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Creative solutions to staffing challenges

Matt Pais

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Four MDRT members explain how they resolved personnel problems.

FOR AS MANY GREAT SUCCESSES as you can have with your staff, there are just as many potential issues you may face. Strategies to address unpredictable situations that advisors encounter with their team members could fill every page of this magazine, and more.

Do you know what you would do if a valued employee had to move away or if someone was using Facebook during work hours? What if you paid to train team members and they left after the training ended? What if you hired your wife and realized she needed to be let go?

Read on for how MDRT members have dealt with these staff-related challenges and consider if their solutions could work for you.

She trains, then they quit

Like any good business owner, Diane L. McCurdy, EPC, CFP, wants to support her staff. She’s in favor of the time and money it takes to hire people who require additional training and certification for their roles.

Except when they leave immediately after completing the training, which happened with two of her six staff members. At the same time.

“And not even to use that skill set!” said the 38-year MDRT member from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “One went off to Lululemon!”

So McCurdy realized that her practice, focusing on building and maintaining wealth for family corporations, professionals, retirees and millennials, needed a rule.

Rather than investing in staff with no idea how long they would stay and deliver on the money spent on them, McCurdy now requires staff members to pay for their own training. When they pass, McCurdy reimburses them. If the employee leaves in less than two years, they have to pay back the company for the training.

It fits right in with the existing notions of training and longevity in the company, where new advisors have to spend two years supporting an existing advisor before taking over clients of their own.

His best worker moved cross-country

How often do you find a staff member you’d describe as “knowing everything about everything?”

Most advisors would probably say not often at all.

For Paresh B. Shah, CFP, Kathy had been a phenomenal addition to his office, bringing past industry experience and a knack for speaking with underwriters to help the 12-year MDRT member from Hicksville, New York.

Unfortunately, after three years on the job, Kathy had to move to Houston, Texas, for personal reasons. Shah saw this not as a devastating blow to his practice but a chance to streamline it.

They began the exploratory process of setting up the technology for a remote employee to exchange data safely. Shah connected Kathy and his office at large with Microsoft OneDrive for all scanning and document sharing needs, and made it such that anyone who called his office in New York would first spark a ringing phone in Houston.

The system, however, was not without its flaws.

“You would like to believe everything will work as soon as you plug it in,” Shah said. “But it doesn’t.” The set-up time took about six weeks.

There also have been instances when Kathy’s internet goes down or her power drops out and she can’t complete her work as needed. Also, if checks or any physical items are mailed to Shah’s office, someone else needs to handle them, where Kathy would have if she were on-site.

Mostly, though, the adjustment has been a big success, aided by the fact that Shah’s insurance carriers and broker-dealer began accepting scanned applications. Four years later, Kathy, initially staying on for a three-month trial period, is Paresh’s vice president of new business, working full-time and overseeing all new clients from beginning to end.

And despite working 1,600 miles away, neither Shah nor Kathy have to travel for in-person meetings or reviews. Rather, after nine years, he says they have a closeness that leads to not just dedication but an understanding that allows for open-ended discussions as needed.

“When someone’s worked for you for that long, they know you so well that, when something is not going right, you don’t have to mince words,” Shah said. “I can tell her ‘I didn’t like this,’ and she can tell me, ‘I didn’t like that.’”

A staff member spent all day on Facebook

After Danielle J. Genier, CFP, CLU, had an employee who suddenly left the business, the 20-year MDRT member from Timmins, Ontario, Canada, tasked her company’s technology team to look at the former staff member’s computer.

They found out that she had been spending most of her day on Facebook, and the rest of the time applying for jobs.

That is a good example of why Genier enforces a strict technology policy at her office, a financial planning practice that includes one other advisor and four administrative staff. As she says, the equipment belongs to the corporation, and staff members are made aware that everything they do on the computer is subject to review.

Genier worked with an outside vendor to write the technology policy, which allows for looking at Facebook during lunchtime and acknowledges that a digitally driven world may require brief executions of, say, banking responsibilities or otherwise. But transparency with staff helps them know they are expected to work when they are at work, and help from the IT department lets Genier understand when employees are using non-work-related sites and for how long.

Consequently, Genier has been able to pull an employee’s emails to support her belief that their tone was rude when communicating with product suppliers. “The policy isn’t just about policing; it’s for improvement,” Genier said.

This also applies to allowing for emergencies while ensuring that staff keep personal phone usage to a minimum during work hours. “We had a staff member who was texting all day; somebody would text her, and she’d text right back,” she said.

Even though her team respects the policy, Genier does oversee random testing to confirm that staff time is being used appropriately online. Staff members also hold each other accountable because they know of Genier’s diligence. “You have to be reasonable,” she said, “but you also know when you see it that something is a problem.”

He hires his wife, they’re both miserable

It’s not a good sign when a new employee starts their first two weeks on the job crying.

It’s especially bad when that person also happens to be your wife.

Douglas John Bennett, Dip PFS, went on to spend eight years working with his wife, Bonnie, who operated as an administrator in his mortgage brokerage business. (He now handles life insurance, investments, income protection and more for families.) Looking back, the 12-year MDRT member from Crawley, England, said the issues stemmed both from communication and motivation.

“I’d want to do things the way I wanted to do things, and she’d question my way because she looks at things differently, as people do,” he said. “I would be spending my time explaining my actions, which was getting more and more frustrating for us. It got to the stage where I said, ‘You’re not enjoying doing what you’re doing. I love what I do, so it’s not really fair for only one of us to love what they’re doing.’”

Bennett found that he had less patience for his wife than he did for clients, and his wife grew to recognize that her passion was in interior design, not administrative work. Yet his business was being run out of their home. So after they decided Bonnie wouldn’t work in the practice anymore, for a year she experienced the awkwardness of Bennett’s two new part-time employees working in their home office as she was there too.

“She would sit reading a book in the lounge area, and the staff would walk past her to the kitchen to make tea and coffee,” Bennett said. “So Bonnie started feeling guilty because she felt she should be doing something.”

Of course, office conflicts can exist with any staff member; sorting out communication issues for a person who is not a good fit for their role is necessary regardless of who the person is. For Bennett, the situation taught him the value of:

  1. Having an office. It may sound obvious, but it’s not a given for a family business. Having an office separates home life from business life.
  2. Paying for support staff. In the middle of this eight-year period, the global financial crisis hit, creating even more challenges for Bennett’s practice. He now recognizes that support staff is an investment, and employing a spouse is not an automatic win just because they are essentially free.
  3. Understanding a person’s connection to a role. Anyone doing something they do not feel good about will not be a dedicated employee, so it was no surprise for Bennett that hiring someone deliberately for the position yielded a stronger result.
  4. Establishing processes. This way, even if the employee is not naturally attuned to the work, they can follow a process and know what to do. Part of the difficulty of hiring his wife was that Bennett had no processes in place for her to follow.
  5. Setting priorities. With a different person working as an administrator, Bennett’s practice improved, and his marriage did as well. He made more money in his business, and Bonnie had time to train for and run her own interior design business. Everybody wins.


Douglas Bennett

Danielle Genier

Diane McCurdy

Paresh Shah


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