“In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn” Phil Collins, Genesis

A number of years ago Sun Life Financial entrusted me with the responsibility of growing the vast region of Western Canada, literally from scratch. Under the company’s strategy, my role was to hire, develop, and retain a sales team to support and bring unique value to the top advisors in the region.

I find common hiring practices are often both counterproductive and frustrating. The old approach of waiting for an opening to occur, searching for a replacement and relying on resumes with a waiting room of candidates, is passé. Likewise, the common approach, still used today, of hiring big personalities without attention to formal qualifications, or the ability to understand and bring value to top business partners, was anathema to me. I decided that my approach to “discovery” would be different. 

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant” Jim Collins

Consider your vision

If you’re like most people looking at building an outstanding team, you’re probably looking for “bench strength.” It’s a forward-thinking way of running one’s business that can be done by being clear what your needs are, and always looking out for people to develop, thereby building an inventory of potential hires, both inside and outside your team.

Many would say this proactive approach is easier said than done – and it is. Firstly, one needs a vision evident to an outsider who might aspire to join your team and perhaps, in time, become one of its respected leaders. In the early days of building our regional team, this was my vision:

  • It’s not about the money but rather about the person’s hunger, dreams and pursuit of excellence
  • It’s about the individual’s life outside of work benefiting from the opportunity of where they work
  • It’s about the team, with individual growth occurring in this context

In crafting one’s vision, using the Five Factor Model from modern psychology can be helpful. There are five traits to this model: openness (curious vs. cautious), conscientiousness (efficient vs. easy-going), extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved), agreeableness (compassionate vs. analytical) and neuroticism (nervous vs. confident). I recognized that, while various personality traits are important to our team, analytical skills, efficiency and confidence, were essential because we support top advisors with high net worth  clients, and need to help inculcate both the advisor’s advanced or detailed methodology with their client’s need to see information presented simply.

Always be looking for that brilliant future team member

Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Szent–Gyorgi said, “Discovery is seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” This has been my guide and has helped in discovering great people for our team, often well in advance of an opportunity emerging.

If one considers one’s vision, it is more likely one will discover the right person. I’d rather find a great person who shares a common vision than an established candidate who may not align with our core values and proven way of working with our partners.

Foster an environment of personal and professional trust

Many employers who support mentoring start in the wrong place. They start with their proposed outcome from the company’s viewpoint, instead of with what the new recruit needs. Just as a top advisor needs to start with the client’s needs, for the purpose of mentoring, one needs to start with the individual. A mentor and protégé also need to believe in each other professionally and personally. It’s about mutual trust and belief.

Robert Frost said “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

There are three components to trust: personal trust (being caring and likeable); professional trust (being formally qualified); procedural trust (having systems and processes in place to perform effectively.) Professional trust is a non-negotiable for me in the mentor/protégé relationship and is often the most neglected. Jim Rogers, former president of the Million Dollar Round Table and a leader in the insurance industry for decades, speaks of successful people, be they athletes or financial advisors as small “p” professionals, adding there is another version to the word “professional”  with individuals working in the fields of medicine, law, accounting and engineering  who are seen as professionals by the general public who might refer to them as large “P” professionals because, in addition to making large incomes, they have a formal professional education as well. For us to gain professional stature, obtaining a recognized professional designation can go a long way to move us from small ‘p’ professional status to large ‘P’ professionals.

On our team, as part of the growth and earning “professional trust” process, it is required that each person obtain their Chartered Life Underwriter designation (CLU) and also aspire to obtain their Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation.

I hope this personal experience helps as you continue to build your practice and your team. Starting with a vision, you can help discover people you would like to mentor and who genuinely want to be mentored by you. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting to see who applies for your next open position.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” Jim Collins