always love hearing from you!

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™!
• Strategic Planning
• Business Development
• Operational Effectiveness
• The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series: Strategic Planning-Strategic Alliances
• Email us at info@ironstonehq.com
• Call our office at 800-917-8020
• Follow us on twitter @ https://twitter.com/#!/AndreaSchlapia
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• Connect with us on LinkedIn @ http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=29647364&trk=tab_pro


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Learn How To Make Employee Incentive Plans Effective

Employee Incentive Plans have become significant components in firms looking to stay competitive and on track with the pace of changes evolving in the workforce. 

As humans, we have ups and downs; times when we can focus and times where we tend to lose focus.  As a good manager, guiding your employees to work on what is most important and in the most efficient manner, an employee incentive plan can be an asset in your toolbox.

Consistent and methodical communication is necessary when implementing an incentive plan. It will ensure employees understand what is expected of them while decreasing the likelihood of morale problems that result from misinterpretations of how incentives are awarded.

At Ironstone, we have found that many employee incentive plans don’t reap their intended results.  Making simple changes in your incentive plan will reward your employees and ultimately your firm.

Understand The Lifestyle & Culture Of Your Firm

When designing your incentive program, understand the unique lifestyles and demographic make-up of your staff.  It is important to understand your firm’s culture so that you can tailor your program and rewards accordingly.

Conduct a survey with your team-Find out what motivates them.   Remember, CASH isn’t always the #1 motivator.  Provide your employees with choices, including enough options so that something appeals to everyone. For example: gym memberships, virtual days, etc…

Keep It Simple-Employee incentive plans should be quick and easy to administer.

Recognition is An Important Component of Any Program-Provide acknowledgment, approval, and gratitude in your incentive program.  When employees realize that their contributions are important they are more likely to embrace the goals and objective of the firm.

Develop A Clear Set of Goals & Objectives-Goals should be realistic, achievable, and sincere.  This is the key to building credibility for your program. The best plans encourage the behaviors that create successful results.

 Four Critical Elements To Include In Your Incentive Program

1. The desired activity/goal

2. The tactical plan- how employees will work towards achieving the goal

3. The time allotted to achieve the performance level

4. The reward for achieving the goal

 

Employee Incentive Plans Are Not Just For The Employee.  Your firm will benefit with increased motivation, increased company morale, increased loyalty, and increased productivity. Implementing employee incentive plans have shown to be effective by resolving organizational problems because they align the preference of firms and employees.

Ironstone will help you implement a successful employee incentive program, identify gaps in your existing plan, and collaborate with you to develop a solution to achieve the results you are looking for.  We will work with you on creating detailed goals that drive results.

Contact us for assistance in starting and improving your employee incentive plan.

We want to hear from you!    What employee incentives does your firm offer? Share your best ideas here!  We always love hearing from you!

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™!

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series:  Business Development-Prospecting


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What Exactly Is Leadership?

What Exactly Is Leadership?

The purpose of this component in Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™ (The Human Element), is the development of individual and team efficiency and effectiveness for the benefit of the business.  The evolution of this fundamental revolves around organizational skills, management of teams, refined roles and responsibilities, and accountability for performance.  This opens the lines of communication throughout a team to create a positive culture.  “Everyone is on the same page” is very simple to understand but in reality, there are many directions and agendas driven by egos, greed, and lack of leadership.  Leaders don’t merely take charge.  They make the tough decisions while motivating and empowering others to succeed.

Are you an effective leader and do you really know what makes a great leader?

It has been said that on average, we influence 250 people in our lifetime.  You can increase that by becoming an effective leader and in turn helping your team members develop good leadership qualities.  An empowered work force will have ownership and in turn, productivity levels will increase.

Qualities of a good leader:

  • Motivates by using the team’s common set of values
  • Empowers others to be part of the solution
  • Has confidence in individuals to achieve
  • Understands the audience: i.e. gender, personal interests, generation dynamics, work priorities, etc…
  • Inspires confidence in the future
  • Help you through a particular difficult time and displays empathy
  • Ethical, honest, and trustworthy
  • Humble
  • Strives for excellence and inspires you to do the same

 Actions of a good leader:

  • Makes the firm direction and goals transparent for everyone to be on the same page
  • Executes programs to develop leadership and communication skills
  • Encourages focus by outlining common purpose and providing accountability
  • Provides training and coaching to enhance expertise
  • Leads by example and serves as a positive role model
  • Delegates to talent and skill
  • Provides a platform for input and ideas to affect advancement and improve strategies
  • Asks for advice or takes direction from your team
  • Walks alongside the team, not out in front
  • Sweats it out with the team

 Go beyond the management level and promote yourself to a leadership role.

                 Think of the end before the beginning. ~Leonardo da Vinci

We want to hear from you!  What strategies are you using to empower your team?

Contact us for assistance in building an effective leadership development program.

Follow us as we explore each of Ironstone’s Fundamental 4™! 

  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Development
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • The Human Element

You won’t want to miss our next in the series:  Strategic Planning-Succession Planning, Begin With The End In Mind