I was only a few weeks into the new job when a top financial advisor was visiting my office. I was eager to meet him — so much so that I started our meeting by diving right into our plans for mobile, web, and strategy without pause. I was in my zone.
We’ve all been there. I wanted to impress him with how my team is going to transform the business and enhance the client-advisor relationship.
But 15 minutes into our hour-long meeting, he stood up, extended his hand and thanked me for my time. I was in shock. I had so much more to show him. This was the first meeting I ever had with one of our advisors. And it was the first thing I heard.
He explained that with all due respect, our company is in the relationship business. While he acknowledged that my team has great plans, he pointed out I spent no time, none, listening to how the business works.
“I suggest you spend more time listening first if you want to be successful at this company,” he told me.
That meeting forever changed how I lead. It was the ego check I needed to get to where we are today. Listening to my team, our advisors, and our clients helps my team to design products that work for the business and for our users.
Leaders have to listen. If we don’t, or won’t, we cannot create customized solutions for the people who matter most to us. We have to make the time and keep it sacred. Here’s how I lead now:
1. Seek feedback with 20-minute standing meetings
It’s easy to get caught up in a day’s to-do list. When you’re in that zone, you might not realize you are getting feedback when you are. Whether from direct reports, team members, or a manager, I knew I needed to take the time to listen deeply and pay attention to their input. To help me do so, I started up a monthly series called Digital Product 20–20: a 20-minute standing meeting with 20 people.
The purpose is to bring the standup concept the team is already familiar with when designing products and use it to gather feedback on how the team is functioning and feeling.
There are a few rules:
- No laptops or mobile devices.
- No meeting rooms. We must leave the office and find a courtyard or another local spot.
- No finessing. Everyone has to be candid.
- Nothing will be held against them.
- No notes or cameras.
The only goal is to get feedback and improve the way we work.
To get the conversation started, I’ll bring up some topics, such as communication, role clarification, morale, and working with stakeholders. These conversations have helped redefine the way we work.
2. Spend one-on-one time with those who aren’t vocal
During one of the 20–20 sessions, I noticed one individual who became surprisingly quiet. Afterward, I invited him to coffee. I was honest and mentioned that he seemed checked out during the session. That’s when he revealed to me that he had been pitching an idea to his leadership team for more than a year.
The concept was to allow clients to deposit money digitally into their investment accounts. He had done some deep analysis with advisors and our call centers, and discovered the amount of time and effort it takes to process paperwork and communicate back and forth with the client was inefficient. A digital option would be a substantial time saver.
I could tell by his voice he had passion about this feature and was disappointed every time he would bring it up. The team deprioritized it. But after chatting, we decided to go for it. After more detailed analysis, we launched the feature (just last month!). I am proud to say within the first few days, we had more than $3 million in digital deposits.
Seeing the success of that quick coffee chat, I now set aside time for three coffee chats a week.
Leaders have to listen. If we don’t, or won’t, we cannot create customized solutions for the people who matter most to us.
We leave the building and go for a walk, and there’s no fixed agenda. I just listen. I ask how things are going and how I can help. It’s a refreshing way to reconnect.
3. Walk the floor, randomly
Between meetings, my team will find me walking the floor and sparking conversation. It’s a great way to listen and be present at unexpected times and to meet with people you may not otherwise.
For example, a meeting just the other day ended 20 minutes early, so I decided to go for a walk around the 2nd floor and take the long way up to my desk on the 3rd floor. I ran into someone from our marketing team who I don’t interact with regularly. I asked what she’s up to, and she started showing me some industry research on the need for clients to have more financial calculators.
Clients need help when it comes to calculating mortgage payments, how much to save for retirement, etc. Most clients resort to the Internet for financial calculators. This conversation in passing made me realize: Why don’t we have these tools?
My team polled nearly 300 advisors and 1,000 clients and discovered there was indeed a need for more calculators. Fast forward through weeks of development to when we recently launched our first set of insurance coverage calculators. They are driving significant traffic to our website and clearly meeting a consumer need. We now have a team focused on building more calculators.
4. Regularly meet with the end user
Wondering what happened to the advisor who pointed me in the right direction ever so bluntly? He is now my personal financial advisor. He is our first-in-line advisor to test new features and is always giving the team invaluable feedback on improvements.
We have monthly checkpoints where I spend most of my time listening to how we can make things better. Not only do I meet with him, but I also meet regularly with other advisors to watch and learn.
During one visit, I noticed a top advisor and his team spending a lot of time collecting financial information over phone calls, exchanging documents over email, and then entering all the data into various systems to create a plan for the client. After taking back what I saw to the team, and learning the ins and outs of the process, we launched a new digital prospect experience, which allows prospective clients to easily connect their accounts, upload documents, and view their plans digitally.
Since that launch, more than 50% of the prospective clients using the tool have become clients. Equally important, we made our processes more efficient, enabling our advisors to spend more time doing what they do best — helping people achieve financial security — instead of doing data entry.
I recently sent my financial advisor a holiday card thanking him for making me a leader who listens. He impacted my career more than he’ll ever know.
How are you making the time to deeply listen? Let me know.