Six Steps to Building a Top-Notch Learning Program

It’s crucial that you and your team keep up with the constant pace of change in our industry

By Jonathan Powell

Key Takeaways:

  • A learning program should be planned and formalized to focus on precisely those issues that will yield the greatest results.
  • Identify the specific areas on which both you and individual staff members will focus (for example, strategic alliances or group presentations).
  • Determine the particular events or classes you will attend or groups you will take part in—and make attendance mandatory.
  • The most successful people are often good at only one or two things—but they are very, very good at those one or two things.

You know how important it is to keep up with the constant, sometimes overwhelming pace of change in our industry. That goes not just for you, but for your entire team and staff.

Having a learning program in place within your firm can help you do exactly that. But how do you go about creating a learning program that is embraced by your entire organization and generates effective, practical results “on the ground?”

Consider the following six steps to take full advantage of your learning opportunities.

1. Identify areas for development and areas of strength. A learning program should be planned and formalized. A hit-and-miss approach will yield only hit-and-miss results—something you can’t afford. Given the costs and time requirements of training, you want to focus on precisely those issues that will yield the greatest results.

First consider any weak links. What are the areas that could benefit from special attention? Consider any plans or business strategies that you have been avoiding because they seem too difficult or time-consuming. If you determine that these are important for delivering a world-class client experience and for building the business you want, incorporate them into your learning program.

That said, don’t emphasize solely your weaknesses. Play to your strengths by identifying those areas in which you have seen substantial successes. We often find that the most successful people are actually good at only one or two things—but they are very, very good at those one or two things.

Because your staff is integral to your efforts to build a world-class business, include them in this analysis. Where do people need help in addressing challenges? Who excels at particular tasks? Would it be worthwhile to enhance these strengths even further?

2. Identify specific areas of focus. Examine each area for development and each area of strength to determine the specific skills, knowledge or experience you or your staff must acquire in order to address those areas.

Let’s say, for example, that you are encountering a challenge in forming an effective strategic alliance with an attorney. Scrutinize the specific areas where additional knowledge or skill might improve your outcome. For example, you may need to take a class in interviewing or listening skills. Or you may find it useful to work with a consultant who can provide additional insight into attorneys’ practice management challenges so that you can fine-tune your recommendations.

Likewise, you may be experiencing significant success in attracting qualified prospects through your group presentations. What specific knowledge would help you be even better at this? The answer might be a public speaking class, membership in a Toastmasters club or work with a consultant who specializes in highly effective presentations.

If you have a staff member struggling with a particular technology tool, a one-day class could solve the problem. Or if you have someone who excels at client interactions yet who is primarily doing administrative work, consider how you might offer training that would help that staffer move up to a position where his or her talents could be fully leveraged.

3. Identify specific learning events. Once you’ve identified the specific areas on which both you and individual staff members will focus, determine the particular events or classes you will attend or groups you will take part in.

Because any program will take valuable time away from your business, be sure to establish in advance whether it has a high likelihood of delivering the learning experience you need. Spend a few minutes on the phone with program providers to find out exactly what they will be offering. Ask for references (the names of other financial advisors or their staff members who have taken part in the same program) and get their opinions. Then decide whether the training will add real value to your practice in terms of addressing your weaknesses and strengths.

4. Map out the learning program. Make a chart of your activities over the next 12 months. Post this in your office, so that all staff members are clear about exactly which issues are being addressed, how and when. If you have an electronic intraoffice calendar, enter the activities on it.

In addition to documenting your activities over the next year, map out all ongoing activities, such as membership in an expert study group or a staff learning group. List the name of the group or activity, the participants and the upcoming dates. These should likewise be entered on your calendar.

5. Take part in all learning activities. Make your attendance—and that of your staff—a top priority at every scheduled learning opportunity.

6. Apply what you learn. Systematically integrate your new knowledge into the services you offer to your valued affluent clients.


A learning program can do wonders for your ability to achieve virtually any goal you set out for yourself—from attracting new and higher-quality clients to forming business-building relationships with other professionals to effectively navigating new technologies and regulations. By taking a planned, formalized approach, you’ll get the maximum benefits from your learning program and all other efforts to put knowledge into action in your business.

About the Author

Jonathan Powell is a managing principal at CEG Worldwide, LLC in San Martin, California. Working with many of the nation’s top financial firms, he enjoys helping financial advisors transform their professional and personal lives by implementing CEG Worldwide’s research-backed principles.