Skills that make a difference

Monday, 01 July 2013
Val Cox introduces Alchemy, one of a set of new business support tools available to STEP members.

There has been an assumption that STEP members have always been solely interested in technical development. However, the nature of business has changed dramatically over the past few years. Ask many STEP members and they will say they need a broad range of skills and knowledge to progress, just as much as any other businessperson or professional.

STEP members have certainly started to signal this in questionnaires, debates and conversations. For example, at the 2011 Branch Chairs’ Assembly, we held a brief workshop that split a gathering of senior members into two groups and asked them to identify any non-technical areas that were vital to the running of a private client practice. Without conferring, both groups listed the following in common:

  • challenging the assumptions of clients;
  • managing conflicts between family members;
  • active listening and questioning skills;
  • developing rapport and empathising;
  • commercial awareness;
  • communication skills, both written and verbal;
  • teamwork and team leadership;
  • networking; and
  • analysing and interpreting client behaviour.

Both groups also listed ethical awareness and professional judgment as being key. This shows that a balance is needed between skills for managing client relationships, managing a practice team and developing the business.

In a 2009 survey the top five skills identified by STEP members as key were: communication, especially the ability to explain complex issues to a client;

  • active listening;
  • developing rapport;
  • demonstrating empathy; and
  • questioning to elicit client needs.

Many of these skills are key for both managing the client relationship and handling the management or leadership of an organisation.

STEP’s Offshore Evolution report (2009) highlighted the need for more advanced interpersonal skills as the trend turns to quality of practice, services delivered by smaller, independent outfits and the return of the trusted advisor. It is about the skillset required to develop lasting, quality relationships with clients and their families. The acquisition and demonstration of certain interpersonal skills was predicted to differentiate the trusted advisor from the rest.

According to one senior participant, ‘Clients are looking for a new type of private client advisor who has a grasp of general business understanding, cultural issues and people issues.’ This is not the one-dimensional technical expert you might expect a TEP practitioner to be; this is the rounded and multi-skilled TEP. This kind of comment was echoed by other professionals, with another participant saying: ‘There is a lot of work to be done in the industry on confidence and trust, which require softer skills.’

Clients are looking for a new type of private client advisor who has a grasp of general business understanding, cultural issues and people issues

As part of STEP’s focus on CPD for this year, we will be providing a range of resources, including a management and leadership online performance support tool in partnership with Alchemy.

Alchemy Performance Assistant (formerly Alchemy for Managers) provides practical, down-to-earth information and methods that every TEP can access on the job, when they need it. It is a just-in-time support tool that provides functional answers, advice, strategies, tools and methods (developed by more than 100 subject-matter experts) that you can put into use on a daily basis.

This management tool provides solutions to real-life situations. This means STEP members can get the immediate benefit of solving the problem, but it also embeds the learning in a deeper way than, for example, going on an external course, because it is being applied in real-time.

Looking at the 40 most accessed topics on the tool, one can see that building rapport, teambuilding, listening skills, commercial skills, dealing with difficult people and conflict resolution are all there. This should be an excellent tool, accessible at the click of your mouse, to develop that broad range of non-technical skills that mark out the trusted advisor.

Alchemy Performance Assistant will soon be available via the STEP CPD Centre. Visit

Author block
Val Cox

Val Cox is CPD Manager at STEP.

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