How To Attract Top Talent

April 21, 2015

by Dan Richards

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Today’s article tackles the question of how to recruit and motivate top-performing support staff. This builds on two previous articles: The Skill Set for Exceptional Performance, which focused on establishing the right team culture, and Two Routes to Compelling Value, which outlined how advisors defined clear roles for their teams.

Those articles began with an email from a successful advisor who is co-managing partner of an 11-person team. The advisor wrote that dealing with staff has been by far the biggest challenge as his firm has grown. One expert quoted in the article observed, “What it takes to build an initial business, which is driven by the founders’ skills and energy, is very different than what it takes to run a bigger business, where you need to lever the skills of employees.”

To learn more about building successful teams, I hosted a series of lunches with top-performing advisors. The advisors at those lunches identified seven discrete steps (summarized in the graphic below) for building and running the teams that are integral to their businesses.

Top Talent

Getting incentives right

No topic got more attention than how to best motivate support staff and, in particular, how to establish the right structure for compensation. There was universal agreement that feeling fairly paid is essential for maintaining motivation, and all advisors said that they provide above average compensation compared to the market. That’s where the agreement on the role of compensation ended, however, and there was a broad range of views on the split between fixed and variable compensation and how the variable component is calculated.

With regard to the mix between fixed and variable compensation, lunch participants pointed to a fundamental difference between what advisors are looking for on the one hand and what support staff want on the other. Advisors are looking to minimize their fixed commitments by keeping base salaries as low as possible. By contrast, support staff tend to look for the security that comes with as high a fixed salary as possible. As one advisor put it: “By definition, support staff are risk averse when it comes to their compensation. If they wanted to take risks, they’d be advisors themselves.”

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