Creating a Culture of Accountability in Your Financial Planning Firm

6 min read
February 12, 2018

As a financial planner running your own fee-only firm, you likely take accountability seriously. You’ve made the commitment to avoid pushing specific products just to make a buck, and your clients trust you to provide advice that will ensure their financial future. You know this means not only making sure your clients can pay their bills every month; it may also mean helping them to get their kid into an Ivy League school, quit their job to travel the world, or purchase the home they’ve always envisioned. Big dreams are at stake here.

Helping realize those big dreams is likely why you’re so committed to the profession. But how do you ensure your passion, vision, and commitment are upheld by your staff and your contractors? These individuals are an integral part of your business and, without a doubt, affect your clients’ view of your firm and your services.

First Things First

If you have staff, you want to get started on the right foot with new hires. This means training anyone who works with you (paraplanners, etc.) to uphold your firm standards. You want to make sure you start out with a common understanding so that you are not correcting issues later in the game.

Maybe you don’t have staff yet, but you outsource certain elements of your business. You’ll want to be certain that these individuals are also effectively representing you and upholding your standards as well.

Best Practices for Training New Staft

When training staff, remember most individuals can process only a few pieces of new information at once. Often a few bite-sized bits of info delivered at a steady, but manageable, pace is the best strategy for retention. This technique of “microlearning,” as it’s called in the education and eLearning industry, is a proven way of teaching new skills and information without the learner experiencing information overload.

Another common timing/pacing mistake is caused by rushing through new information without giving new staff an opportunity to apply what they've learned. Don’t assume the trainee internalized everything you’ve said. Have a new staff member explain back to you what you’re asking, or – even better – have them apply the skill, followed by immediate feedback from you.

Creating Training Materialt

At XY Planning Network, each employee receives a 90-day training plan upon hiring. This training plan establishes accountability in several ways. First, it creates a written document that outlines expectations for the first few months in your staff members’ new job. Writing down goals and objectives and working through them week-by-week makes big targets feel tangible and achievable. Additionally, it allows you to immediately identify areas where a new employee needs more training or assistance. You can provide this training right out the gate when you notice an employee may lack skills or experience in a certain area, and know that this investment will pay off down the road.

We also recommend you create a training manual for your staff. You should include overall information about your firm, instructions to navigate any software you and your staff will be using, and any relevant processes and procedures. This document will serve as a resource to refer to over and over again. Once you have a solid manual in place, you can build on it as your business grows, as you add tech tools, etc. When new employees have questions, consider whether you should also document your response in the manual for future employees’ benefit and development.

The 90-day plan you create for each new staff member should ask for the employee to read through this training manual early on. Again, you can use the microlearning technique to prioritize and present sections of the manual one at a time so as to avoid information overload.

Employee Training Dos and Don’ts



Present info in bite-sized chunks

Overload new employees

Create a written training plan, training manual, and training schedule for new hires

Be rigid about the schedule; you can adjust based on individual needs

Set clear expectations

Assume a verbal explanation means information is internalized

Ask for employee feedback

Rely on just one training method

Ask for demonstration of knowledge

Treat training as a one-time event

Expressing Your Vision and Mission

With new hires, you want to be sure you’re articulating the vision and mission for your firm. You’ve likely spent a lot of time thinking about this in the business development phase, so be sure this information does not just exist in a vacuum. You’ll want to be sure anyone you hire into your firm understands your mission and vision, and knows how their efforts contribute to overall firm goals. This process of goal alignment creates a sense of purpose and contributes to overall accountability by establishing a touchstone for all the daily tasks that your staff may be responsible for.

Establishing this understanding early on can also help when there is an issue with follow through or responsibility. Articulating the link between day-to-day tasks and big picture goals can help motivate staff and ensure they see the purpose behind the tasks they’ve been assigned. If a staff member falls short of the goal, be sure to emphasize the impact on the business as a whole as a reminder of the impact of even small tasks and client interactions.

Ask for Feedback from Staff

If you want your team to be accountable for the work they do, one important contributing factor can be whether your staff feels heard. What struggles are they facing in their day-to-day work? What roadblocks are getting in the way of what they need to accomplish? The “daily huddles” for the XYPN Advisor Success Team are concluded by each team member bringing up any roadblocks or inefficiencies they may be facing that day. This portion of the meeting allows us to vocalize anything that might be getting in the way of serving clients as effectively as possible. Not only is it a great opportunity for brainstorming creative solutions to problems, it also serves as a chance to head off more major roadblocks before they grow. Attacking problems (of any sort: communication, efficiency, technology, etc.) early on ensures that staff is accountable for nipping issues in the bud before they truly get in the way of productivity. Be sure to provide a venue for these kinds of discussions. A daily huddle is a great way to accomplish this because it ensures you’re checking in regularly.

Employee Goal Settint

Working together to create concrete employee goals is also a great way to promote accountability. At XYPN, we use the SMART method of goal setting. This method involves creating goals that are:

S - Specific - The goal should specifically outline what, when, and how it needs to be achieved. Also, outline any resources and individuals that may need to be involved.

M - Measurable - This creates a common understanding between you and the employee for how you both know when the stated goal has been met. Having a benchmark ensures you have a shared language and understanding for goal achievement.

A - Attainable - Setting a realistic, attainable goal ensures the employee is not unduly discouraged. Set a goal that is ambitious, but attainable.

R - Relevant - Make sure the goals you are setting are relevant to the overall goals of the business. All goals should contribute to the overall mission of your firm.

T - Time bound - Establishing deadlines adds a sense of urgency to the goals you set. Consider setting larger annual goals, and then breaking them up into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

Your process of employee goal setting should involve at least one initial meeting to draft and discuss the goals. This should be a collaborative process where you can both agree your targets are realistic. Gaining employee buy-in early in the process can go a long way toward ensuring objectives are actually met throughout the year. Be sure these goals are written down, and check in regularly so you know smaller, supporting tasks are mastered incrementally.

Conducting Employee Reviewt

Another way you can stay on the same page with your staff and ensure expectations are being met is through regular employee reviews. We recommend you do this at least twice per year (quarterly reviews can also work well if your staff has specific quarterly goals). Reviews don’t need to be lengthy or formal; in fact, they work better if they are not. Ensuring your employees feel comfortable during a review allows for a more open, honest conversation about performance. Be sure to write down your feedback and ensure time for employees to reflect on their achievements and potential opportunities for growth.

And remember: while reviews are a great tool for providing feedback and discussing performance, don’t wait until review time to provide feedback to your staff. A review should be just that: a reassessment and summary of items already discussed throughout the review period.

Putting It All Together

Running your own firm has probably already presented challenges you may not have expected. And if you’re growing quickly enough to require hiring support staff, this adds another layer of complexity to your business. Following these leadership and management suggestions can help you establish an environment where expectations are clear, performance is valued, goals are in alignment, and your staff feels successful and appreciated. Your clients are sure to notice and appreciate this commitment.


About the Author

Kate Ross has spent the last ten years of her career developing educational materials for financial professionals and brings a passion for instructional design and curriculum development to the XYPN team.

In her free time, Kate can be found front row at a concert, camping in the woods, floating a river, or hiking in the mountains near her home in Montana.

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