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What a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich can Teach Financial Advisors

  • By Andrea Schlapia
  • |
  • January 23, 2018

When I was a young girl, my second grade teacher performed a fun demonstration for the class regarding the importance of communication, details and process.

She had all the ingredients and utensils needed to make a standard peanut butter & jelly sandwich. So what could the class possibly learn from this somewhat silly exercise? A lot!

Our teacher asked us to list the steps to make the sandwich and she would perform them. What we didn’t realize is that she would follow each step very literally and execute exactly what we said. “Put the peanut butter on the bread?” She placed the whole, unopened jar on a now-flattened piece of bread. You get the idea.

Fast Forward to Today

Well, many years later and as a financial advisor coach speaking at conferences around the country, I sometimes use an adapted version of this demonstration in small groups as an analogy of how advisors can and should build a better practice with improved communication and systems.

With something as simple as a PB&J, you’d think advisors would be able to execute the steps for a very basic recipe. However, few teams get the details so clear that it’s even an edible sandwich!

My frequent partner in crime, Todd Gartrell of Raymond James, typically executes the steps that I wrangle from the attendees. (after we go purchase the goods, of course!)

“I love how this exercise showcases the old adage that you can’t assume anything.” said Todd.  “It clearly demonstrates the importance of communication. We look at the world so much through our own perspective of knowledge and bias and just assume everyone else gets it. Just like flying a plane, you have got to follow the check list and stick to the principles. While you can’t plan for every occurrence, solid process and communication allows everyone to perform at a higher level.”

“While the sandwich can be made with me spreading the peanut butter with my hand (because no one thought to tell me to use a knife) you may not want to actually eat it in the end.”

During this fun exercise, we see lots of ‘a-ha’ moments with light bulbs going off in the eyes of participants as they realize the similarities to what’s been happening in their office based on poor communication and processes.

Many advisors ‘just want my team to know what to do and I get so frustrated when they don’t do things the way I want,’ but they now realize that typically happens because team members were never instructed in the first place!

Here are key takeaways for this exercise:

• The devil is in the details: the smallest piece of information left out can cause a great deal of negative impact to a practice, project, team, client or individual.

• Clarity is everything when it comes to communication.

• Becoming aware of how you communicate is half the battle to better communication.

• Creating a step-by-step process and system also provides a measuring stick when it comes to performance feedback/coaching. If the steps are outlined and each individual is trained properly but are still struggling with success, they may not be the right fit for the team or you have gone beyond their skill set with that particular task.

• Additionally, today’s millennial workforce want more feedback and guidelines. This is a great opportunity to help them to be an integral part of designing process to ultimately understand expectations at a deeper level.

More importantly, here’s why the takeaways are critical:

• This is a high regulated industry that is getting faster and faster with information flow, client requests and technology requirements.

• The more internal processes that are designed together as a team the more it becomes seamless day-to-day operation and a well-oiled machine.

• Too often even a small team doesn’t know what the person right next to them does, and when someone is out sick, takes vacation or leaves the team it is a negative ripple effect with the gap in human capital.

• Don’t wait to document how your practice operates day in and out until after a team member leaves. Do it while everyone is on the team, do it together during a Development Day and refine / update frequently.

• All team members need to be part of the design process. The Subject Matter Expert (SME) of any particular task is ideal to draft the initial process, collaborate during Development Day to refine, beta test it for minimum 30 days (potentially 90 if an infrequent task) and refine as needed.


Remember, detailed processes and systems are not built overnight and take time and attention to do nail down in detail.

Is it worth it to design them? Well, if you want a well-run practice, cross-trained team members, a truly concierge level of client service and retention of both team and clients… yes, it’s worth it!

Need help nailing down your processes, systems or any other financial advisor firm strategies? Drop us a line and we can enjoy an exploratory call.

Are you just getting by or are you getting better? Get started today!

Author Bio

Andrea Schlapia, RCC™, HCS, sHRBP, is the Founder and CEO of Ironstone, which represents the culmination of her 20+ year career within the financial services industry. Her experience began as a financial advisor evolving into a consultant coach for advisors entering the field. This ignited her passion to support others through learning and development of best practices in order to achieve substantial results. To this end, she followed her desire into positions of senior-level practice management specialists for Dreyfus, Prudential, and DWS Investments prior to the realization of Ironstone.  Andrea’s focus is on practice management strategies to enhance and improve both business and personal life. Andrea identifies 4 key performance areas known as the Fundamental 4™, which are required to design, develop, and sustain a successful business. Through coaching sessions and speaking engagements, she captivates her audience with interactive, high-energy presentations which are built with “how-to” strategies resulting in real-world implementation for significant impact. Andrea has been featured in multiple publications and audio broadcasts as a specialist and distinguished spokeswoman in the financial industry.