In recent blogs I have commented about the wisdom at this time, to seek feedback from your clients – how are they perceiving the service your practice (their adviser) is providing. Are they satisfied? And while this might seem to be ‘best practice’ 101 and surely everyone’s doing it (I can assure you, they’re not), the other critical element to every business which also needs to be checked in on regularly is your staff.

They are invariably the front line operating between client and adviser, they’re very often the first contact a client has with your practice and they’re very well known to clients. In fact they are the third highest KPI as rated by clients through our confidential client survey service (CATScan). They are for many – the firm’s best kept secret.

Staff are also the single largest expense item for firms. According to our most recent analysis (Future Ready VIII) staff salaries/benefits comprise, on average, 61.1% of the total expenses for a practice; 44.2% of its revenue. I’m sure you’ve got my drift – they’re important! And given that most are still working from home, or at the very least, operating on a different work basis than pre-COVID, when was the last time you checked in on them – to ask – how are they? Are they keeping well, managing to adjust, balancing work and family commitments?

Unfortunately seeking feedback from staff in an objective, professional way hasn’t been a strength of Australian practices in the past, with a mere 6% contracting an external third party to undertake this on their behalf, while one in four (26%) advise that they actually don’t seek it at all.

The message here is a simple one – most of your staff will be under some strain/stress (whether they truly recognise it or not) and, as an employer, isn’t it incumbent on you to do something about it? And, by seeking their feedback (objectively and confidentially) you’ll not only be demonstrating that you care about them, but you’ll also be gaining insight into how well (or not) they’re travelling at this most challenging of times. Surely a no brainer!

During the course of the last two years we’ve surveyed over 1,000 staff of professional practices and  although these were undertaken in a pre-Covid environment, I’m sure you’ll find some of our key findings of interest and value to you as you seek to manage staff remotely and in isolation. Here’s what these staff felt that their employer could be doing better:

a) Communication:

    1. Most staff would appreciate an update on the progress of the firm towards its overall business objectives. Many favoured the concept of a six monthly ‘state of the nation’ address by the owner/s. And, in fact, at this particular time, I’m sure many staff will also be thinking about their company’s future – will it actually survive the Covid period (or should I start to look for other jobs now). A little reassurance will go a long way!
    2. Ensuring you maintain a regular meeting schedule (even if it is ‘virtual’ for now) will allow you to ‘read the room’ and gauge the morale of your people. These meetings will also allow you to reinforce the life/work balance message and encourage your staff to take regular breaks during the day and to stop working after normal times (without feeling guilty).
    3. Communicating through video – doesn’t have to be a slick, professional production. It just has to be done.
    4. Informal chats/catch ups over a ‘how’s things going’ call – especially important in these times. You’ll also be able to ask about their family and to even say thank you for the obvious interruptions they’re experiencing to their normal home life routine.

b) Job clarity:

      1. Ensure everyone has clearly defined and agreed performance objectives, which have been suitably adjusted to reflect the reality of Covid.
      2. Conduct performance reviews – just as your staff are continuing to work and perform for you, surely they deserve for their boss to review their performance? In any time of crisis it’s inevitable that some people will step up, take on an extra workload or responsibility.

c) Recognition:

    1. Incorporate staff news into your regular meetings. Make it a regular feature of each meeting. A positive testimonial from a happy client or recognition of a staff member putting in an extra effort for example – a simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way.
    2. Saying ‘congrats or ‘well done’ (personal as well as professional achievements) is a great trait of effective leadership. It’s also simply a nice thing to do!
    3. Ask your staff what they think went well over the last quarter as well as what didn’t. Again, this can be made into a permanent feature of your regular staff meetings. But please be aware – once you ask for feedback, it’s incumbent on you to take action as may be then required.
    4. It’s important to reward the behaviours you’re looking for and this doesn’t always need to be linked to a salary increase or bonus. Sometimes an off the cuff reward (movie tickets for the family or dinner reservation for two at that new restaurant for example) will be equally appreciated.

Finally, as has been stated by many over the years – never waste a good crisis. Today’s environment may very well present an opportunity to recruit from a competitor who hasn’t perhaps been quite as proactive or thoughtful as yourself in managing its staff through Covid.

For your consideration.

Terry Bell.