Perfecting Your Process
There’s an unseen enemy lurking within your business. It’s a lack of defined processes.
Having strong systems and processes (and the two are inextricably linked, in my view) is the first step in achieving profitability and quality of life. As any business owner knows, you need time and money; one without the other is no good.
So where do you start?
My advice is to focus initially on the three key processes for any advisory firm:
New client engagement
Ongoing client reviews
Marketing and lead generation
If those three are in good order then 90% of your business will be working effectively. You can knock the rest into shape in due course.
How to get good processes in place
Good processes are the glue that changes you from a team of champions into a champion team. There are a few principles that I like to see adhered to when firms work on their processes:
1. This is not a joke
Taking the time to agree on the new client engagement process and the ongoing client review process is crucial. It’s important to get all advisers within the firm doing it in the same way. It’s not negotiable.
This might initially generate screams of pain and ‘micromanaging’ from your advisers, but you just need to stick with it and help them understand what you mean by ‘everyone does it the same way’.
You’re not trying to destroy anyone’s personality or creative style. However, you are insisting that all advisers walk clients through a pre-agreed set of gates. For example:
Discovery or Fact Finding
Strategy Preparation and Presentation
Clearly these steps apply to almost every advisory firm, but what happens within each of these steps will need to be broken down and agreed on for your business.
Once that’s done it’s vital that everyone follows the agreed processes.
Who are the main offenders for not following process? Usually it’s the owners themselves, closely followed by any other advisers within the firm.
Why? It’s just not how they’re wired. But it’s no excuse and they have to get on board for the greater good.
If there are constant jokes about a particular person or group of people within your business who don’t follow your processes then you’ve got a problem. This is not a joke. If you want to grow, this point needs to be taken seriously.
2. Who’s in charge?
In the bad old days the salespeople were the untouchables within the business. You can still hear a few of the old guard telling the back office team that if they (the untouchables) don’t sell anything, then no one has a job.
Besides sounding a bit pompous, it’s just plain wrong. There are three important areas in any business:
Sales and Marketing
Operations (back office)
The truth is that if any one of these areas doesn’t deliver the business could find itself out of business.
Once the processes are agreed, then it’s the back office team that should drive them. If a step has been missed by an adviser then a paraplanner or administrator can point this out and ask them to rectify it. Work needs to be handed onto the next person in the team in good order.
Think of each other (your fellow team members) as internal customers. If the process has been designed correctly and followed diligently, work should always be handed on in good shape so that the next person can just pick it up and do their next step easily.
This requires leadership and support from the top because, on their own, the back office team don’t have the authority to do this effectively. This is even more important in changing some old fashioned attitudes that might still prevail in certain firms.
Advisers and owners love the ambiguity of the client interaction. For the back office team this is their idea of hell; they like order, process and getting things ticked off. Together these two skill sets can be a winning team.
So get clear on who’s in charge when it comes to process; it’s your back office.
3. Team, solve thine own problems
The third thing I love to see in healthy well-formed businesses is regular meetings to discuss and resolve issues arising.
There are always issues arising, so identifying them and solving them is part of the deal if you want a great business.
The whole team need to be involved in this exercise on a weekly basis. Collect issues throughout the week in an Issues List as they arise. Then get the relevant departments or people together to discuss what the root cause of the issue is. Different perspectives will really help in this identification stage.
Once you’ve identified the real issue it’s often pretty straightforward to find a new way forward that works better for all parties.
Done weekly, small issues are constantly getting resolved, and bigger issues find it harder to get a foothold.
As the leader in the business it’s an important skill to teach your team so that they can be identifying and solving their own problems without you always having to be involved, or worse still, looking to you for all the answers. Don’t make yourself indispensable.
“Weak are the leaders who promise to carry the people, carry the company or carry a nation. And the reason is simple. It’s a promise they can’t keep. Executives and governments aren’t strong enough to advance entire cultures. Their responsibility is to remind us where we are heading, clear a path, find the resources and support all of those who have committed to help advance the vision.” Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action
Good advice indeed from the great man.
Good process means better business
So, if you haven’t already, get to work on establishing and following the three key processes in your business. It’s a vital part of creating a business that works and can move forward.
There are six areas that you need to master if you want your business to really move forward:
Give yourself a score out of ten for each of the following statements. The higher your total score the closer you’ll be to the perfect team for growing your business:
Our three key processes are documented or captured in a workflow system i.e. new client engagement, ongoing review, and marketing/lead generation
The office environment is calm and efficient
The back office team control the process and can tell the advisers what to do (not the other way around)
All team members follow the agreed processes (including the owners/directors)
No one makes jokes about some people not following the process
All team members are trained and skilled in using the office technology
Work flows easily through the business
There are no significant backlogs of work anywhere
The team meets regularly to discuss process issues and finds its own solutions
All advisers follow a similar first meeting and annual review process, and all clients receive a similar client experience