Employees are back in the offices, at least part of the week, and the business world is starting to look like it did three years ago, at least on the surface. But in wealth management and elsewhere, significant cultural shifts are occurring that are likely to be lasting. Societal and economic changes due to the pandemic will impact financial advisory firms for years to come. We noticed several key areas that leaders are currently focusing on and should be aware of and ready to address.
- Employee training needs are changing
Proper employee training has always been key to the success of consulting firms. Having a team that really knows what they’re doing translates into customer loyalty and referrals. But because the pandemic has introduced more independence into corporate cultures than ever before, training has become even more critical to delivering services to customers.
The top-down management model in the office of the past made it easy to see the blind spots of corporate employee training. In the office, continuous training facilitated a lot of learning by osmosis: junior employees observed firsthand how things were done and aligned themselves.
Well, that nine to five, “punched card” mentality is pretty much gone. Accelerated by the pandemic, organizations have shifted to more independent cultures where employees can decide what to do and when to do it. Employers still expect their employees to be online for at least eight hours a day, but they’re giving them a lot more latitude in how they do their jobs. If you can be productive with a laptop at 6 a.m. at your kitchen table… go for it.
But organizations are also finding that not all of their employees are equipped to self-manage in more independent cultures. In fact, more independent cultures require employees to know more than ever. On the one hand, they must become experts in managing their time.
How, in hybrid cultures, do companies give employees a 360-degree understanding of the customer service model so they can understand where their work fits and why they do it? How do they train new employees to respond with empathy and compassion to customers and colleagues in this new culture? How do companies train their employees to better manage their time?
In the old work model, where employees were in the office five days a week, new team members had to learn soft and hard skills from the veteran colleagues they sat next to every day. New employees learned through observation and modeling, including how they themselves were treated. Companies are thinking about how to replace this training by osmosis with training adapted to a hybrid culture.
By the way, training remains perhaps the single most impactful thing companies can do to generate strong and sustainable growth. Good training helps create inspired and loyal employees who, in turn, impress customers, who end up becoming fans of your company and sending you referrals.
- Let data guide decisions
The second important trend we are seeing is a renewed focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) for decision making. Not so long ago, many consulting firm leaders made decisions based on intuition. Before COVID, in fact, my consulting firm had many clients who flatly refused to implement KPIs. They preferred to make decisions based on their intuitions and what they observed every day. They might say, “I feel like our proximity ratio is really great” or “I feel like we’re developing really well right now.” But they didn’t run the numbers to verify that impression.
There has been a big change: consulting firms are asking more and more questions about KPIs and expressing a desire to improve them. They set the stage for decisions by looking at trend lines and what is happening objectively rather than what they feel is happening. This change is facilitated by modern data systems, which allow companies of all sizes to start making more strategic decisions based on the numbers. By the way, one of my favorite KPIs is customer referral rate.
Interest in KPIs always increases in times of uncertainty and revenue pressure. This has been the case throughout my 20 years of consulting: when there is a bear market or the threat of a bear market, consulting firms tend to turn to data and facts and walk away of intuition. And today, we are indeed seeing companies looking to take a much more objective look at the business than before the pandemic.
- A focus on branding and messaging
There are several marketing systems and approaches that have proven effective in driving the growth of consulting firms. Some work better than others, but there are plenty that do. The problem is that many consulting firms don’t have the patience to stick with them long enough to get results. As a result, they end up jumping from one to the other. This costs them the opportunity to build brand power. And that brand power isn’t just logos or slogans, it’s that the whole team consistently delivers the same service and communication and uses the same customer experience process. Building and maintaining their brand is essential for businesses looking to grow.
And to do that, companies need to be very consistent about what the brand is. Consistency trumps novelty here. The idea is to create a clear brand message and repeat it over and over with consistency, to the point that customers and non-customers think of you when they hear it. How a business communicates with its customers and prospects, the language you use on your website and materials, on your podcast, and in client meetings: all messaging needs to be consistent to maximize your brand power.
Why is this particularly important right now? One of the reasons is that we have been in a bear market. Having a consistent message will not only help businesses overcome lost revenue in this market cycle, but it will also help them rack up future cash flow. And the transition period out of a unique challenge like the COVID pandemic is as good a time as any to decide what your business stands for and to deliver that message consistently to the world.
A focus on employee training programs, deepening your understanding of company-wide KPIs, and improving brand power allows leadership to focus on areas that generate future growth. Today, a long-term view of the impact of future profits is what is most important.
Angie Herbers is the founder and CEO of Herbers & Co, an advisory firm for financial advisors.