Hiring & Talent

Unlocking The Power Of Innovative Hiring For Employee Retention And Success

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We talked with Yonhee about:

  • Her innovative hiring process and how it helps employees fully grasp roles and feel empowered to thrive from day one
  • How investing in your people creates positive ripple effects in the organization
  • A step-by-step training process that promotes lifelong learning and continued success

About Yonhee Gordon

Yonhee Choi Gordon, a seasoned CFP® professional, has been an integral part of JMG Financial Group’s success story since 1986. Renowned for her unique blend of expertise and empathy, Yonhee has established herself as a trusted mentor and advisor, fostering the financial and professional growth of clients and colleagues alike. Her innovative approach to hiring assessments has significantly reduced turnover rates, enabling the team to focus on executing business strategy and delivering the best service to clients. Yonhee’s dedication to investing in people and cultivating a supportive company culture underscores her commitment to building lasting relationships and fostering growth.

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):
Okay. Well, Yonhee, thank you so much for being here. I'm really looking forward to our conversation, especially about mentorship, and you have an incredible story to share. So before I take the stage, I'm going to hand it over to you just so you can share a little bit more about your background and your journey to where you got to today.

Yonhee (00:23):
Great. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for having me on this call. I look forward to the conversation. Having a journey to share is just a way of saying I'm a little seasoned and I've been in the industry a long time.

That was a very gracious introduction. But really quick, I've been with JMG Financial Group pretty much my entire career. The firm started in 1984. I joined the firm in 1986, so almost four decades ago, which I cannot believe. So I was a young naive kid when I started, and now here I am almost 40 years later. And to see the industry evolve the way it has has just been so amazing to me in all the different career opportunities. So I pretty much started as an entry-level clerk. I don't even know what my title was at the time. I think I was employee number 13. We were part of a broker-dealer at the time, and back in the ‘80s, early ‘80s, really a financial planner was associated with insurance sales. And so I actually got sucked into an insurance sales company. I didn't know it. They called it financial planning. I thought, oh, that sounds pretty interesting. My dad was a CPA, and so he kind of guided me in that direction too. But then I realized when I showed up for work, it was a class of people and they said, now we're going to study to take this test, and then you're going to take your licensing test and then we'll make a list of friends and family and we'll go visit them and sell them whole life universal life policies. And I'm like, oh my God, it was awful.

But anyways, that was my beginning and at the time I really didn't know what to do. I was actually thinking about going back to graduate school but just by chance I ran into an old Sunday school teacher of mine who also was Korean. And so he had just started at JMG, and we parted ways when I went to college and he went off to grad school and got his law degree and CPA and things, and then started in public accounting and then joined this firm. And just by chance, we met at a mutual friend's wedding. I was now a Sunday school teacher. I was playing for the children's choir. And so we just met there and he said, what are you doing? And so I told him and he said, why didn't you come work for me at this firm? I just joined and I just was so gun shy.

I was like, I really don't know what I want to do, so let me think about it. And so he did a great thing for me, so impactful for me. He wanted to give me a chance. And so maybe very non-threatening. He said, why don't you come to my home and I'm going to leave you some projects so you can work on them. And kind of like a six- to eight-hour day. He didn't pay me. I didn't expect it. And so I went there and he goes, do that for a couple weeks and see how you like it. Okay, what have I got to lose? So I went there. He left me a tape recorder. He left me a book of financial and investment terminology. He said, read this. Goodness, yes, he left me a Wall Street Journal, which I had never read before either. He left me with all the good stuff.

He left me a suitcase computer, which I don't know if many people on this call will know what that is but I'm really dating myself. It was maybe five inches big and it was green. And so that's what he did. And he said, work on this. So he gave me projects. I kind of had to learn on my own, and then I would come back the next day and he had changes for me. He recorded the changes and what I did wrong, what I did right. And he said, why don't you look at this? And so I learned that way. And so I did that. And so I said, okay, I'll give it a try.

So then I joined the firm. Now what I didn't realize until later is he was really trying to prepare me and give me some confidence because I was only 20 and I was also a minority. All the women in the office were white. None of them had college degrees. And so here I am, a young person, an Asian coming in. And so he didn't want me to be so intimidated and he didn't tell me this of course but that's what I realized later. So at least I came in knowing something. And so that's really my start. And so that has just had a profound impact on the way I have hired people and how I help people develop. And it's really kind of preparing them. And so doing these exercises, so when I started hiring people, I created these assessments at our firm. And so this way people who are interviewing and applying know exactly what they're getting into.

They know what the job is like, and that's why we have such low turnover. So I've had many careers here. I've been very fortunate to have many careers here. And as a financial advisor, I never imagined I would be a financial advisor. So eventually I got my CFP® and was client facing but really as a career, what a privilege to witness clients preparing for retirement and becoming their advisor during their retirement, and then toward the end of their lives, seeing how the estate plan is working and working with their families. Very sad for me when our clients passed away, and actually one of my longest tenured clients just passed away a few months ago and she was 95. But to hear her kids who are older than me say to me, what would my mom and dad have done without you guys in your firm?

Because of family, how everything works and all of that, that to me is truly what our profession is about. It's the relationship building and to just have that privilege to be with them at every stage of their financial life. So I think that's been, just as I look back on my career, that is such a rewarding career. And then in terms of my role now as chief operating officer and chief marketing officer, and throughout my career I've hired personally over 75% of our existing employee counts. So I was employee number 13. Now we have close to 100 employees. It'll be over 100 but the tenure at our firm is very long, and that's just because we spend so much time on developing our people. I think a lot of that has to do with being transparent with them and setting up expectations and guidelines and all those things, and all those things are what I learned from those who mentored me in my career here. I've been very fortunate.

Lauren (08:01):
I love that. Just to go back to that story you had earlier, I think that sometimes people think company culture is the food that's brought into the office or it's the benefit check, and that's part of it. A lot of what you see in those best places to work. That's part of it. But a lot of it is also being generous in your time. And I love how that story was connected with helping to uplift, educate, and be generous with time to be able to help bring you into the fold of things. So it's nice to see that and then how you've carried that through. And I want to hear more about that, because from the outside, I was just hearing earlier before we chatted, I see so many fun cultural posts and things your firm's doing, and you can feel the energy that doesn't happen naturally.

So I'd love to hear more about swinging back to this piece of hiring. Tell me more about that. I mean, how did you come up with this process? Is it through the job description? What's the hiring process and how are you really helping to uplift people so they feel like they can be a part of a firm where they've got support and they can grow along the way? So that's a lot to unpack but I love just to kind of hear the beginning phases of it and that hiring piece, since that sounds like something you're really familiar with.

Yonhee (09:21):
So it started when I had to start hiring staff, and I realized that a lot of them back in, I'm really sounding old but it was newspaper ads, no internet, no websites at all.

Lauren (09:39):
No LinkedIn.

Yonhee (09:42):
Word of mouth, who do you know?

Lauren (09:45):
Which is still a thing today, absolutely.

Yonhee (09:47):
Yes it is. And it was the start of recruiting search firms and things. But I also realized these candidates had no idea what jobs they were applying for. And so it's just more of I think trying to fill seats. And so I realized there's going to be a lot of turnover if people don't understand what they're getting into. And if we're just going to hire somebody because they're nice and they just answered the right questions, I said, I was thinking how I want to be able to convey what it's really like to work here.

This way you spend the time upfront because as people know who are watching this, turnover is expensive. And so you invest a lot of time in the onboarding and the training and the development and what a discouraging thing to happen when somebody leaves after a couple of months. So you really have to evaluate how you can better convey what it's like to work here and what the job entails. So that's why I started creating these assessments. So I took a little piece of the job and what they would be doing, because I always think there has to be two reasons to do something. And part of this for the applicant is yes, they get to see what they would be doing in their job, and they can determine if they like it or not. And then from my perspective, during that process, I get to talk with them.

I get to ask them questions. I want to see how they think. Our profession is about problem solving and communicating. And so I want to see how they process information, how they actually talk about it, how they can explain it. And during this process, there's so many things that can happen. You can see how they accept criticism, how are they going to accept feedback? Are they always going to say they're right? No, this is right. This is the way I did it. And so as an employer, you have to be able to assess that too. So I thought it was a wonderful way to assess all those skills. Two ways, both ways. So because of that, after somebody joins us, I have always asked them after three months, is there anything about the job that is a surprise to you? Because I want to know so for the next person—100%, nope, this is exactly what you told me I would be doing. And I remember this from the assessments.

Lauren (12:22):
It's clear expectation setting upfront.

Yonhee (12:26):
The other thing I do, and I started doing this a few years later too, is I had the candidates actually talk to people at our firm who are doing their position. So that's not like an interview. These folks don't have the authority to make the decision but they're doing the job. And so what better person to have that conversation with, for a young person to really hear what it's really like to work there and what are you doing and do you like it? And all these other things. I will say not everybody's the right fit for every company. So I think it's a great way for candidates to learn what they want to do and what they don't want to do.

Lauren (13:11):
That's right.

Yonhee (13:12):
And so I think it's our responsibility if we're doing the hiring to help them. And if it's not going to be the right fit, then I think it's always good to help them along and kind of give them ideas. And maybe you should be doing this, or maybe you should look at this type of position because of your skill set. I mean, look where our industry is today. We have so many different roles. We have so many different positions that we didn't have before.

Lauren (13:35):
So true. And there's complexity with how teams are built if they're around a target market or advising teams or senior advisor, junior advisory, what have you, so actually tell me a little bit more about that. So once you go, okay, this is the right fit. You put out as a firm, the energy, you're projecting the energy you want to be able to be that magnet for the right candidates to apply, you've got that assessment in place, both yourself and the candidate feel like it's a win-win and an offer is extended. What does that first 90 days look like? Or even to go maybe one step further, the organizational structure to make sure they've got that kind of mentorship in the short and long term to help bring them up. So I'd love to hear more on that side of things.

Yonhee (14:24):
So that process has evolved too, because we have more people now.

Lauren (14:28):
Oh my gosh. I know you said 100, right? Or something around that.

Yonhee (14:31):
I mean, before it was a part of my role, and I had a couple folks who had been here a long time, and they would help me to train the next people. And then as we continued to grow, it just grew exponentially. So then you have more people to help. The other thing I'll say is not everybody necessarily wants to be a client-facing advisor.

Lauren (14:54):
So true. Which is okay, and that's actually a beautiful thing. Not everyone can do the same thing.

Yonhee (14:59):
Exactly. And some of them don't have that skill set because there are different characteristics, attributes that an advisor has to have. And so what a great career path for somebody who really loves what they do and are really good at it but they just don't want to be out there having to work on business development or advising a client. Honestly, they probably don't want to get fired by a client or have to get new business. And that's okay. So we have evolved two positions to create a great infrastructure for our managers who are training. They know the job, so they're training our people. So to answer your question, for a new employee coming in today, they have a set timeframe to learn our tools. They need to learn our tools.

Lauren (15:47):
That's so true. You can't just jump in.

Yonhee (15:51):
So learning the tools first, and then it's a lot of information because we also prepare tax returns. So learning that part of our business but you have to learn all the tools and the technology now, my goodness, look at all the fintech companies that are out there, all the different types of applications and software that are available out there, so competitive. So they need to learn our tools, and it's kind of building that foundation and the building blocks to learn what we use to provide this service to our clients. And then they start working with somebody who's been here a little longer, and they provide that one-on-one support. So we call them coaches internally. So they're coaching and mentoring those folks from an entry-level position. So now they have all the tools, now they just have to learn how to use them.

So that's when they start working with somebody who actually supports an advisor. And so now they're learning how these tools are incorporated and working, creating these materials for meetings with clients makes sense. And so that's the process. Every client at our firm is a case study. You're inputting into the same program but every client is a different situation, and that's how you learn. So it's learning and applying, learning and applying. And so I think that's one of our core values is being a lifelong learner here. I mean, I'm still learning too. Tax law changes occur, estate plan changes occur. And so you have to keep up. And so you have to have that mentality and that approach that we're always learning and sharing with one another. So that's kind of how we do the onboarding. And we're very clear about that upfront that this is the development, this is the process, and this is the progression of what is expected and what you'll be working on. So I think that's probably one of the reasons we've been so successful with our retention of our talent. I mean, we have so many advisors today, and a lot of them, over 75% of them started at an entry-level position.

Lauren (18:09):
And that was what I was going to ask. You mentioned earlier that folks are with you for some time, and so it sounds like it's that model of growth from within, and then they can really learn and you can bring them up with your tools, culture, systems, and really help them provide that career pathway for them. So I know there's a number of CPA firms that have similar models. We've started to apply that model to various things here as well. So super, it's interesting to hear that and kind of how it's evolved over time too. I want to be mindful of time but I think we could actually have multiple series on this conversation but I did want to just hear a little bit more about the JMG culture. And I know we were kind of talking about some of those checks in the box or what have you, the fun things. But maybe if you don't mind sharing a little bit more about that, kind of what is it like to work there and how are you helping to foster that culture, especially with COVID, right? I know that it's kind of remote first is an option for a lot of folks and that changes the dynamics. How has that evolved over time too?

Yonhee (19:21):
Yeah, it has changed the dynamics and it has changed the culture but I think that we've done a really good job to keep everybody engaged. And I think a lot of that really comes from leadership in terms of being an example, also outlining the expectations and ramifications of what happens if you're not here physically, if you're not engaged with your team and if you're not coordinating time together. I think as a business, I've learned that really there are three components you as a leader cannot ignore. One, for us, it's serving our clients and making sure we are providing just the top level of service and outlining what that service is. Every company has a different service model too but everybody provides a service to our clients. So you have to focus on that. The second part is your business strategy. What is your strategy as a business?

And that involves so many things, succession planning and growth planning and all of those things. And then the third component is investing in your people. And I think that's important too, because you need your people. And so if you're spending a lot of time because you have turnover, then you really can't focus on your business strategy because you have the turnover and then the service to your clients is going to start declining. So they're all tied together. And so I think I've learned those three components. You focus on those things and then they all impact one another. So as far as our culture goes, I think way back when we were very siloed because we were part of a broker-dealer at the time in the ‘80s, and then 10 years into, after the firm being founded is when really they switched to let's give up our securities licenses.

And really, we always charged a financial planning fee. And so they said, let's give up our licenses so we can be objective but we can truly be fee only with business strategy components. And then that fee only, we are incorporating the tax return preparation because we do a lot of tax planning, a very integral part of the planning overall, and then the investment management piece. And so because of that, and my mentors, my predecessors, they made that decision to focus the business that way. And because of that, when we've had the market downturns, we haven't had to lay off anybody in the history of our firm. Now we had to tighten our belts a little bit, no bonuses, freeze salaries. I had to cut back on our holiday party but you know what, we had a great time. It was a potluck. Everybody brought in their food. We had games. And it's like when the lights go out, when the electricity goes out, whatcha going to do?

Lauren (22:26):
And it causes you to rally in a different way.

Yonhee (22:30):
Definitely. And I think because of that effort culturally, that was part of employees recognizing they care about us, they were willing to do this versus letting people go because we knew eventually we would need them. Well, we always needed them but also let's plan for the future, not for what's happening today.

And so I think for my mentors who put that plan in place, and really had to sacrifice a lot, restructuring, compensation structure, internal positions, things like that. And so here we are. They were impacted because they retired. They've literally seen me grow up at the firm and they're a partner, and now they're retired and clients of ours and still mentors to me and dear friends of mine. What's really neat, Lauren, is that I see the kids I hired 15, 20, 25 years ago at a college now also developing and now becoming my partners. That's special.

Lauren (23:43):
Yeah. Gives you goosebumps, sort of. That's wonderful.

Yonhee (23:47):
It's neat. So I've seen them grow up now, and so a lot of my partners and I honestly, we've grown up together and that just organically creates this culture of caring for one another. Truly, and I hate to sound so cliche but it is that family because you grow up together. And I always tell people, young people especially, everybody has a different definition of culture. And so I always suggest to young people before they start interviewing, make sure you decide what's important to you first, everything. What would be ideal for you? Because they can be persuaded so easily.

Lauren (24:36):
Yes, I know. A big box, this or that or what have you but what is really important to you. Exactly. Really, honestly, what's important to you.

Yonhee (24:47):
Absolutely. And then when you start interviewing, then you can check the box and see if something doesn't fit. Don't force it, because then it's not going to feel right. Just like when you're looking at colleges as a young person. I'm sure everybody can remember when you go on campus, if this is the right one for me or not sure but there's something about it that is that, right? So that's why I tell young people, because you're not going to like so many personalities. We're not going to like everybody but we need different personalities. But the bottom line is everybody needs to respect one another. And when you have that respect for one another, that's what makes it work, and that's what makes the teamwork come together. You complement one another.

Lauren (25:37):
So well said. And I love that analogy too. Also, I've done some different talks going back to my undergraduate, what have you, and I feel like those nuggets are always good to share, and I'm going to remember that one to share it. So I love that. I love that analogy and story, and it's so good to be able to bring that next generation up and have that guidance as well. So, oh, this is so fun. Well, like I said, I think we could go on for multiple sessions and do deep dives and what have you but thank you for just sharing an overview about your career and firm and those insights for how you've hired, and then also how you've really grown over the years as your firm's grown to be able to bring up talent and have them stay with you. I appreciate it. Thank you again for your time.

Yonhee (26:23):
Oh, thanks so much, Lauren. It was fun.

Lauren (26:25):
Absolutely. Talk soon.

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