Skylight’s Director of Accountability - A Catalyst to Financial Planner Success



Skylight’s James Hailey, talks about his role as Director of Accountability in the Cleveland Office and how financial planners are reaping the benefits of Skylight’s forward thinking views on accountability.

Tell us about your role and how it fits in?

I’m one of two Directors of Accountability at Skylight and I see my role as helping planners to improve their practices and their success.  Skylight has always offered planners comprehensive support and training and what I offer is an additional component to this package.  It’s a relatively new role (I started last fall) and reflects Skylight’s focus on proactively building an accountability and performance-driven work culture. 

Unlike the old-school view of “accountability” which is heavily associated with consequences for failing and micromanaging, we align with the new-school view which is about empowering people and helping them have a game plan.  I see my role as helping planners to clarify their goals, getting them to own their activity and take the initiative so that they can get the outcomes they want.  For this, I’m very focused on asking them the right questions so that together we can get to the crux of any challenge or obstacle.  Then we can figure out a plan so they know what they need to do now, what they need to do next and that how they respond to the situation is what matters most.

What is your approach to goal setting?

If you don’t own your behaviors and habits, then things can snowball so I start by getting planners to break things down into meaningful goals and measurable metrics.  It’s all about making those goals come alive by, for example, looking at what it takes on a daily basis.  We also provide systems and dashboards so that they can easily capture, view their progress and take immediate action to enhance outcomes.

We also want them to have a game plan that ties in not only with their professional goals but also their personal goals. There’s no expectation of them to compartmentalize the two which is I think is quite a novel approach.  We help them to find the sweet spot between both areas of their life and get them to connect the dots.  For example, if their eyes are fixed on an incentive trip to Aruba, we’ll work with them to ensure they stay focused on that goal but are still able to make commitments in their personal lives.

You are now in this role over half a year, where do you feel you are adding the greatest value?

I feel that through coaching I have been able to help planners fill in gaps, build their confidence and steer them so they can figure out ways to resolve issues. I try to make sessions comfortable for them and am working on building close interpersonal relationships with them.  Planners come to me feeling overwhelmed, distracted or afraid to do something.  Rather than falling into “telling" mode, I focus on asking critical questions to get to the root of the problem - questions like “What are you struggling with”, “What’s getting in your way”, or “What can we work on today to help change things”.  It’s all about getting the planners to take the initiative and come up with solutions to get the outcomes they want.

What kind of response are you getting from planners?

I’ve found that they are very open to it.   They are happy to discuss their feelings and see me as a partner in and catalyst to their success.  Some want to use me as a sounding board and most want help but want to keep some level of autonomy.  There are those that want close “supervision.”  For others, pride gets in the way and they won’t wave the flag to say they need help so it can take some time and gentle encouragement.  I’ve received feedback that my support has been very helpful.  For example, when a case has been cancelled or not approved they come to me feeling dejected.  I’ve helped them to get “back in the saddle” by encouraging them and supporting them emotionally so that their “bad” day doesn’t turn into a “bad” week. 

It can also be relatively straightforward things that I help out with like calendar planning.  I was able to help one of the planners recently prioritize her calendar into what was important to her, help her work out a system to move cases along, dedicate time to cultivate relationships and deal with red tape tasks.  This proved really helpful for her.

How do you help new financial planners?

What’s great about working with the new starts is that I am getting a connection with them early on – right from pre-boarding and this seems to be paying off in terms of production.  The dashboards I provide them with come in really handy so they can get real-time feedback on where they are, identify critical areas to address and help them with their game plan on a daily basis. 

A challenge that I commonly come across with new producers is getting them to understand what it means to work in a production-oriented type of profession and to be a business owner.  Then, once they grasp this they must understand that they have to execute.  Some have come from positions where they have been told what to do, when to do it and have been slow to get off the ground.  I help them to take responsibility for their goals, focus on deadlines, budget their time via their calendar and be creative in finding new prospects.  No matter what area of their practice we are working on, it’s all about teaching them to be the “initiator”.

Thanks James for sharing with us! 

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