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Leading Through Change: How to Motivate and inspire Teams into 2021

Across the course of 2020, a multitude of articles have been released sharing leadership strategies to help us navigate through uncertain and trying times. Leaders across organizations have devoured this guidance as they found there to be no playbook for 2020 and craved expert insights. But now, as we turn into 2021, leaders are asking themselves, how can I do more than just progress into the new year; how can I bring a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration to my team?

We asked Kim Sharan, former CMO and President of Financial Planning and Wealth Strategies at Ameriprise Financial, current board director, and consultant, to join an intimate roundtable discussion with senior financial services leaders to explore exactly that. What strategies can we bring with us into 2021 to break free from leadership fatigue and burst into 2021 revitalized.

To start, Sharan suggests we shift our mindset around work/life balance and move towards the concept of designing a work/life integration. Especially in times when there is no clear break or boundary between these two worlds, it’s necessary to reframe our approach and adjust our viewpoint. For example, as these two worlds meld into one, it is critical that we take intentional breaks. As we all lose control of our own calendars and impromptu conversations have morphed into scheduled calendar invites, it’s important to pay special attention to time management, plan your day, and be intentional about it. Schedule time blocks for activities that would naturally be happening as you commuted or walked from the bathroom back to your desk. Schedule walk breaks, nourishment breaks, and especially time to think. Science shows that some of our best work comes when we’re unintentional, and we need to create white space to ignite our best creative.

Sharan also proposed that to succeed in this new environment, we don’t need to create a completely new leadership playbook, but should consider revisiting the basics and reframe them in today’s world. Referencing Covey’s ‘Big Rocks’ paradigm shift, Sharan encouraged attendees to focus on the big rocks and get ultra clear on the most critical priorities. Only when you have a clear line of sight to, and alignment on, priorities can you truly differentiate between productivity and busyness.

Aligning on priorities is just the start of the battle. Accompanying those priorities with a strong project plan and project management is crucial to success in a remote work dynamic. Sharan emphasized the importance of taking the time to develop a clear, clean, accessible project plan including tasks, owners, milestones, timelines, and goals and metrics. Bringing together the right cross-functional team, creating a reasonable recurring meeting cadence, and keeping a maniacal focus on consistent communication are all critical components of bringing the plan to life.

So, give yourself permission to take a beat, go for a walk, find a way to connect with your team members on a more personal level, and reset for 2021. Leaders will need to continue to strike a delicate balance of moving the business forward and supporting our teams – and we need a clear head to hit the ground running.

The Advisory Firm of the Future: A Case Study

We’ve written about the advisor of the future and the fundamental shifts in both client and advisor attitudes, behaviors, and relationships (not to mention the recent shift to remote-first work) that are driving adoption of new technologies for client engagement. And in order to meet expectations as the client engagement model evolves and stand out from the competition, firms need to be forward-thinking in how they support their field.

Not long ago, we were lucky enough to get an inside look at a visionary firm launching cutting edge programs to support their force of over 3,000 independent broker dealers and corporate RIAs. Amy Webber, President & CEO of Cambridge Investment Research, sat down with us to share how she and her team are getting Cambridge-affiliated advisors future-ready, today.

First, Webber shared the three things she sees as critical for advisors to embrace to be successful, today and in the future:

  • The advisor of the future needs to stay innovative and leverage digital engagement heavily.
  • They need to use technology to do the right things and delegate tasks that are not value add.
  • There must be a relentless focus on personalization and customization.

The ‘New Century Council’

Cambridge is ultra focused on making sure their advisors are enabled to meet the three requirements outlined above. They have a ‘New Century Council’ made up of progressively minded advisors and corporate team members, including Webber, that meet regularly to discuss tools they’ll need to be successful into the upcoming decade.

Several years ago, the Council raised texting as a channel that would be critical to success. Not long after, they began exploring solutions and started using Hearsay Relate. Webber herself is a Relate power user and shows strong executive sponsorship by texting with the field. “Every generation is texting. We pushed ourselves to think about how Relate could be used by the home office to communicate with the field, and started the journey believing we had to lead by example,” she explained.

Webber shared a story that demonstrated both the power of their onboarding strategy and how Camridge uses texting to build relationships with personal messages. One of their top producers was resistant to texting, so Webber personally helped get him set up and told him she expected him to send her a text once a day. When he missed a day, she checked in to see how he was doing. This showed him how his clients feel when they get that type of personal connection from him. Incidentally, Webber shares her Relate number with any of her 3,000 advisors who ask.

Though their advisors are all independent, Cambridge carries the cost of Relate for two reasons. First, it’s a critical tool that makes advisors efficient and productive. Second, and perhaps more important, it’s essential for risk mitigation. They weren’t willing to take a chance that compliance requirements weren’t being met.

Centralized Contact Service Center

Many advisors join when they’re embarking on the process to build their own small business and need or want to leverage the infrastructure of a larger company. In addition to offering Relate to all advisors, Cambridge also offers a centralized support center. By joining Cambridge, they get technology, practice management, products and services, compliance, regulation, and—for a fee—a centralized contact service center at a scale they couldn’t build by themselves.

The contact service center, a team of virtual office assistants, is one of Cambridge’s most popular offerings, for both solo and larger offices. The support staff’s pictures go up on the advisor/agency website, they talk to clients, pick up delegated activity in Relate, and clients know them as part of the team. This extended team helps the advisors deliver that level or personal and customized service that clients expect without the heavy lift of increasing headcount. It’s perfect for advisors/agencies who don’t have the bandwidth or desire to staff and train a support team – and enables them to hit the ground running.

A Blueprint for Success

With a continuing eye toward future trends, Cambridge has ensured that their advisors are ready for today and the future. When COVID struck, they were prepared to handle the 100% increase in text messages in the following month, thanks to the foresight of their New Century Council and Webber’s leadership in getting Hearsay Relate in place well before the crisis happened. And while they had a 5-year plan for digital transformation that now must be steeply accelerated, their ability to adapt and lead by example will serve them well.

Career Tips for Difficult Times: Founders’ Perspectives

The Wall Street Journal held a virtual Jobs Summit recently where Clara Shih, Founder & Executive Chairwoman of Hearsay was interviewed alongside Kenneth Lin, Founder & CEO of CreditKarma. Michelle Ma, WSJ Assistant Editor, Live Journalism, dug into what they learned from the 2008 recession, which was the time period both Shih and Lin founded companies.

Over ten years later, here we are again. As CEOs who have weathered difficult times and hired their fair share of candidates over the years, they had some excellent advice for those who find themselves unemployed, like so many Americans today.

If you missed the live event, here are the highlights.

Every job teaches a skill

Lin suggested that every job can build your skillset. He shared that he once had a job as a dialer for stockbrokers. This involved a stack of index cards with names and phone numbers on them and dialing all day with the goal of getting those people on the phone. Though it may have seemed like a trivial role, he learned how to be more confident on the phone; a valuable skill.

The lesson? Even a job you may not be excited about is teaching you something. If you end up taking a position that’s not perfect to put food on the table, look for what you can learn and make the most of the job you have. Then when you interview for your next role, present what you learned.

Hustle and other top skills in demand, today and beyond

Everyone knows times are tough and what was relatively easy 6 months ago takes real work in today’s virtual, budget-conscious world. That’s why when Clara’s hiring these days she’s looking for someone with hustle, which she defines as someone who knows how to get creative, get things done, and take risks. Number two for Shih is empathy/EQ and knowing how to connect with people in a remote setting.

Lin shared that passion is one of his key criteria. When times are tough, what pulls people through is when they love what they do. He said he knows sometimes it’ll just be a paycheck, but if you have a choice, pick the job you love.

In terms of skills based on experience (hard skills), Shih suggested that the ability to connect with customers, writing code/engineering, and being able to write (content, copywriting, etc.) are always in demand.

Mine LinkedIn for Hidden Career Advice

Have you been using LinkedIn to re-establish dormant connections and see how the people you admire got where they are? If not, it’s time to get your LinkedIn hustle on.

When Ma mentioned that Clara has said LinkedIn is a blessing for job-seekers, Clara enthusiastically talked about the ability to look at the career paths of people you admire and see how they’ve gotten to where you want to be—what did they study, what certifications do they have, what kind of experience do they have? Take this opportunity to map the next steps you want to take in your career. Then invest in yourself and get the skills you need to take the next steps.

Valuable advice from a mentor

Randy Komisar, a prominent Silicon Valley attorney, executive, and author was a professor of Shih’s at Stanford. Like many college seniors, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do once she graduated. When she asked him how to think about her career, he told her that if she wanted a big career in tech, she needed to build up generally valuable skill sets, including these three things:

Ship a new product end-to-end: conception, design, prototype, iteration, shipping, launch, continuous lifecycle
Customer experience skills (sales, account management, etc.)
Learn how to manage people

Resume vs. referral: what’s more powerful?

Someone in the audience asked how many people are hired based solely on a resume versus a referral. Shih and Lin agreed here; referrals are preferable. Shih pointed out that this speaks to the importance of networks (another point in favor of re-connecting if it’s been a while!), while Lin mentioned that referrals have higher close rates. Shih also noted, however, that a referral only gets someone in the door; they still have to earn the job. Both do extensive reference checks and interviewees speak with multiple people within the company before being offered a position.

Keep going!

This has been a hard year and there are lots of smart people out there looking for their next role. Aside from the excellent advice they shared for job seekers, Shih and Lin also shared the truth behind start-up life, which can serve as excellent inspiration to keep going through the tough times. A start up founder and CEO, during a recession or not, gets knocked down over and over again. CreditKarma almost ran out of money three times; Shih cleaned the office along with her CEO/product manager/designer/you name it duties. For 99% of start-ups, it can take years of grit and determination before making it. The big secret? Just keep going!

We currently have a number of open positions at Hearsay, so take a look at the Careers page and let us know if there’s a match.

Lincoln Financial Increases Social Program Adoption and Inbound Web Traffic

It’s always a thrill when a client partners with Hearsay to achieve success through social selling. It’s even more exciting when they’re willing to share their story to benefit others, and Lincoln Financial Group’s Distribution Marketing team agreed to do just that recently.

Lincoln Financial Group provides advice and solutions that empower people to take charge of their financial lives with confidence and optimism. The Lincoln Financial Distributors division markets and sells Lincoln-manufactured variable and fixed annuities, life insurance and investment management products through financial advisors, financial intermediaries and sales professionals.

The Distribution Marketing team wanted to take a strategic approach to drive demand for their financial services in an authentic way and decided social selling was the right approach. They knew that delivering the right technology would be critical in driving adoption from their field team and the business outcomes they desired. Ease of use, efficiency and a strong foundation of compliance were also ‘must haves.’ In addition, they knew they needed a comprehensive program to guide onboarding and beyond. To ensure they met all of their goals, they were looking for a true partner, not just a technology vendor.

Lincoln selected Hearsay Systems as their partner and deployed Hearsay Social to 350 wholesalers. This required close orchestration between the Lincoln Financial Distributors marketing leaders and the Hearsay team, including tailored training and an instrumental digital toolbox.

Learn more about the solution by downloading the full case study.

“The transparency we get in our partnership with Hearsay and how Hearsay is able to perfectly serve our industry has made it one of the easiest decisions we’ve made. We are looking forward to moving forward in rolling out a CRM integration next!” –Scott Carlisle, AVP Digital Marketing & Collaboration for Lincoln Financial Distributors Marketing 

Lincoln Financial Distributors’ strategic approach and dedication to set the program up for success from the beginning is starting to pay off. Their onboarding efforts have resulted in a 300% increase in adoption of the social selling program, which has led to more than 114K impressions and 1.8K clicks across social posts. Perhaps most impressively, the company has found that upwards of 50% of inbound traffic to the Lincoln Financial website was driven by wholesalers (up from 28% at program launch).

“Hearsay has made growing our social program simple, providing amazing tools to get our sales folks engaged. Through usage of their dynamic campaigns, pre populated content and ROI tools, our social program has grown over 300% in one year!” –Kiersten Shank, Digital Marketing Consultant 

Download a PDF of the full case study here.

Three Lessons in Resilience from a Very Special Guest

We were lucky enough to have Jane Chen speak at our mid-year kickoff recently. As the co-founder & CEO of Embrace Innovations, Chen’s journey of developing a ground-breaking infant incubator for approximately 1% the cost of traditional incubators was one riddled with obstacles and setbacks – and her deep resilience to persevere through each challenge is truly inspiring.

The company’s mission and approach to design thinking necessitated a profound vulnerability and authenticity, but what was truly motivating was Chen’s stories of the roller coaster that is being the CEO of a start-up. It soon becomes clear that Chen’s got what they call ‘grit.’ At every big dip in the journey, whether she initially felt like she could do it or not, she somehow manages to persevere.

Chen highlighted three lessons that can help us all develop and foster a deep strength and resilience during this still tumultuous time.

Lesson #1: Let Go of Attachments to Outcomes

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. So goes the translation of a line from Scottish poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse.’ If one thing has been and remains true through the pandemic, it’s the certainty of uncertainty. Chen’s story reminded us that uncertainty is a part of life.

Though stresses may be amplified right now, many of the challenges we face come from getting caught up in fear over what might happen in the future or over indexing on a specific outcome.

At one point in the life of Chen’s company, Philip’s Healthcare was poised to acquire it. This would allow them to not only continue operations but expand their life saving mission by multitudes. Then a week before they were to sign the paperwork she got a call…the deal was off. Chen was devastated and convinced her company was going under. Within a week, through an amazing turn of events, Marc Benioff of Salesforce offered to fund Chen’s life-saving technology, and the company lived on.

Immediately following this week of intense highs and lows, Chen decided to take up surfing and went on her first 10-day silent meditation. These two solitary practices highlighted the impermanence and constant change of everything—the waves, the wind, her thoughts, her feelings. It was a profound awakening. “I realized…how attached to this one outcome I had become for Embrace’s success, that even the thought of the company shutting down, threatened my own sense of identity. Through that, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life, which is that we are not defined by our external successes or failures,” she said.

Lesson #2: Feel All of Your Feelings

Close your eyes and picture a CEO. What do you see? It’s probably something similar to what Chen imagined a CEO should be: composed at all times. In fact, isn’t this what we all strive for at work? We want to be our most professional selves and exhibit a sense of stability and calmness. But, we’re all human beings and imperfect – and vulnerability in leadership is essential to leading with purpose.

Chen found this out after spending some time in India getting her company off the ground. The scenes she saw regularly at hospitals were heartbreaking and left her feeling sad, angry, and anxious. In the early days, she repressed those feelings, but “one day they just bubbled up to the surface, I started crying in a team meeting, and afterwards I was so mortified, I was so embarrassed. But my head of operations came to me later and he said something I’ll never forget. He said to me, “Thank you so much for being vulnerable, because when you’re vulnerable, it gives us permission to be vulnerable as well.””

Chen’s remedy to ensure she’s feeling all her feelings these days is mindfulness. “Mindfulness is just becoming fully aware of our thoughts and feelings, whatever arises for us, and then to accept them without judging, without labeling, without needing them to go away, just fully accepting and honoring how we feel…Every emotion is correlated with a physical sensation that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just is. And the research shows that an emotion lasts no longer than 90 seconds. So if we can just be with that emotion for 90 seconds, if we can surf the wave of the emotion as it crests and dissipates, then we allow ourselves to process that emotion.”

Lesson #3: Choose to See the World through the Lens of Beauty

We’re at a point in history where it’s easy to feel like things are not pretty. Pandemic, civil unrest, climate change, and a constant 24-hour news cycle, can easily lead one to see the world through the lens of doom and gloom. But we have a choice in how we process the world around us, and there is beauty to be found.

Chen has been through this before. “During my years in India, I could really feel myself becoming jaded. I was working in this very corrupt government system. I was surrounded by death and poverty on a daily basis. Then one day I woke up and I realized that for every horrible thing that I saw, I saw something equally beautiful. All the people who had come together to help us in this mission, doctors in these very poverty stricken areas, who would see patients all night, purely out of the kindness of their hearts. And the most beautiful thing I got to see was the love a parent has for their child. It is the purest and most selfless form of love in the world.” She points out that seeing the beauty doesn’t mean ignoring the bad. It simply means choosing to see the full picture, and leading with the beauty to improve our resilience and well being.

Conclusion

For those of you who practice meditation or mindfulness, the advice Chen shared may be second-nature. But that’s the beauty of it. These are three simple, powerful principles that anyone can practice to be more resilient and feel better. They can be applied to any circumstance, on a daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) basis. And if you’re not sure, you don’t have to take Chen’s word for it. Apply the scientific method; try it out and see if it works for you.