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Crisis management is about viewing the bigger picture – Martin Green 

20 April 2020

Continuing our Team Leadership in the current crisis interview, Martin Green, paraplanning manager, Chadney Bulgin tells Rob Kingsbury how the firm has been tackling the lock down, given it was an entirely office-based operation, setting realistic productivity targets, keeping up morale and the unfortunate need to furlough staff

Chadney Bulgin was running a traditional office-based operation when the ‘lock down’ was announced, which meant all members of the advice, paraplanning and administration teams were new to home working, Martin Green, paraplanning manager explains.

“But what I had been introducing was more flexible working hours for the paraplanning team, because they time charge for their services. This meant half the team did have laptops and we had set up our systems to facilitate this flexibility, having a formal location for electronic signatures for example, use of pdf software and so on.”

This infrastructure could be lifted and used at home by staff, he says. “We then quickly set up new ways of working ­, such as taking photos of written documents and putting them into the system, which meant we could get information out to the team as quickly as possible.

“As luck would have it, in January we had also started using Microsoft Teams amongst the paraplanning team for training and screen share when talking through technical issues. This straight away gave us the means to communicate individually and as a team during the lock down.

“People aren’t used necessarily to working IT from home – particularly when there is no-one beside you to quickly ask – so to start with it was a learning curve but everyone has adapted well to the situation.”

TikTok and other communication channels

Enforced working from home for a team that is used to the work and social interaction of an office-based business, means having face-to-face calls is particularly important, Martin says,

Now, twice a week the paraplanning team has a video conferencing call, via Teams, where everyone gets together to go through workflow and work items “but it’s about quite light-hearted and sometimes silly things, the kind of banter and chat we’d have in the office if we were there.

“When you have a large group on screen at any one time you have to manage the conversation. As a team leader you have to take control to avoid cross-talking and to get the most from the sessions,” Martin adds.

Day-to-day, the team makes use of the Chat facility of the Teams software, to stay in contact as well as to ask questions and clarify points of paraplanning. “In the morning as we all log on there will be an exchange of greetings and some joking around, then everyone will settle down and the working day will start. Chat helps people get a quick response if they have a question or need clarification on how to find something. A question goes up from someone and before you know it there will be 5-6 responses as the team come back to them.

“It’s important to recognise that there can be some lonely times but we’re working hard to keep up morale and keep people motivated.”

One way the business is doing this is through a Chadney Bulgin community chat set up. “It’s where we can come together and do things that aren’t related to work and where we can upload anything. One lady in the admin team has been amusing us with her TikTok uploads. It’s been great for keeping us laughing and dealing with this enforced situation and the fact that we are isolated from one another.

“Fortunately, the paraplanning team has all worked together for some time and there is a great camaraderie amongst the team and they have responded well to the situation.”

Furloughing staff

Team spirit has been especially needed as unfortunately, the business had to furlough some staff members. “It wasn’t something we wanted to do but management did the projections on potential business flows and how they would impact revenues if the crisis goes on for set periods of time. There was an immediate and considerable impact on the mortgage market, for example. What we wanted to do was keep as many people in work as possible.”

Of the people furloughed, one supports the paraplanning team by physically producing bound reports etc, a job which was totally office-based; the other is a trainee. “In the current situation, where all our attention has to be on maintaining the service to clients, it was felt that we could not spare the time required to train someone at the moment,” Martin explains.

Workflow and productivity

Chadney Bulgin operates both a pooled paraplanning team and a one-to-one paraplanner to adviser approach. The firm currently uses Adviser Office and for the pooled team, paraplanners access a list of the work needing attention in the back-office. On the one-to-one side, the list is filtered to the particular adviser. Martin oversees both approaches. “We are prioritising new business at the moment.”

It’s important that staff know they might not be as productive day-to-day as they were in the office, Martin says. “Connectivity is an issue, for example. Not everyone has the same level of broadband as we do in the office, which can slow things down. I know this has been quite frustrating and aggravating for team members.

“From a team leader perspective, it is important to recognise these kinds of restrictions and that output from the team might not be the same. Equally important is to be aware that team members who aren’t producing as much as they were in the office might be worried that that will reflect negatively on them. They might try to produce more by working longer hours, which can affect their focus and their morale, particularly if they are sacrificing family time in the process. We have to realise that people are under unusual pressures outside of work as well. You have to reassure them that realistically there is only so much they can do. Communication and staying in regular contact is essential.

“More than ever, being a team leader is about taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, look at what can be done and what is being done and to work with people to ensure they are able to achieve to the best of their ability given the unusual circumstances in which we are currently working.”

See also:

Team Leadership in the current crisis – Aram Kupelian

Team Leadership in the current crisis – Jonny Stubbs  

Professional Paraplanner