When I joined Saracen, the business was underinvested and had been languishing for several years.
Fortunately, I was given carte blanche to make whatever changes I felt necessary, yet I knew it would be a challenge to reconnect with clients, launch a new fund and attract the next generation of employees who would drive the business.
I now believe we have made progress with all of these targets. I’ve also learnt a few things along the way about implementing change in a business, and bringing employees and clients with you:
- Clarify your brand identity
Many firms are too big, manage too much money and it’s difficult to understand their culture and alignment with clients. As a small business, you cannot afford to make this mistake. Advisers are well-placed to be closer and more responsive to their clients. Be clear what clients want and what you are offering. Once you have clarified your brand identity, it's then a case of sticking to it.
We put our brand identity into practice by launching the slogan 'Share Success' soon after my tenure began. This was aimed at celebrating the history of strong fund performance, but also set out to emphasise the alignment with employees having significant personal investments in the funds they manage.
- Make the necessary changes early
Understandably, employees and clients don’t like uncertainty. As the person leading your team, it's important to make the business case for changing the way things are done, and explain why change is necessary.
Clearly you are likely to encounter some employees and staff who disagree, as most people don’t like change. However, you need to know who is in the team. It’s hard enough for smaller businesses as it is, and to be successful you must be together as a team.
I didn't have all of the answers when I first joined. But I had been around long enough to have a very clear idea of how I wanted to manage clients’ savings and, perhaps more importantly, how not to manage them. I was very clear about this new process from day one.
- Explain in detail what is required
Building trust and keeping open lines of communication with employees is vital during times of change. New strategies and goals must be discussed both face-to-face and individually.
For us, this meant considerable change in how analysts spend their time. I introduced a disciplined investment process; this meant less conversations with brokers and more intense time thinking and constructing detailed financial models from which we could objectively assess investment opportunities.
Experience has shown not everyone wants, or is able, to do this. But individual discussions with staff quickly resolved any misgivings or issues that may have festered for longer in a less cohesive environment. If they still can’t do it, go back to the point above.
This is easier said than done. While most chief executives or senior management claim to be close to clients, it can be easy to listen only for confirmation of your new strategy or changes, rather than the important nuances of what is being said.
I sometimes found it hard to listen to colleagues, often from support roles, when I was focused on larger strategic pieces of work. However, I have learned truly listening is vital to keep colleagues engaged. All employees should feel valued and the attention to detail is essential for the business. I've found it is better to stop, give your teammates and the issue your full attention, then return to the previous task.
- Build a team
It is vital that any investment team does not always agree. The best teams are made up of diverse individuals who bring different perspectives, experiences and insights. You don’t have to be friends, but at the very least there does have to be integrity and respect. Managing others’ savings carries a high burden of responsibility. I have always applied the test of ‘would I let them manage my pension?’
- Say thank you
Recognition is hugely motivational. We can never say it enough.
‘The better the debate, the better the decision’. Within the investment team, I always feel the better the discussion, the better the result, but this can only occur if there is an alignment of interests.
I have encountered many experienced investment professionals more interested in scoring points off colleagues or climbing the corporate ladder than working on improving client returns. It is vital to keep one’s team engaged and give incentives. This is challenging because we are all different, but in my experience, equity is the best means of alignment. While it is a treasured commodity and many don’t wish to share, it is prized by the owners and it ensures that as a team, we work together and focus on achieving the same outcome.
- Embrace technology
Clients want to be kept informed and they want to know their investment advisers have opinions about economic current affairs. We have embraced the evolution in the ways our clients consume information and have adapted our distribution process accordingly. We've no doubt made some mistakes along the way but we’ve also had great feedback and increased engagement with our clients, an important factor when you’re not close geographically.
- Long-term plans
It takes time to gain trust and build relationships. The pace of growth can be frustrating at times, but we should never forget that investment is a long-term business.
Overall, if you are not excited about driving a business forward, meeting clients or motivating employees, then it’s time to go. If that time ever comes, make sure you have the team and succession plan in place to continue to push your business all the way.