Why Practice Owners Need to Focus on Their Staff

Many businesses have changed the way businesses operate during the past year or two, with some members of staff working from home as a matter of routine. However, just because staff are out of sight, it doesn’t mean they should be out of mind, as mentoring and sharing business goals should continue.


Making Staff Mentoring a Priority

Melbourne adviser and Principal of Australian Wealth Solutions, Sam Zervides, urges advice practice owners take stock of their approach towards team mentoring and the impact this can have on the future of their business…


Practice owners need to make a major commitment to the mentoring of their planners, paraplanners and support staff.

I’m sure many practice principals will be offended by the headline and opening paragraph of this article as they have coaching and mentoring programs already in place. Unfortunately, the reality is a great number of these are nothing more than lip service or regular tick and flick exercises.

When undertaken correctly, mentoring is one of the most beneficial activities a business principal can implement that has a significant and positive impact on both the well-being on the individual mentees, mentor and the practice itself.

When it comes to mentorship programs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, to be effective they must include a number of basic principles and core activities – and these are paramount.

Firstly, the mentor must take a sincere and genuine interest in each and every member of the team and care deeply about them as individuals – and therein is the reason why so many fail or are unsuccessful.

Without honest-to-goodness care – and truly caring about an individual’s wellbeing happiness, personal and career aspirations – it will be a waste of time and do more harm than good.

Mentoring involves deepening the personal relationship with each team member and fully grasping their goals and aspirations. This relationship is built on mutual trust, respect and communication that involves both parties meeting regularly to discuss progress, issues, exchange ideas and setting goals.

I make it a point to meet one-on-one with each member of the Australian Wealth Solutions team at a frequency, place and time that suits them and makes them most comfortable and at ease.

Once there is rapport, the next step is acknowledging their strengths and suggest steps for growth that are in keeping with personal interests and professional/career goals.

The process is never rushed, but giving a gentle push when the time is right encourages taking that next step in their career. Offering support along the way is also important and when the individual is ready, I challenge them to take on activities or roles that take them beyond their comfort zone.

One of things that really heartens me is when members of the AWS team take an active role in guiding and counselling others and in doing so, take the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, and show their readiness to take on greater responsibilities.

Another reason for the downfall of mentoring programs is when open communication is thwarted rather than celebrated. This leads to reluctance by individuals to share their next great idea or concept!

It is important to remember that although we may be excellent business owners and advice practitioners, we don’t always have the answers and should welcome and encourage new ideas from within the team.

Hence having an open mind as a mentor encourages mentees to contribute and have a say knowing that their suggestions are appreciated and will be considered seriously.

Finally, mentees aren’t the only ones who benefit from mentoring relationships. One of the most profound rewards of being a mentor is the satisfaction of helping others.

Reflecting on the past year, without doubt mentoring during the pandemic was instrumental in alleviating the feelings of isolation and detachment by the AWS team as the result of being required to work away from the office.

Right now, having access to a mentor can provide a much-needed boost for the wellbeing of your team – many of whom have experienced distress and tension due to working remotely and the new work environment.

Also, the more personal the connection, the more likely they are to share details of their actual concerns and state of mind. It can make a truly profound difference in these challenging times and beyond.

In closing, the team of planners, paraplanners and administrative staff are collectively central to everything we do; and if you ask any client or alliance partner what they like most about AWS, I know for a fact that dealing with the team is one of their highlights.

This is an achievement that could not have been accomplished without mentoring!

Sam Zervides is Principal – Australian Wealth Solutions and immediate past Victorian President – Institute of Public Accountants. Issued by Australian Wealth Solutions.


Let’s Consider The Staff

Based on the work the team at Business Health has conducted with advisers for more than 21 years, the firm’s principals Terry Bell and Rod Bertino share their five key observations for attracting, developing, and retaining the right people…


Observation 1

Not surprisingly, salary costs have always comprised the largest part of the expense budget for practices. And this hasn’t really changed much over our 21-plus years. In a similar way, clients haven’t wavered greatly in their views of your people – they have continued to rate ‘staff’ highly through our CATScan client surveys.

Accepting that people are so important to the business, doesn’t it make sense that the owner should regularly check in on how they’re travelling and how satisfied, or not, they are at the moment? The finding from our latest analysis, that one in four practices had not undertaken any form of staff feedback in the last 12 months, raised a few red flags for us.

Observation 2

Sharing business goals with staff has been a very big mover over the years, with an increasing number of owners being willing to do so. No doubt the trend to transparency and openness has been accelerated by the uncertainties of the last few years and the desire for staff to have confidence in their employer’s longer term plans.

Observation 3

When competition for ‘good’ people is as strong as it is today, the practice must be able to clearly articulate its Employee Value Proposition – to address the question, why should I work for you (and not one of your competitors)? Maybe the question has even moved to – why should I work in the financial advice sector at all?

  • Employees are less patient, more aware, mobile and they have alternatives!
  • Reports from HR specialists over many years have confirmed that remuneration per se, while important, wasn’t necessarily the highest on the employee’s ‘need to have’ list. Flexible working arrangements (including working remotely full-time), culture and job security have been consistently ranked above remuneration.
  • Today’s employees are also interested in the attitudes and values of employers (both large and small). How do they feel about equality, diversity and opportunity, ethical investments and community for example.

Observation 4

WFH is now destined to remain a permanent feature of our modern workplace for many practices…

While Covid may have forced practices to transition to ‘working from home’ in 2020, it’s generally accepted that this shift was already underway and WFH is now destined to remain a permanent feature of our modern workplace for many practices. Easy to say perhaps (especially when there was no other option last year), but it will require some changes – to not only the work processes and flows, but also to the attitude and philosophy of every person on the payroll. Fortunately, there are a lot of experts who will be able to guide you through the challenges WFH will throw up.

There are at least two other WFH opportunities, worthy of note:

  • Employers now have access to the whole marketplace when looking for new staff, who could very well be interviewed, appointed and employed without actually meeting the boss and/or colleagues in person.
  • Similarly, the target market for new clients has gotten much bigger.

Observation 5

‘Never hire someone you can’t fire’ was the philosophy, borne out of much experience, of one of our favourite US clients. Another was – ‘hire slow, fire fast’. The point underlying these views was – appointing people to your firm is an extremely important function. Not to be rushed or poorly implemented. And, if per chance, the employer made a poor selection choice they should move quickly to remedy the position.


  • Incorporate a staff satisfaction survey into your business routine. Confidential, benchmarkable and independently managed is best. Keep an open mind to what your staff tell you and respond accordingly
  • A clearly documented onboarding process for new staff members will become even more important going forward as it will allow the principal to establish the appointee’s role, as well as the overall working environment and culture of the practice
  • As ‘old school’ as it may seem, clearly documented and up to date job descriptions, which are supported by regular performance appraisals are as important and relevant as they have ever been. Perhaps even more so today. We’re hoping that the ‘Then/Now’ comparison isn’t the start of a trend
  • If you don’t already do so, prepare an annual benefits summary for each employee outlining all of the benefits the employee is receiving, including the non-monetary benefits such as professional development, flexible working hours, WFH strategy, bonus programs, equity sharing, community involvement and family engagement. Wherever possible, put a dollar cost against each of them. The sum of all of these is the real benefit you’re providing – if it’s competitive, reinforce it regularly. And, if it isn’t?

Accepting that WFH is here to stay for many, here are a couple of the most important areas which will need to be proactively addressed if the practice is to be successful in employing a WFH strategy in the longer term for its staff:

  • Don’t ease up on the communication. In fact, it’s possibly more important than ever that the regular team meetings, work in progress updates and social events are continued

  • And, while technology facilitated communication is effective, nothing can fully replace the benefits of in person meetings, so video is a crucial tool. As are strategies to bring staff together into a central location for an update or training day on a regular basis

  • IT security – ensure you have appropriate cyber, password protection, insurance and training (initial and ongoing) in place. With more people working remotely new cyber threats will continually emerge and all businesses (large and small) must be satisfied that they’re adequately protected

  • ‘State of the Nation’ discussions – we encourage every business owner to take the opportunity to regularly update the staff on the business. Is it on track to its plan? Has anything changed to the business’ big picture? What about the owners?

Business Health is an independent organisation specialising in customised advice and solutions to the financial services industry.


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