9 Tips for Developing an HR Strategy for Your Advisory Firm

Kristen Terpstra
Kristen Terpstra

03.22.23 in Marketing & Practice Management

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes (1521 words)


As a financial advisor, you’ve put in the work to build your business. But as your firm has grown, your role has likely evolved, too. Instead of being in the business, you’re now running it. And the larger your assets under management, the more likely you are to be the CEO—responsible for the oversight of your staff, including the all-important matter of developing an HR strategy.

The right approach can help strengthen your team and drive your firm’s growth. But where do you begin? Let’s take a look at some tips that can help lay the groundwork for a well-rounded HR strategy.


Promote the Employee Experience

Recruiting quality people is more competitive than ever, and you might worry that you can’t compete with larger firms. But the reality is this: many candidates want to do work that’s meaningful to them and to make a difference in the business.

If you run a small firm, why not promote the employee experience as a differentiator? Perhaps your employees have the opportunity to make an immediate and powerful impact on the business. Or maybe they have the chance to work on varied initiatives, and their day-to-day experience won’t be restricted by their position on the team.

Further, in the post-Covid era, many smaller firms have benefited from introducing increased flexibility to their prospective employees. This might include a hybrid work option, flex hours, and paid time off for volunteering.

So, while the benefits package you offer may not be as robust as those of larger firms, there are other ways for you to provide a richer, more valuable employee experience—which can better your chances of catching the eye of quality candidates.


Ask the Right Interview Questions

When you interview candidates, the goal should be to dig deeper and assess the skills that are outlined on their résumés. For example, if you’re hiring for a client service role and a candidate indicates they have client service experience, you might ask:

  • Can you provide an example of when you provided “outstanding service”?

  • How many inquiries do you handle on a daily basis?

  • Do you handle those inquiries directly or are they passed to someone else?

Another vital area to cover during the interview process is cultural fit. Be sure to clearly define your firm’s values and how those values dictate the ways you service clients and prospects. You’re likely to find that when a candidate’s values differ from those of your firm, they may struggle to meet your expectations.

On the other hand, if a candidate took the time to review your website or has questions on the office décor or space, it shows they’re interested in the environment around them—often a great sign that they’re keying in to your firm’s culture.


Establish an Onboarding Process

So far, we’ve only touched on the prospect side of developing an HR strategy. While it’s true that prospective employees need to know your expectations (so be clear in the job description about the responsibilities of the position), you’ll also need to establish a thorough onboarding process for those new to your firm.

This process should include not only training (e.g., attending industry webinars, reading documented procedures) but also making sure new employees have what they need to assimilate into your firm. Have a small get-together over lunch to talk about the fun things you do as a team, your giving-back initiatives, or any established routines (e.g., time off around the holidays).

It’s also a good idea to have new employees spend scheduled time with seasoned team members. This can be a great way to share information and provide useful insights into the roles and responsibilities in your organization.


Give Continual Employee Feedback

Many firms have adopted the annual performance review as a standard for providing feedback. A great way to make the most out of this review is to add a personal assessment for the employee to complete before their review. It might include what they would like to discuss, any training or reinforcement they need, and any goals they have. This assessment will show you whether you’re on the same page as your employee and ensure the review is a focused discussion.

Keep in mind that discussing performance once a year isn’t enough. Beyond conducting the annual performance review, consider meeting with employees at least monthly to provide ongoing feedback and try to engage in an informal discussion on specific topics that you and the employee agree to ahead of time. That way, when you conduct the annual review, there won’t be any surprises. Instead, it will be an opportunity to spend time thinking about the future and what you both would like to see achieved going forward.


Foster Your Firm Culture

Would you be surprised to learn that salary isn’t the greatest driver of employee motivation? Instead, a Gallup survey found that employees are motivated when they feel they are part of a team, when they do work that is meaningful, and when they are making a difference.

How can you foster an environment that recognizes employees for a job well done? Consider these ideas other advisors have incorporated into their firm culture:

  • Allow employees to leave early on Fridays during the summer (“Summer Fridays”)

  • Allow one day of volunteer time off (VTO)

  • Provide lunch once a month

  • Provide employees with their favorite snacks in the office

  • Give employees the day off for their birthday

Whatever motivational tool you choose, taking the time to acknowledge a job well done goes a long way and reinforces the positive culture you want to create.


Know When to Delegate

Many advisors have shared with me that they do tasks themselves because it’s easier and takes less time than teaching staff members how to do them. But the time you save now can undermine you in the future, as you will eventually have competing priorities. In addition, the less you delegate, the less valued your staff will feel—leading to turnover, a costly disruption. Instead, commit to training your staff so they can take non-client-facing activities off your plate.

Keep in mind that providing an employee with ownership of their own tasks and responsibilities reinforces your trust in them and their work. This, in turn, creates a culture of strong work and reinforcement of personal accountability.


Provide Opportunities for Staff Development

Employees want the chance to learn and grow. Without such opportunities, they can become disengaged. Why not consider sending your staff to industry-specific training, covering certification fees, offering tuition reimbursement, providing a local membership to a professional association, or paying for online classes?

Subscribing to relevant newsletters, magazines, or blogs is another way to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. Decide which industry pubs might be helpful for your team to read and share news you feel might be beneficial for everyone.

Bonus points for forming a book club, where you each read a few chapters and then get together to discuss what you learned. You could even rotate the moderator each week.


Be Clear on Compensation

For staff positions, it’s common to have two components of compensation: base salary and incentive. Over the past several years, there’s been a shift in the financial services industry away from tying the base increase to tenure; instead, these increases are now often linked to performance. Think about whether this system could work for you.

You’ll also need to outline incentives versus bonuses. A bonus is often a one-time reward for something the employee has no control over (e.g., a holiday bonus or a bonus because the firm had a good year). Incentives, on the other hand, are tied to specific goals the employee must achieve to earn the reward.

Here, goals should follow the SMART method (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely), and you should review them with staff at least quarterly to ensure that they are still valid and to help staff overcome any obstacles they may be encountering.


Make Yourself Available

Whether your staff is experienced or new to your firm, it’s important that you are accessible to them. Your team needs to feel a connection to your firm—and you are that connection. Why not conduct a five-minute stand-up meeting every morning? It’s a great way to quickly review what’s on everyone’s calendar for the day. It also allows you to work with staff to prioritize their tasks.

Another idea is to block time on your calendar for questions. By scheduling this time, you cut down on interruptions, allowing you and your employees to stay focused on the task at hand.

A Strategy for Success

With these suggestions in your back pocket, developing an HR strategy for your advisory firm will seem like a much more manageable task. Learning how to better communicate with your staff, delegate certain tasks, and define your expectations and values from the start will help make your firm more productive and profitable as a whole. What’s not to love about that?

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2016, but we've updated it to bring you more relevant and timely information.

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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