An underappreciated factor in how well people work is how well they work together. After all, office environments are in many ways like a sports team. Everyone knows they will benefit—and not just financially—when teammates genuinely look out for one another in both tangible and intangible ways.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a thriving office culture, one based on caring, will materialize on its own. It has to start with a team leader who, because he or she has put the oxygen mask on first, encourages team members to stay curious and dedicated to their work.
You want a culture of caring for a financial advisory practice. When individual team members receive the right coaching and encouragement and are recognized and rewarded, the feeling of being an integral part of a wider organization grows and leads to better work and performance.
What steps can a team leader take to cultivate a culture of caring?
1. Harness your team’s energy
Energy—we are defining it as an emotional ownership of one’s work—is the first building block. It doesn’t always come naturally, but it can be fostered and nurtured, if team leaders take the time to get to know what makes their team members tick. Find out what gives your people joy in their work, and what takes away from that joy.
For example, let’s look at two very different team members. The first team member loves to engage with clients. Every time she picks up the phone, her smile is contagious. What gives her energy? Pleasing the client, talking to the client and asking about their family and children. What takes away from her energy? All those wire transfers and other operational issues.
Then you have the second team member. While sensible in demeanor, she is monotone on the phone, which makes clients feel like they just called a doctor’s office for an appointment. But behind the scenes is where this team member gets her energy. Wire transfers? Sure! Spreadsheets? That’s her thing.
Both team members are valuable in their own unique way. In fact, they are very complementary to each other (this underscores just how important diversity is to an office that really hums). But if the team leader has not taken the time to get to know them, they may have ended up miscast in their roles and responsibilities.
2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities
While it’s fantastic to only do things you want to do, that is of course not the case in an office. Along with what we call “major” responsibilities, team members are likely to also have a subset of “minor” ones. To use the above example, when the client-centric team member is on vacation or out sick, the wire-transfer wizard may have to engage with clients. And vice versa.
Team leaders can help, first by minimizing the unloved tasks, and second, by defining them clearly. Make it clear and specific that the overall team benefits from the tasks being done and it is part of how the team member will be measured. The good for the greater team depends on team members being there for each other.
3. Coaching vs. managing
Coaching goes hand-in-hand with performance measurement. We advise team leaders to schedule individual get-togethers with their team members at regular intervals. During these meetings, be present in the moment. Maybe start with a simple question: “What’s working well since the last time we met?” The conversation should naturally—and in a positive manner—lead to the next questions: “Is there anything getting in the way?” and “What can you do about it?”
In these conversations, focus on showing support, and remember, coaching is different from managing. A manager might tell team members what to do, in service of a specific, often numerical, goal. Coaching, on the other hand, helps team members arrive at their own insights, making them feel like part of the solution. The give-and-take enfranchises the team member, giving them a seat at the table so to speak
These three building blocks are the foundation of a positive and caring office culture. It is then reinforced by careful consideration of how each individual is rewarded and recognized, be it extra vacation days, flexible work schedule, or more pay. You should know which team members are comfortable being praised at staff meetings, and who would rather crawl under the carpet than be in the spotlight.
Like all of the fiduciary disciplines, team development isn’t necessarily an easy thing for team leaders to learn, but it is of vital importance that team leaders live these principles. A thriving office culture—and the seamless, excellent client experience that results—starts at the top.
Rob Kron is the Head of Investment and Retirement Education for BlackRock’s U.S. Wealth Advisory group. Danielle Papandrea is the Head of BlackRock’s Affinity Group. They are regular contributors to The Blog.