Is Your Return on People Fueling Business Success?

It is rarely the products, solutions, process, or numbers that create the distinction in a business; it is people.

Journal of Financial Planning: June 2020


JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Discuss this article with fellow FPA Members through FPA's Knowledge Circles​​​​. ​​​

We live in extraordinary and ever-changing times, but one thing remains constant: people are the true value. People drive client experience, new client acquisition, the culture, our top and bottom line revenues; people are fundamental to our success. Yet, we tend to focus so much time on the numbers, on return on investment, ROI, when in reality, it is “ROP” or return on people that will fuel our ultimate outcomes.

High turnover, low productivity, frequent conflict, errors and mistakes, stagnation of growth and ideas—these are all low ROP indicators. In order to effect positive change and maximize your ROP, you must uncover the root cause of these symptoms. We will share the pivotal points effecting ROP that are within a leader’s control.

Attraction: Are You Hiring the Right People?

One root cause of low ROP is sometimes the hiring process itself. Financial planners often short-change the due diligence process in seeking the right new hire, or they choose people to join their team for the wrong reasons.

Consider these three fundamental questions as you go through the hiring and selection process:

Does the individual match the business need? We often find financial professionals use outdated job descriptions, or hire based on a title. It is critical that you define the work at a granular level (the “what”) in order to find the right “who” to execute that work. Each new team member must have the right talents based on a well-defined job profile that fulfills the business need you have identified.

Will the individual fit well within the company culture? Company culture is unique to you and can take years to build, but it can be lost in an instant. You don’t want one wrong hire to negatively impact your business. Be sure to define what your unique company culture characteristics are so that you can assess a new hire’s fit during the interview process.

Will the individual connect with the current team? Team architecture is one of our specialties and we get more questions involving team dynamics than any other area. There may not be an “I” in team but there is an “M” and an “E.” Take time to understand each team member in order to create a synergistic team that drives ROP. You might find the ideal new hire from a skills perspective, but they have entirely the wrong attitude and may jeopardize the current team dynamic. Worst-case scenario, you may lose a superstar player because of one hire who was right for the work but wrong for the team.

We recommend using assessment tools as an objective resource to help ensure people have the natural attributes to perform the work required. Planners often tend to hire people like them or just because they like them in the interview. Ideally, one should select a right hire who has different talents to do work for the planner that frees them up and who shares similar values and interests in life so they will have fulfillment in their career.

But assessment tools are just one element of an in-depth due-diligence selection process. Your selection process must go beyond resumes, job descriptions, experience, and old-fashioned one-person interviews. Similar to sports, business teams are only as good as their weakest member. To fuel our success, we must make sure we hire, select, and onboard the right people for our business.

Retention: Are You Delivering a Remarkable Employee Experience?

One of the most fundamental drivers of ROP is the experience that we deliver to our team as their employer. We may be quick to judge their behaviors, but it is often our own behaviors diminishing our ROP. If we expect our team members to deliver an extraordinary client experience, we must demonstrate a remarkable employee experience. As leaders, there are many elements within your control of your team’s success.

Communication. If we asked your employees about your internal communication, how would they rate you?

The employee experience begins with communication. Every financial planning practice should have an internal communication plan. This plan should include in-person team meetings (both tactical and strategic) and electronic communications, such as standards for how you use email, your contact management system, and team calendar. We consistently see that when internal communication is lacking, you will experience cracks in the foundation of your success. Mistakes and errors increase, as do stress and dissatisfaction.

Appreciation. If we asked your employees about your firm’s appreciation of their contributions, how would they rate you?

Relationships, whether personal or professional, are a two-way street; gratitude needs to be prevalent for both parties to feel they are valued. Appreciation goes well beyond paychecks. Study after study have shown that workers are more likely to stay with a company if that company makes them feel good about their job and recognizes their contributions. Certainly, some people jump ship purely for a pay increase, but most consider other aspects when looking for true fulfillment in their careers. Frequent pats on the back, a thank-you card left on a desk, and fair and flexible benefits all make an employee feel valued and appreciated.

Just as you do with client appreciation, you want to customize your associate rewards and recognition as much as possible to show you really care about them as people. To do this right, you must get to know your team members personally; what are their interests and hobbies?

Environment. If we asked your employees about your firm’s work environment, how would they rate you?

Think about how much time we typically spend at work, away from our homes (COVID-19 quarantines notwithstanding). The work environment you create is extremely important to maximizing ROP. You may have heard that you should put yourself in your client’s shoes—what do they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste when doing business with you? Same goes for your team. Is the environment an assault on their senses or an inviting place to be? An assigned parking space and the ability to decorate their desk area; a selection of coffee and tea in the breakroom; snacks or meals throughout the week; family gatherings or picnics; holiday, birthday, and work anniversary celebrations—all of these examples positively impact the team experience and your ROP.

Culture can positively or negatively impact the vibe of the environment. Sometimes we walk into offices where you can literally feel hostility, and in other places we hear laughter and can sense comradery and respect. When problems occur and are not dealt with, the office environment is affected. When you forget to celebrate successes, the team experience is negatively impacted. Don’t underestimate the effect the office environment can have on your ROP.

Leadership: Are You Demonstrating Strong Leadership?

Please, do not manage your people. You manage time, you manage money and budgets, you manage your client portfolios, you manage tasks and to-do lists but, you lead people. People don’t want to be micromanaged or macromanaged; they want to be led. Are you really connecting with your team members and inspiring them? Are your actions consistent with your messaging? The topic of leadership is extensive; here are just a few recommendations to consider:

Know your team. Take time to get to know each team member personally and professionally. Understand what is important to them.

Craft your vision and reiterate purpose with frequency.

Have a plan but recognize the importance of agility; you need to be able to pivot in today’s world.

Lead the individual, not just the team. When you flex your style toward their individual styles, you will enhance each interaction and subsequently increase ROP.

Put your people first.

Communicate judiciously and with transparency.

Set clear expectations.

Provide opportunity for growth.

Address conflict quickly and with the right team members. A simple issue between two people can quickly escalate and create animosity, decreasing ROP.

Deliver on the ultimate team experience … consistently.

Every day, individuals make choices and decisions, but the only ones we have control over are our own. Bottom line: if we want to maximize ROP we must consistently: (1) find the right people for the role, the team, and the culture of our firm; (2) deliver a team experience that breeds both loyalty and growth; and (3) lead!

So, what is your return on people? Are you maximizing your investment? Are your people thriving or simply surviving in your firm? Who are your top contributors driving positive outcomes? Do you have any employees who are not quite right for your firm? Are you making decisions that negatively impact your ROP?

Recommendations for Action

If you’ve identified that your ROP needs attention, here are a few action steps:

Review your hiring and selection process. Does it need to be updated?

Consider both “what” (the behaviors) and “who” can negatively impact your firm culture and team dynamic. If you have any of the wrong players, it’s time to let them go so they can find an employer that is better suited for them and you can build your all-star team.

Consider your internal deliverables and employee experience. Will adjusting your internal communication, appreciation, or environment positively impact your ROP?

Examine your leadership style. Are there adjustments you should make that will further fuel your team members’ growth and contributions?

Consider expectations. Does each team member have clarity of your expectations of them, and do you have clarity of what they expect from you?

Utilize assessments to help understand each individual and how the team dynamic works (for example, addresses a person’s natural talents, motivators, and areas of fulfillment).

Schedule informal leadership lunches with each team member; ask questions and solicit ideas. This is not an old-school professional review—it’s a two-way conversation to help understand each individual, their dreams, and what will help maximize their potential, satisfaction, and loyalty.

Orchestrate a team-building event. At least twice a year, get away from the office and spend time with each other incorporating a combination of fun, getting to know each other on a deeper level, and business-building activities.

It is rarely the products, solutions, process, or numbers that create the distinction in a business; it is people. What can you do today to enhance your firm’s ROP?

Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets are partners at Performance Insights (​), where they focus on helping financial professionals increase results through wiser practice management and people decisions.

Practice Management
Professional Conduct & Regulation
Career stage
Learning / Aspiring