Ironstone has the privilege of working with phenomenal advisory teams across the country, and ‘Hear From Your Peers’ shines a spotlight on a specific topic and gives industry professionals a chance to weigh in with their unique perspective.
In this edition, we hear from four advisors from across the country that actively participate in a successful Ironstone-led study group that meets in person quarterly and collaborates online throughout the year.
What challenges were you facing as an advisor and business owner that led to your desire to join a study group?
Mark: For years I have been frustrated with my takeaways from the different RJ conferences and meetings. I would envision optimistic plans with my newly acquired ideas from the various meetings, but soon afterward, my aspirations were stuffed somewhere in a file or in my mind where they would stagnate until the next conference. Later I learned to narrow my list of focus items, but then thought it might be better to brainstorm with a small group to share our individual thoughts in order to create some synergy.
Jeff: I was facing a lack of organization and structure to my practice, and knew that collaboration with others could provide invaluable insight and built in accountability.
Richard: I have to admit, when I was first invited to join the study group the idea was not all that exciting to me. I knew it was going to take time and I would have to tell others about my practice and felt insecure. I would have to tell them everything I do and that was very uncomfortable for me. I felt like the other members would figure out that I wasn’t growing as fast as I should and that all of my ideas we just hot air. My production isn’t as high as the others in the group and I had an inferiority complex not to mention I have always been a loner. I thought of so many reasons to say ‘no thank you,’ but fortunately I said yes. I said yes because I like and respect the person that invited me. I had only met one other of the 4G members so my wall was up and my fear full blown.
Rod: I have been in study groups in the past and have found that the synergy & accountability of a study group can lead to growth as an advisor and business owner at a faster rate. Having Andrea leading our study group discussions keeps us focused on what is important to grow our business. Also when you have areas of frustration from your business you can get perspectives from others in your study group that could provide you with options to solve your issues.
What were you hoping to get out of the study group prior to participating?
Mark: I simply wanted to “de-brief” following a conference and collate a few actionable items and then be held accountable for those tasks to which we would each commit.
Jeff: I knew from the quality of the individuals in my group, and Andrea’s leadership, that I would be getting great ideas from men who walk the walk. I also knew that it would be an open forum to discuss challenges and that I would receive honest feedback and not a bunch of hot air.
Richard: Personally, I want more out of my career and my practice. I want to be the best and I want to surround myself with motivated professionals that believe in taking care of our clients better than anyone else.
Rod: To make sure on a quarterly basis I’m focusing on key areas of the business.
What have been the most beneficial aspects of participating in the study group?
Mark: Our group has been far more open and sharing than I had originally thought. I believe a small number of serious advisors will expose themselves to criticism and advice from the others. I don’t think we would be so vulnerable in a larger group or meeting.
Jeff: The accountability factor is huge – when we check in for calls I have to be prepared and have done the work or everyone will know it. I also like that we adopted a common structure for ongoing evaluation in using the book Traction. This helped me narrow my focus on critical issues impacting my practice.
Richard: In my opinion it is the coaching aspect of the study group that brings it all together. There is an accountability piece that is easy to let slide if you don’t have a coach. The lack of accountability can quickly turn conference calls and meetings into BS sessions with everyone leaving telling themselves, “I am good”. Without a coach it is easy to make excuses, to skip the hard stuff, to tell yourself that you are doing everything “well enough”. Andrea’s nickname is the Velvet Hammer and it fits. Andrea listens and watches as we work through our meetings and then she gently and quickly points out excuses or areas that need improvement and our peers hear it all. In my mind, if I don’t act, I am just being lazy and my peers will know it. I call this positive peer pressure. I don’t want them to think I am not doing my best.
Rod: Having a group that is open to freely discussing their situation; good or bad.
What results or outcomes have been surprising to you?
Mark: The results and outcomes have been very good, but I can’t say that I am surprised. Many advisors are very competitive and goal oriented; our group is no exception. None of our four group members wants to be the weak link, so there is a bit of added pressure in a group atmosphere, but I think we all knew that going in.
Jeff: I have been pleasantly surprised by the progress I have made on issues and challenges that have been hurting my practice for years. The very first issue we tackled was job descriptions and the entire group, and Andrea, were a huge help. Don’t even ask me how I operated for so long without having job descriptions, but I did. I would attribute this to my amazing ability to delay making tough decisions until I am afraid of getting beat up (which could happen in this study group, at least verbally by Andrea and Rod!) The study group was a big factor in forcing me to move forward.
Richard: I have since learned that being part of a small study group is a great thing. We have built strong relationships and have shared a lot of personal experiences with each other. I now have four new friends, which are also my peers so they are familiar with the issues of our industry. We can help each other leap over issues in a matter of minutes compared to what would take me hours and/or days to work through. I have also learned that even though my production is not as high as theirs I still have valuable ideas to share with them and they are happy to share their valuable ideas and experiences with me. We have learned to trust each other and that is a great feeling.
Rod: We have developed a long lasting friendship within the members of the group. Last January we all took a trip to Mexico together and as I write this 3 of the wives are on a trip together in Destin. This could be costly though…..
What would you say to a fellow advisor that’s considering participating in a study group?
Mark: I would recommend committing for a year and see if it works for you. Being a small group is helpful with time schedules and also so that each member has time to hear and be heard. For me, being geographically diverse makes good sense since different areas may have different approaches to our business. Also, if you form a group with similar size practices, then you will have similar business issues and complexities. Finally, I believe it is a good idea to hire someone to be your facilitator or coach. Andrea has been excellent for us because she can deal with the advisor egos and keep us in check. She is also very organized and holds us accountable and on track and that is what we needed.
Jeff: Be careful in selecting the members of the group – look for advisors who are succeeding in areas that you may be struggling in. And be ready to give and receive open and honest feedback. If you are going to be overly sensitive, the study group will be a waste of time.
Richard: I believe that joining this study group put me on the right path for that to happen and I highly recommend that if you want to elevate your practice you should give coaching and a study group a try.
Rod: I would recommend to start with a small group first of 3-5 advisors. I have started several times groups of 10-15 and after a couple of years it was a struggle to find others to lead the group and the synergy doesn’t stay at a high level. Keeping it small helps people to feel comfortable in discussing their issues. We don’t need help with our successes we need help with our weaknesses.
Next Steps from Ironstone
As we enter Q4, there is no better time of the year to create, join or re-engage with a group to act as your strategic catalysts for year-end planning and forecasting for the new year.