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How Michael Perlmuter keeps it simple for his employees at Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010
With the economy showings signs of taking another dive, you’ve decided it’s time to hold a town-hall meeting with your employees. It’s a good way to communicate, but you’ll do more harm than good if you load up the agenda with too many topics.

“If there are five or six things to discuss, you’ve waited too long,” says Michael Perlmuter, managing principal at the 53-employee Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC.

“In my previous career, I was a trial lawyer. So I have a little experience getting up in front of people and speaking. When I spoke to a judge or a jury, I believed that there were two or three key messages that you want to leave the audience remembering.”

When you’re leading a business through a challenging economy, it may seem like you could hold a town-hall meeting every day and still not cover everything you want to talk about with your people. But if that’s how you feel, you’re not taking the right approach.

“There is such a thing as information overload,” Perlmuter says. “You lose your effectiveness if you stand up every third day. People say, ‘I’m not learning anything. I’m not getting anything out of these meetings. I’m not going to show up.’”

Take the time to boil it down to two or three things that really matter to your people. Focus on those select topics and make sure people leave the meeting with a good understanding of them.

For Perlmuter, that means getting everything that he wants to say down on paper before he says it.

“Just because something is scripted doesn’t mean it isn’t from the heart,” Perlmuter says. When you don’t get your thoughts on paper, you tend to drift from one area to another and you end up creating less clarity and more confusion.

“When you stray from the three key messages you want to leave your clients or professionals with, people walk away from the meetings with more questions than they came to them with,” Perlmuter says.

As important as being concise is, you also need to strive for consistency in terms of how you speak to your people and the tone you use to speak to them.

“When an organization has a manager who is overreactive, the whole organization becomes yo-yo-like and volatile,” Perlmuter says. “The employees are tiptoeing around the organization because they are not sure what the next day is going to bring. Where there is an organization with consistency of message and culture, the employees have a much more comfortable feeling that everything is going to be fine on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year basis.”

You need to keep in mind that your people are looking to you for information, but they’re also looking to you for cues on how to feel and how to behave. Your best bet is to try to maintain an even keel and stick to what you do best.

“When events happen when you’re young, they seem to be catastrophic and they seem to be world changing,” Perlmuter says. “As you get older, events happen and you say, ‘This happened two years ago, four years ago, six years ago. … Let’s not get caught up in the noise. Let’s look at the plan. Are we on track to accomplish that plan? If we are, fantastic. If not, what changes are we going to make now to get us back on track to meet that plan?’”

Perlmuter likens it to the approach that Cedar Brook takes with its clients to help them map out their financial futures.

“Everything we do here is goal-based,” Perlmuter says. “If things are not goal-based, you can’t tell whether the action is good or bad. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go. You have to know where you’re taking the business. Once you know, you can make a determination if the action you’re taking furthers it or not.”

Explain yourself

Michael Perlmuter can’t give a client great service at Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC if he doesn’t know what that client is looking for. But the 53-employee firm’s managing principal says many companies in the financial services industry try to do it anyway.

“The worst thing a financial adviser can do is have a client walk in the door with a check for $1 million and say, ‘I’ll take this money, and I’ll invest it, and I’ll tell you what happens next week,’” Perlmuter says. “That’s the worst thing they can do, but that’s how the majority of our industry works.”

So what’s the leadership lesson in all of this? It’s the fact that you need to do more than just tell your employees what to do. You need to explain to them why they are doing it and what the end result should be.

“If you walk around and people raise questions or raise concerns and they never hear back from you, they are going to stop raising issues,” Perlmuter says. “They are just going to say, ‘Everything is fine because I’m wasting my time voicing my concern anyhow.’”

So what’s the right way to handle a client with $1 million?

“Say to them, ‘I can’t invest this money until we have a meaningful conversation about your goals, your desires and where you want to be in one year, five years, 10 years or 20 years,” Perlmuter says.

Explain yourself

Michael Perlmuter can’t give a client great service at Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC if he doesn’t know what that client is looking for. But the 53-employee firm’s managing principal says many companies in the financial services industry try to do it anyway.

“The worst thing a financial adviser can do is have a client walk in the door with a check for $1 million and say, ‘I’ll take this money, and I’ll invest it, and I’ll tell you what happens next week,’” Perlmuter says. “That’s the worst thing they can do, but that’s how the majority of our industry works.”

So what’s the leadership lesson in all of this? It’s the fact that you need to do more than just tell your employees what to do. You need to explain to them why they are doing it and what the end result should be.

“If you walk around and people raise questions or raise concerns and they never hear back from you, they are going to stop raising issues,” Perlmuter says. “They are just going to say, ‘Everything is fine because I’m wasting my time voicing my concern anyhow.’”

So what’s the right way to handle a client with $1 million?

“Say to them, ‘I can’t invest this money until we have a meaningful conversation about your goals, your desires and where you want to be in one year, five years, 10 years or 20 years,” Perlmuter says.

How to reach: Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC, (440) 683-9200 or www.cedarbrookfinancial.com