Hard-won lessons on advisor performance management

Modern performance management needs hands-on leadership.

Hard-won lessons on advisor performance management

The dwindling days of annual performance reviews may cause a sigh of relief among team members and managers alike, but everyone still has plenty to do to crack the conundrum of modern performance management.

Evelyn Chow, a human resources professional in Singapore, said performance has evolved into a more consultative process. “Performance used to be about ratings, which drove almost everything, such as succession planning, promotion and employee development,” she said. “These traditional appraisals were rigid, focusing on performance defined by the organization. There was no ambiguity,” she said, and they all felt similar.  

That approach left little room for individual aspirations, preferences and psychology, Chow said. But today, she is seeing corporate views on performance changing. “We see more consideration of employees’ personal growth and aspirations, even if these may not always relate to an advisor’s current role. While it is sometimes still perceived as a necessary evil, performance management remains an essential and important process.” 

Anecdotally, financial services leaders are taking a more frequent and collaborative approach to team and individual advisor performance.   

Using weekly reviews  

Jojo Veloso, an executive region head who has been in financial services for 33 years, likes to set performance expectations with advisors through a discussion at the start of each year. Managers and their advisor teams then have weekly one-on-one meetings.  

“This helps the leader and advisor talk about measuring their progress,” said Veloso, who is based in Cebu City, Philippines. “We can ask what happened last week and what went well or didn’t go so well. Our leaders coach them, and in their group meetings, the advisors also help one another,” he said.   

“Then during those one-on-ones, you can have course corrections. That means we’re not summoning you because you did this, or you were not able to do that. We put the focus on them staying accountable to their start-of-year goal,” he said.  

Often, that involves identifying potential gaps between production goals and outcomes. Veloso, or his leadership colleagues, will then discuss details with that advisor. “We’ll ask who you spoke to and how many sales were made. What’s their business? What did you say? What product did you offer, and did you make a sale? If so, what made you make the sale?” he said.

Fostering accountability  

Adam Maddox, a regional director in Prairie Village, Kansas, USA, said his agency emphasizes helping younger advisors become accountable for their own results. “While some advisors may have been entrepreneurs in another industry, they may have never had the freedom this job creates.  

“They’ve never had to manage their own calendar. They’ve never had to run a business. It’s different than your standard clock-in, nine-to-five job. Some people love that. Some people struggle with that freedom,” he said. A weekly accountability call helps managers track the metrics that they know drive success. 

Addressing underperformance 

Of course, maintaining business as usual isn’t always the case. Often field leaders must deliver some frank feedback or news that neither party is looking forward to. “Ideally, there should have been conversations to discuss and address the issue and better understand what could have led to the underperformance,” Chow said.  

Preparation is key for leaders who need to address underperformance. “Put down your thoughts, prepare questions and share specific examples of work that was not performed well,” she said. “However, leaders should not be overly focused on showing employees where they went wrong or didn’t do well. Instead, they should prepare themselves by ensuring they are in the right frame of mind to listen.” 

“Anticipate your employees’ responses and think through what you may want to say in response to those reactions or questions. Stay focused on the desired outcome of the conversation, which is to understand how you can support the employee to be more successful,” she added. 

Chow also suggests scheduling a follow-up session to discuss highlighted items. “The leader should ensure they attend to the points the employee committed to doing during the previous discussion. This helps the employee learn to be accountable and ensures they take tangible steps to make improvements. If the employee raised issues they were struggling with, the leader can also evaluate how to support them to overcome these challenges,” she said.  

Handling personal matters 

What if the challenges causing underperformance are not work-related? Mohamad Manmohan, ChFC, CLU, a seasoned agency leader in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has seen this often across his management career. 

“Over the years, I’ve seen agents sometimes having domestic issues, sometimes having monetary issues. I try to help them that way. I don’t get directly involved, but I give them my opinion as to what is possible, what they can do. And outside of that, I praise a lot,” said Manmohan.  

Chow suggests leaders tread carefully when this dynamic arises. “Maybe they are struggling with medical issues, or perhaps they are unable to perform in their current role or project for various reasons. Don’t make assumptions — have a good conversation and be prepared to listen and ask the right questions,” she said. 

Supporting high performers 

But don’t overlook your high performers while you’re working with others to grow and develop. While high performers may not need the same level of feedback or coaching, they can still use your help to clear obstacles, access resources or manage their dwindling capacity to service more accounts.  

“If it’s an established advisor that we bring over who already has a successful practice, we’re more focused on providing the right resources for performance,” said Maddox. “A lot of times they join us when they plateau. Maybe they’re struggling with scale, or they’re struggling with helping create infrastructure or processes,” he said.  

Maddox suggests field leaders work closely with established advisors to see where roadblocks are. “For example, if your advisor is strong in front of clients, but 40% of their workday is spent doing administrative things, that’s an easy fix. Suggest they hire an assistant. That’s probably a good use of revenue because then they can spend more time being in front of clients and not having to deal with administrative stuff,” he said. 

Accepting the difficulties  

When the business of people management becomes messy and complex, what can field leaders do?  

“Prepare, practice and speak to more experienced leaders. Seek out mentors and ask for advice and guidance,” Chow said. “Try to build as much trust as possible with team members by getting to know them on a social level.” 

Veloso echoes this, suggesting that field leaders need to be accessible to their advisors. That means saying goodbye to the old ways of command-and-control, and welcoming new management styles informed by communication and collaboration.  

“This is a people business,” Veloso said. “We’re not dealing with numbers or machines. We shouldn’t keep our distance. We should be there with the team. I would advise field leaders not to stay at the back of the office studying numbers. Go where the action is. That’s with your advisors.” 

Chow said getting to know your advisors on a personal level can make it easier to remember they are individuals with different personalities, preferences and aspirations. “They may think and communicate differently from you. Being different is not wrong — it just means it takes time to understand the other party better,” she said. 

Ultimately, field leaders may need to simply accept that performance management will always be a trying part of their role. “Give everyone a chance, including yourself,” Chow said. “Having difficult conversations is tough, and it does take experience to get better at it. Be kind to the people around you, and recognize that even if you have done your best, the outcome might not always turn out how you hope. But you should give it your best shot anyway.” Chow said. 

Luke O’Neill is a Sydney-based writer and content strategist. He writes about B2B fintech and financial services for brands, publishers, and agencies. He owns Genuine Communications

Contact: Jojo Veloso, jojo_veloso@manulife.com.ph 

Mohamad Manmohan, mhdmohan@gmail.com 

Adam Maddox, adam.maddox@prudential.com