As I write this blog, the COVID-19 pandemic is finishing its eighth month. Recently the US Surgeon General was on Good Morning America. He urged everyone to abide by “the three Ws”: wash your hands, wear your mask and watch your distance. I thought, “Not today. I’m alone in my home, coaching by phone, helping financial advisors who are struggling to stay engaged and proactive in their business.”
On these calls, I hear advisors say the same things every day: “I didn’t think this would last so long. I’m feeling burned out and frustrated with everyone and everything. What can I do to get my attitude under control?”
A Marathon, Not a Sprint
It seems like ages ago that our firms closed their doors and we scrambled to set up home offices. We weren’t sure what challenges lay ahead, and the market took our breath away in those first intense weeks. But while we don’t like having to cope with a disaster, human beings tend to do well in a crisis and to adapt quickly to massive disruptions. Most of us rise to the occasion, get creative, work hard and push through. I continue to be impressed—though not surprised—by our industry’s resilience through the pandemic so far.
Importantly, we’re now in a different phase, when we face our biggest challenge: How do we develop the new habits and patterns that will sustain us in a long-term disruption that has no clear-cut end point? It’s one thing to react to an immediate setback; it’s another thing to galvanize the will and execute the discipline to redesign an entire business model one process at a time.
Here are three insights from the behavioral sciences that will help you stay the course, redefine your business and set yourself up for success—no matter how long this disruption lasts.
Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst
Advisors who were seduced by the hope that things would get back to normal “by the fall” or “by Christmas” held off on mastering the virtual meeting and engaging their clients through digital technology until weeks or even months after their more disciplined colleagues had evolved.
A study of prisoners of war during the Vietnam conflict revealed that US captives coped much more resiliently and maintained a more positive attitude when they kept a reality-oriented perspective on how soon they were likely to be released. Soldiers who reassured themselves that the end of their captivity was just weeks or months away found it difficult—and sometimes impossible—to sustain a resilient attitude when their imaginary deadlines passed with no relief. Those who accepted that their imprisonment was likely to last for a long time developed habits and internal resources that supported their ability to survive within the limiting conditions.
Obviously, our challenges during the pandemic are minimal compared to those of surviving a prisoner-of-war camp, but the lessons learned then can inform greater resilience today.
Plan for Next Week; Perform for Today
Advisors who plan ahead for how best to use their time are able to sustain higher levels of performance for longer durations than those who approach each day as a fresh start. By separating your intentions for the best use of each hour of a day from your attention during the day, you liberate a higher-quality vision for what you want to accomplish.
Because virtual meetings and scheduled check-in calls require coordinating each client’s availability with your calendar, it’s powerful to decide ahead of time how many calls you want to make each day and what you want to accomplish. By setting concrete goals and measuring how well you fulfill your vision for the day, you set up the conditions for greater success. It’s as though your goal keeps calling you to the next task: your past self speaks to your present self. This kind of planning is like hearing a personal trainer shouting, “Four more! Three more! Two more! You got this!!”
Never Waste a Good Crisis
I cannot recall a time when there were so many threats impacting clients simultaneously: a global health crisis, economic disruptions, natural disasters, widespread social unrest, upcoming elections, and reports of hostile countries trying to disrupt our politics and culture. Everyone is worn down emotionally, and many clients crave greater support and comfort.
As a result, this is a perfect time to rethink your practice’s client experience. Assume that clients will deeply appreciate your input and more frequent contact. Take even more time than usual to check in and explore how they’re feeling and what additional insights or support they need from you as their advisor. I’ve seen advisors create special educational programs for groups of clients and organize virtual gatherings among small cohorts.
This is both a time to become a character of greater significance in your clients’ lives and an opportunity to be more creative and even take some risks. The by-product of this kind of risk-taking is that it will serve to reenergize you about your work and to remind you of the quality relationships you have built.
Finally, this is also a time to remember that running a marathon is different than competing in a sprint. You have good reasons to be tired and even better reasons to intentionally practice self-care in order to sustain your efforts for the long haul.
For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit http://alliancebernstein.com/go/abai.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.