What Makes a Best Place to Work? The Winners Weigh In

Kristen Terpstra
Kristen Terpstra

11.05.19 in Culture & Community

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes (1312 words)

Culture and Community

Leadership. Training and development. Pay and benefits. Corporate communications. Overall engagement. What do these five areas have in common? They make up a big part of creating a best place to work, at least according to InvestmentNews.

To compile its second annual Best Places to Work for Financial Advisers list, InvestmentNews surveyed advisors’ employees on a series of 78 statements, grouped into the five categories noted above. On average, those ranked “the best” scored 13 percent higher on these statements than other respondents.

So, what can this survey and resulting list teach you about creating a best place to work for your employees? We went straight to the source to find out.

Survey Says . . .

In 2019, 75 firms made the list, including (we are very proud to say!) 4 Commonwealth firms. To gain insight into what these 4 Commonwealth-affiliated firms are doing to excel in the five categories identified by InvestmentNews—with the goal of offering valuable guidance to other advisors—we sat down with some of this year’s winners to dig a little deeper. Here’s what they had to say.

Leadership. Firm leadership was defined as “adequate planning and follow-through of departmental objectives.” This definition encompasses not only involving staff in the business planning process but also giving them regular updates along the way. When leadership makes these efforts, employees tend to be more engaged in the overall firm strategy and better understand their role in meeting the firm’s objectives.

Chuck Patterson, AIF®, senior vice president and COO of Bartholomew & Company (Worcester, Massachusetts), believes that “by creating employee divisions, they are involved in understanding the plans of the firm, and help work on the strategy together.” Suzanne Pisinski, Bartholomew’s marketing associate, says that when all employees are involved in business planning, they feel they are “making things happen” and feel the process “is very much a team approach.”

Training and development. It can be challenging for small firms to subsidize training costs or create career paths. But no matter the size of their firms, many advisors I spoke with emphasized the importance of developing glide paths, especially for new hires. Chris Rivers, CFP®, CRPC®, a principal at Armstrong, Fleming & Moore (Washington, DC), reflected that there “were no career paths when I started at the firm.” But he went on, “[Now] we have defined career paths that show an employee the various tracks towards a client-facing role, compliance officer, or advisor roles.” Plus, there are new positions “in the works,” and the chance to pursue these opportunities is often discussed when setting goals during performance reviews.

In addition to offering career paths, training and continual learning are important considerations. Investmark Advisory Group (Shelton, Connecticut) has created its own version of “firm element” credit, where employees can take part in webinars, conference calls, and industry conferences to earn the credit. Bartholomew & Company supports employee professional development with a tuition reimbursement program.

Pay and benefits. Many of the advisors I spoke with make an effort to keep abreast of compensation trends and do the research to ensure that they remain sought-after employers. “We want and need to remain a viable competitor in our area, and so we recently improved our incentive package,” says Mary Moore, CFP®, principal at Armstrong, Fleming & Moore. “We keep our eyes and ears open and have multiple conversations with other advisors in the area to ensure we remain competitive,” says Moore.

Second, while health care is a great expense for small firms, the advisors we interviewed expressed clear opinions about providing this benefit for employees. The leadership of Armstrong, Fleming & Moore feels “strongly about covering a large percentage of health care for employees,” and the Bartholomew & Company team echoed this sentiment. As Chuck Patterson from Bartholomew noted, “Tom [Bartholomew] believes in making a difference not only to the employees themselves, but to the families. He takes great pride in helping his employees, and that’s the root of everything.”

Corporate communications. Whether it’s holding office hours or circulating information about quarterly goals, these teams take a proactive approach to communicating with their employees. At Bartholomew, for example, there is an “open door policy,” where every question, no matter the subject, is considered significant. Patterson emphasized the importance of always responding to employee questions, even if finding the “best” answer requires a bit of research.

Consistency of information, especially in situations where there is more than one partner involved, was another prominent theme. “We are always talking to one another, and so it’s important for us to give consistent information to employees,” said Mary Moore. In addition to involving staff in its annual business planning process, the Armstrong, Fleming & Moore team ensures that staff are part of departmental updates. “We also periodically update everyone on our progress of our goals throughout the year. We don’t share specific numbers, but provide them with comparisons of where we stand, so that it helps give them context,” said Chris Rivers.

Michael Kusick, CFP®, managing principal and CEO of Investmark Advisory Group, shared that his firm communicates progress on business planning goals by providing “staff with an update in terms of company performance on a monthly basis.”

Overall engagement. Novel perks and events also helped set this year’s winners apart, allowing employees to engage with one another and create bonds. From lunch and snack delivery, to half-days before long weekends, to early releases in the summer, fun and rewarding activities are a great way to show how much you value your employees. At Bartholomew, a newly formed committee of employees takes responsibility for planning special firm events, with final approval by the executive team.

“We want to treat our employees like an A client, where we ‘surprise and delight’ them,” said Kusick. To act on this value, some firms turn down clients who prove difficult to work with during the onboarding process. Others make sure they recognize milestone employee anniversaries. All consistently work to create an environment where employees feel valued. “Staff are the most important part of our culture,” said Kusick. “We’re only as good as the people we have here.”

Create Your Own Best Place to Work

So, are you ready to start improving your firm’s performance in these key areas? Here are some action items you can start thinking about today.

  • Give employees a voice: Involving employees in projects that directly affect your firm shows that you trust their judgment and that you value their opinions and insights. So, the next time you’re planning an office celebration or brainstorming a new marketing plan, get your team involved!

  • Provide consistent and regular communication: Whether it’s presenting a monthly update regarding business planning goals or having a weekly check-in meeting, a consistent theme that emerged in my discussions with advisors was the importance of open communication on all subjects with all employees. This flow of communication is key for employees to understand the firm’s mission and their role in supporting it.

  • Take care of your employees: Of course, a robust benefits package goes a long way in supporting your employees. Beyond that, however, treat your employees with respect. You can set the foundation for a strong relationship by listening to employees’ needs—and then taking action to meet those needs.

  • Support professional development: Providing employees with a career path shows you want to help them improve their knowledge and keeps them engaged in their daily work. Sometimes, this can be as simple as asking what areas of the job employees would like to learn more about and then looking for everyday opportunities to grow their skill sets.

But perhaps the most important lesson? You don’t have to receive an award to tap the potential of workplace culture and create a best place to work. By helping your employees reach their full potential—in an environment that fosters open communication, learning, and engagement—you might just find yourself on the list of next year’s winners.

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

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