I sat in a darkened conference room earlier this week; heads were down, notes were furiously scribbled. On stage was a panel of advisors, each of whom shared the details of one successful strategy they had implemented. They opened the door to their businesses just a crack, but enough to give us a little glimpse into how the heavy hitters operate. I loved it, the audience loved and I think the panelists loved it just a bit.
Great advisors love to hear ideas from other great advisors. According to the 250 advisors we talked to as part of a recent study, of all the ways you collect great ideas, your peers are the most effective source. Where did your last great idea come from? If you want to see how the industry responded, click here for a two page summary of the key findings.
So many ideas, so little time.
But here’s the problem. Each panelist had precisely seven minutes to share that one great idea. I had questions, lots of them. But following them back to their cars seemed, well, a little creepy. As a result, there is a reasonably good chance that none of those ideas will be implemented by me or anyone else in attendance.
There is a second problem. Even if we did have enough information, there is no particular pressure to execute. So while most advisors agree that their peers are the best source of new ideas, there is something more that sets apart those who have reached the top of their game.
Great advisors create accountability to take action even where none exists.
The data looks like this. When we asked advisors about the tools and resources they were using to inspire or uncover ideas most advisors were using many of the same resources; those included conferences and industry media outlets. However, there were two areas in which advisors, who had built the largest businesses, were significantly different and both related to accountability. They used professional coaches and peer groups such as study groups or mastermind groups.
Find a coach
One of the common characteristics of successful advisors is that they not only believe in working with coaches, but that they use coaches in several different areas of their lives . Not to worry, I’m not a coach so I can say this objectively. I do, however, work with a business and life coach and I have a community of people who provide on-going support related to physical and health goals so I have been drinking the Kool-aid for some time.
I recently conducted a series of in-depth interviews with Jack Thurman, President of BKD Wealth Advisors, a $3b RIA. Over the last 15 years he helped build the firm from almost nothing to where it sits today. He credits his coaches with helping him get there.
Note that Jack talks about working with coaches to help him personally, professionally and spiritually. He creates tension in all key areas of his life in order to improve and there is interesting research that demonstrates this type of ‘full engagement’ drives even greater success. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz wrote “The Power of Full Engagement”. While I can’t do the concepts justice in a small space they suggest that full engagement demands that we focus equally on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual excellence. They also make the point that energy diminishes with overuse and underuse so we need balance. So, if the only areas of our lives where we are stretching ourselves is in business, we won’t be as successful as we could. Finally, they make the point that we need to set goals and train in all four areas just as elite athletes. Food for thought.
In a nutshell, the role of a coach is to have bigger dreams and goals for you than you have for yourself, to help you define those goals and set your path and then to hold you accountable.
Create accountability through structured peer groups
Great advisors also look to their peers to inspire them, challenge them and hold their feet to the fire. You see this with an increase in popularity of study groups and mastermind groups. Michael Kitces wrote a great piece on this recently and points to examples of some better known study groups in the RIA space.
I talked recently to Katherine Liola. Katherine is an impressive advisor and the President of Concentric Private Wealth. She shares that she is part of multiple peer groups that help her in different ways.
So what we’re seeing is that great advisors build an extended team of peers. The role of a study group or mastermind group is to help you see your business through the eyes of others, to share what is working and what is not and to provide support and accountability among peers. Study groups tend to be more focused on brainstorming, sharing ideas and, in many cases, bringing in outside speakers in to inform and enlighten the group. Mastermind groups are more structured and involve sharing challenges and getting specific feedback. For mastermind groups a few key success factors to consider:
- Run your mastermind group like a business meeting with a formal structure and process.
- Find the right people, those that challenge you and bring perspective. Respect is critical, as are:
- Balanced, two-way sharing
- Follows the guidelines
- No (direct) competitors
- Similar success and experience levels
- Consider a formal or informal application process when looking for new members
- Find the right frequency; some are monthly, some quarterly and others create a more intensive environment and meet, in person, annually, for a full day
- Define how long each person will speak and use a stop watch (typically 12-15 minutes each). The speakers provide an update or describe a challenge and invite feedback. The group is entirely focused on delivering feedback for that person.
- Set some ground rules. For example, no one talks while the person sharing progress is speaking. Monitor negativity.
- Don’t be afraid to ‘say no’ or ‘good-bye’ if someone doesn’t fit with the group for any reason
The idea seems to be catching on at a corporate level as well. Four years ago Ameritas Investment Corp. started an entire program to help its advisors share ideas among one another. They have over 150 participants (six per group) and they assign a trained facilitator, manage logistics and create the agenda to make it easy for the participants. The teams meet monthly via conference call and have an annual face to face. I’ve seen a few firms picking up on this idea to try and eliminate some of the perceived barriers for advisors (e.g. getting it all up and running).
Create a Record
On a completely practical note, you’ll find that some groups are run in person and some virtually. For virtual meetings, the process is significantly enhanced if you have everyone on video. There are a number of options to record video meetings. While some systems (like Go-to-Meeting or Go-to-Webinar) give you the option to use your webcam during a live event, they won’t actually record the video. That will likely change but was true as of the last attempt on my part.
I’ve tried a number of tools to record video meetings. The first two were Vodburner and Evaer and I had limited success. The first two worked the first time, however, when I ran into support issues they were nowhere to be found. The one I love is Zoom. It can completely replace your web meeting tool or you can just use it to record video meetings. The quality is great and it’s easy to use. Better still you can record up to 25 talking heads, so your study group can fill the screen.
We study great advisors to try and understand the common behaviors and characteristics. In this case, I think it’s clear. If you are not doing so already, create some accountability around your goals. If you don’t have defined goals then you need to start there. With those in place, however, create a structure that is supportive, provides tangible feedback and holds your feet to fire. That could be as simple as a monthly coffee with someone in your office. It’s a good place to start. However, the ‘greats’ create more structure with a study group or mastermind group.
If you participate in a peer-based group or use a coach, I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.