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The new culture of advisory success

How cutting-edge advisors embrace innovative business cultures—and have fun.
Deep listening

The top “action point” of Abacus Planning Group's culture is: Listen, and then listen. “We want to be the best listeners in the world,” says Cheryl Holland, who founded the Columbia, South Carolina firm in 1998. “We work on active, deep listening—not just to clients but to each other.”

That explains the Mickey Mouse ears that every new hire gets. Also in the welcome bag: a Yoda key ring, symbolizing “Seek mastery,” another hallmark of the Abacus culture; Dan Sullivan's gratitude journal; and a mirror to remind the team member that “it's not about me” and to always think through the lens of clients and their goals and worldviews.

At Abacus, which has $890 million in assets under management, there is a culture of celebration (“32 babies and counting!”) and relaxation. Every staff meeting starts with a breathing exercise followed by a giggle. “Laughter—what it does for your heart and mind is amazing,” Holland notes. The firm's 25 team members plus rotating interns are also encouraged to take a break after 90 minutes—to walk around the block or connect with a friend. And the first thing the leadership team does at quarterly off-site meetings is to rate the healthiness of the culture.

Woo woo? Maybe. But clearly something's working. Advisors visit Holland's headquarters (bean bags on the floor, art on the walls, lots of natural light, no individual offices) every year to study a culture that has made Abacus, as Holland puts it, a stronger firm with better decision-making. The firm has also become a destination for young talent.

“I like a flat culture. I like the idea of lots of voices, lots of input that goes into the direction, strategy and culture of a firm. Rather than leveraging one person for a firm to be successful, I think it's much more important to have a team,” says Holland, 57. “This is us. We’re a little eccentric. Everyone is uncomfortable in the beginning. There are 30 people in the room and everyone's laughing? A lot of people don't like the flatness. There's a lot of ambiguity. Some people want to know exactly what their job is every day. A lot of people prefer clarity and direct lines of command. All I can say is we’re 1,000 percent authentic.”

It's the deep listening that drives so much of what Holland does. In every mini team meeting, time is carved out to role play active listening for five minutes. Holland herself uses something called the Nine Second Rule when listening to clients. After a client answers a question, she waits nine seconds before speaking.

“Just count to nine. It's amazing what comes. Usually it's a worry: ‘I haven't told you but our youngest child was diagnosed with MS’ or, after talking about their portfolio, ‘I really didn't understand what you just said to me.’ That's great feedback,” adds Holland. “The richness of the relationship has gotten so much better, giving them the space to process. There's a safeness created around those nine seconds.”

After every client meeting, there's a debrief check list. First on the list: Were we listening?

Article Source: thinkadvisor.com

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The new culture of advisory success

How cutting-edge advisors embrace innovative business cultures—and have fun.
Deep listening

The top “action point” of Abacus Planning Group's culture is: Listen, and then listen. “We want to be the best listeners in the world,” says Cheryl Holland, who founded the Columbia, South Carolina firm in 1998. “We work on active, deep listening—not just to clients but to each other.”

That explains the Mickey Mouse ears that every new hire gets. Also in the welcome bag: a Yoda key ring, symbolizing “Seek mastery,” another hallmark of the Abacus culture; Dan Sullivan's gratitude journal; and a mirror to remind the team member that “it's not about me” and to always think through the lens of clients and their goals and worldviews.

At Abacus, which has $890 million in assets under management, there is a culture of celebration (“32 babies and counting!”) and relaxation. Every staff meeting starts with a breathing exercise followed by a giggle. “Laughter—what it does for your heart and mind is amazing,” Holland notes. The firm's 25 team members plus rotating interns are also encouraged to take a break after 90 minutes—to walk around the block or connect with a friend. And the first thing the leadership team does at quarterly off-site meetings is to rate the healthiness of the culture.

Woo woo? Maybe. But clearly something's working. Advisors visit Holland's headquarters (bean bags on the floor, art on the walls, lots of natural light, no individual offices) every year to study a culture that has made Abacus, as Holland puts it, a stronger firm with better decision-making. The firm has also become a destination for young talent.

“I like a flat culture. I like the idea of lots of voices, lots of input that goes into the direction, strategy and culture of a firm. Rather than leveraging one person for a firm to be successful, I think it's much more important to have a team,” says Holland, 57. “This is us. We’re a little eccentric. Everyone is uncomfortable in the beginning. There are 30 people in the room and everyone's laughing? A lot of people don't like the flatness. There's a lot of ambiguity. Some people want to know exactly what their job is every day. A lot of people prefer clarity and direct lines of command. All I can say is we’re 1,000 percent authentic.”

It's the deep listening that drives so much of what Holland does. In every mini team meeting, time is carved out to role play active listening for five minutes. Holland herself uses something called the Nine Second Rule when listening to clients. After a client answers a question, she waits nine seconds before speaking.

“Just count to nine. It's amazing what comes. Usually it's a worry: ‘I haven't told you but our youngest child was diagnosed with MS’ or, after talking about their portfolio, ‘I really didn't understand what you just said to me.’ That's great feedback,” adds Holland. “The richness of the relationship has gotten so much better, giving them the space to process. There's a safeness created around those nine seconds.”

After every client meeting, there's a debrief check list. First on the list: Were we listening?

Article Source: thinkadvisor.com

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The new culture of advisory success

How cutting-edge advisors embrace innovative business cultures—and have fun.
Deep listening

The top “action point” of Abacus Planning Group's culture is: Listen, and then listen. “We want to be the best listeners in the world,” says Cheryl Holland, who founded the Columbia, South Carolina firm in 1998. “We work on active, deep listening—not just to clients but to each other.”

That explains the Mickey Mouse ears that every new hire gets. Also in the welcome bag: a Yoda key ring, symbolizing “Seek mastery,” another hallmark of the Abacus culture; Dan Sullivan's gratitude journal; and a mirror to remind the team member that “it's not about me” and to always think through the lens of clients and their goals and worldviews.

At Abacus, which has $890 million in assets under management, there is a culture of celebration (“32 babies and counting!”) and relaxation. Every staff meeting starts with a breathing exercise followed by a giggle. “Laughter—what it does for your heart and mind is amazing,” Holland notes. The firm's 25 team members plus rotating interns are also encouraged to take a break after 90 minutes—to walk around the block or connect with a friend. And the first thing the leadership team does at quarterly off-site meetings is to rate the healthiness of the culture.

Woo woo? Maybe. But clearly something's working. Advisors visit Holland's headquarters (bean bags on the floor, art on the walls, lots of natural light, no individual offices) every year to study a culture that has made Abacus, as Holland puts it, a stronger firm with better decision-making. The firm has also become a destination for young talent.

“I like a flat culture. I like the idea of lots of voices, lots of input that goes into the direction, strategy and culture of a firm. Rather than leveraging one person for a firm to be successful, I think it's much more important to have a team,” says Holland, 57. “This is us. We’re a little eccentric. Everyone is uncomfortable in the beginning. There are 30 people in the room and everyone's laughing? A lot of people don't like the flatness. There's a lot of ambiguity. Some people want to know exactly what their job is every day. A lot of people prefer clarity and direct lines of command. All I can say is we’re 1,000 percent authentic.”

It's the deep listening that drives so much of what Holland does. In every mini team meeting, time is carved out to role play active listening for five minutes. Holland herself uses something called the Nine Second Rule when listening to clients. After a client answers a question, she waits nine seconds before speaking.

“Just count to nine. It's amazing what comes. Usually it's a worry: ‘I haven't told you but our youngest child was diagnosed with MS’ or, after talking about their portfolio, ‘I really didn't understand what you just said to me.’ That's great feedback,” adds Holland. “The richness of the relationship has gotten so much better, giving them the space to process. There's a safeness created around those nine seconds.”

After every client meeting, there's a debrief check list. First on the list: Were we listening?

Article Source: thinkadvisor.com

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