What are the challenges faced by advisors in hiring and attracting the right talent, given that you are competing for the same pool of talent as banks and national distributors which are better known brands?
This challenge is absolutely real not only while hiring but also in retaining them. However, the advantage that team members have with an advisory firm vis-a-vis banks and NDs is the extent of learning, broader job profile, more inclusive interaction with the clients, much larger opportunity to learn and personal rapport with the business owner. While the monetary compensation may be more in banks and NDs, an advisor has to make sure that the work experience given to a team member in his company is much richer. This could be done by giving the team member more responsibilities and enhancing the depth and breadth of the work as she displays capacity to absorb existing responsibilities. Our experience with hiring and retaining team members indicates that job satisfaction, relaxed working environment, expanded responsibilities early in the career and good learning opportunities will always take precedence over minor monetary compensation package gaps.
Give us an overview of your HR philosophy and approach.
We aim to give the very best of monetary package in the industry. Once that part is dealt with, we try to give a rich variety of experience to our planners – financial plans, implementation of plans, investment research and portfolio preparation in addition to handling clients as early in their career as possible. Planners work in teams with an experienced planner who is a team leader so that hands-on continuous training is available. We also try to send maximum team members for various interactions and seminars that AMCs hold so that their learning is enhanced and endorsed. We have a policy that whenever a team member attends any major event or interaction outside the company, she has to make a presentation to all others in the company the very next day. This enhances the presentation, public speaking and attention-to-details skills of the team members to prepare them better for the corporate culture.
We do not compromise on ethics at any stage of our client handling and we feel that it goes down very well with our team members. Our motto of ‘Our Values Your Trust’ amply reflects this and the team members are very clear right from the beginning as to the direction that they are to pursue. Thus, our approach of rich professional experience, ethical work, continuous training and opportunity to enhance their professionalism at every stage results in an overall good experience for our team members.
Who is your inspiration or role model in shaping your leadership style and HR philosophy? How have they influenced you?
The country’s best HR management organisation – the Indian Army – has been the sole inspiration and role model for shaping my leadership style and HR philosophy. Concepts like small-team operations, buddy pair system (a planner stands-in for another in case of the other one’s temporary absence), operational freedom early in the career, strong written and laid down systems and processes, high level of self-discipline and discipline in dealing with the clients, strong physical and cyber security systems and no compromise on ethics and values are the tenets of our HR philosophy. As far as leadership style is concerned, I prefer a hands-off approach with continuous feedback and personal accountability of each and every person. I have no issues with delegating authority as much as the team members can absorb comfortably while they also remain aware that no authority can be without corresponding responsibility.
In a business which is affected severely by market volatility and regulatory changes, is it possible to have a consistent HR policy? Have you rationalized/downsized staff or cut salaries in response to the many changes that have taken place in the environment?
I do not think that consistency of HR policy has anything to do with market volatility and regulatory changes. In fact, I am sure that, as the environment becomes tougher to operate, opportunities for professional and value-based outfits like ours increase exponentially. The HR policy and philosophy that we follow increases in relevance as the industry matures. Over the past year or so, we have increased the staff, increased our base salaries at all levels and introduced more types of monetary incentives. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for quality team members at planners and management level.
How do you incentivize them? Do you think monetary incentive is a good way to motivate your staff? How do you ensure that such incentives are aligned to client interest?
Incentives are primarily given as motivation for better work. I have my own doubts that monetary incentives are the best or the only way to motivate team members. However, it has its own place in the overall motivational scheme of things. Thus, words of appreciation for a job done well, impromptu get-togethers, age-old technique of appreciating in public and counselling in private and small talk with team members, in addition to monetary incentives, are the best ways to motivate team members. Monetary incentives to incentivize team members would always be in clients’ interest when they are given for better productivity, client service or meeting rather than for things like selling more, pitching for commission sake, etc.
What activities do you undertake to train and inculcate soft skills, technical skills, etc.?
Attending seminars, conducting in-house presentations, doing research on various topics and making a write-up on it, writing articles for periodicals, presenting plans and portfolios to clients, making the team members attend con-calls and frequent impromptu technical and professional discussions within the company are some of the ways we follow to inculcate soft and technical skills.
Most of your team is client facing. How do you train your team members to be customer centric?
I’m sure it all flows from the company philosophy and values. We have our laid down a Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and we’re very truthful about what we convey to the clients. If we’re wrong or have faulted somewhere, we own it up and fulfil the monetary loss, if any, that the client has faced due to our actions. I emphasise to our team members that we win only if the client wins. Hence, all the team members are clear from the very beginning that if anything is done in good faith, mistakes and faults do not matter and will be taken in stride by the management. If you speak the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said the last time! Once everybody follows such an attitude with conviction, client centricity is automatic.
How do you retain your team members? Have you faced attrition challenge?
We feel that good monetary compensation and good HR policies have led to a good level of team member retention in our company. Nevertheless, attrition is a way of life in corporate world and we do face it at regular intervals. It could be due to the team member wanting to move on or the person no longer meeting company’s requirements. We have tried to lessen the impact of such attritions by forming small teams led by a team leader and the buddy pair system so that temporary vacuums could be easily handled. Written down systems and processes which are practically followed also lessen the impact of attritions and get the incoming team members quickly into their groove. However, we’ve been lucky in a sense that we’ve always had a ready pool of fresh planners wanting to join our team. Exit interviews are taken very seriously by me since the feedback helps us to better the way we work and enjoy in the company.