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Does Your Practice Have a High-Performance Team?

A high-performance team is a concept within organizational development which refers to a team, organization or virtual group that is highly focused on its goals to achieve superior business results.

A high-performance team is one in which you have the right people doing the right things the right ways for the right clients at the right times for the right reasons.

Do you have a high-performance team? The following checklist of behaviors and attributes of high-performance teams can help you figure that out:

  • Have a clear vision and are committed to a common purpose.
  • Have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • Are committed to ongoing, honest and effective communication. Included in this is: having tactical daily huddles; weekly and monthly team meetings; and strategic quarterly and annual off-site meetings.
  • Have a compelling and differentiating story that all team members can articulate.
  • Commit to high productivity daily. Included in this is utilizing time-blocking strategies; consistently utilizing a contact management system; engaging in effective workflow among team members; executing a task priority system; being purposeful and intentional in daily work with a high focus on proactivity; systematizing and documenting all repeated activities as standard operating procedures; spending 10 percent of time on the business every week; embracing technological resources to drive efficiency; and being cross-trained and having back-up systems.
  • Consistently demonstrate a positive, can-do and will-do attitude. This includes: going above and beyond job descriptions; being solutions-focused and committed to problem solving; and innovating to drive efficiency and productivity.
  • Have strong personal accountability. This includes believing in self-leadership; having short- and long-term goals; owning mistakes; frequently evaluating individual, team, and business performance; embracing giving and receiving constructive criticism; understanding role and value in the vision and overall success of the group; and ensuring that words and actions are consistently aligned.
  • Are committed to ongoing personal and professional growth. This includes being masters of their craft; engaging in all firm-provided professional development opportunities; investing in themselves; subscribing to valuable online and offline learning publications; and seeking professional credentials.
  • Are committed and respectful to the leader, the team and themselves. This includes embracing autonomy within their role and embracing collaboration within the team; respecting the ultimate decisions made; and seeking ways to help each other and the team succeed.
  • Celebrate successes. This includes making time to “smell the roses” and have fun together and recognizing each person’s contributions to the team.
  • Master the fundamentals. This includes setting the highest standards for their work; displaying integrity in all things; always putting the clients’ best interests first and foremost; and maintaining mutual respect and trust.

As you consider your staff and team members, identify opportunities for improvements to drive high performance.

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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Beta Testing Change in Your Ensemble Practice

I’ve spent decades consulting on practice management issues and had countless conversations with advisers wanting to make some sort of change in their practices. One adviser might want to hire a new employee to increase efficiency. Another might want to move into a new, more upscale office space. Yet another might want to bring other types of advisers into the practice, such as rainmakers or service advisers.

As the trend of shifting from a solo to a group or ensemble practice continues to gain steam in our industry, it’s important to realize some of the challenges going into partnership with other advisers can present.

Barriers to change

A partnership is a bit like a marriage. Your adviser partners come to the table with their own established values, perceptions and opinions. And just because one partner thinks a particular business change is a profoundly good idea, it doesn’t mean another partner (or partners) will share that belief. For example, say you think your firm should incorporate a formal business management process to help you target client acquisition and revenue goals. Your two partners disagree, arguing the following:

  • Why do we need to have a business plan? We know what we’re doing.
  • What’s the point of defining a niche? We’d have to turn down business.
  • There’s no need to create and stick to an ideal client profile.
  • Why is it important to track overhead? We can pay our bills just fine.
  • Documenting processes seems like a waste of time.
  • Who needs production goals? We’re earning enough.
  • Why do we need to create continuity agreements? None of us is going anywhere.

What do you do when you feel strongly about how to run the business more effectively and your partners put up barriers like these? Do you ignore the issue and simply learn to live with the status quo? Do you have a serious life-or-death discussion with them about the future of the firm? Or is there another option?

Beta testing change

Instead of giving up, or beating your head against a wall trying to convince others to see things your way, offer to implement the change you’re seeking in your own corner of the firm as a beta test. Of course, this requires your full commitment to the change. You’ll also need to develop a formal method for measuring the impact of the change you make. After an appropriate period of time, you can then share the results of your beta test with your partners and see if they’re now ready to agree with you.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to grow revenue. To do so, all new clients you take on have to meet your ideal client profile. You’ll want to calculate the return on this investment for your partners. You might also want to track how you help prospects who aren’t a good fit, particularly if your partners were adamant about not turning away any clients. The bigger the change you want to make, the longer it will take to document results, so try starting with a small change first, to make your point.

What is the value in this sort of beta test? You get to implement a change you believe in. You eliminate some of the frustration you were feeling. And everyone in the firm moves toward data-driven decision making.

Will this approach work in every situation? Probably not. But it can be a particularly effective technique for positioning specific changes to your partners. After all, results speak for themselves.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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3 Critical Practice Management Areas That Demand Attention

The industry has changed and it is more important than ever to have a plan, not merely to survive, but indeed to thrive in today’s environment. Creating a simple road map can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

At a minimum, we believe that you should consider these three critical questions, commit your ideas to paper and create an implementation plan with time frames and accountability.

1.) How will you drive retention?
Client retention is the foundation for the long-term viability of your firm. You must consistently deliver the appropriate client experience for each of your client segments.

  • Communication: Do you have a systematized client communication plan? Are you communicating value with the right frequency and maximizing your delivery mediums? Are you offering educational opportunities to help clients better understand their plan and the financial terrain?
  • Appreciation: Do your clients know that you appreciate them? Do you need to go beyond birthdays and holidays and deliver more creative or personalized appreciation?
  • Expectations: Do you really know if you are meeting, falling short, or exceeding client expectations? Do you execute surveys or offer service commitment or expectation meetings to review the value of your deliverables? Do clients understand the totality of your offerings?

2.) How will you drive efficiency?
In an increasingly complex industry with expanding requirements, efficiency and scalability are critical to long-term success.

  • People: Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and aligned? Are you leveraging your talent?
  • Systems: Are all repeated activities systematized? Do you have standard operating procedures documented in a shared folder for all to access? Is your business scalable?
  • Time and technology: Do you really know where and with whom you are spending your most precious resource—time? Technology can be a time-drain or a time-saver. Is every team member maximizing technological resources?

3.) How will you drive growth?
We could all fill our days by simply dealing with the reactive; however, high-performance financial planners stay committed to growth.

  • Organic growth: Do clients consider YOU their primary advice provider? Have you fully served them? Are you developing multiple generational relationships? Where can you leverage your existing relationships?
  • Introductions: Are you referable? Do your clients proactively provide qualified introductions? How robust are your centers of influence? Are you delivering value to partners who have the propensity to connect you with ideal prospects?
  • Marketing: How strong is your brand identity? Who is your niche audience and how can you attract more ideal prospects through off-line and online marketing avenues? Based on your demographics, what type of marketing (advertising, seminars, mail campaigns or event marketing) makes sense for your practice?
  • Expand the team: For firms that are fully systematized but at capacity, you may consider bringing on new advisers/planners as your most vital growth strategy. Be sure to consider your “ideal” candidate and conduct full due diligence so as not to upset the culture of the firm.

What decisions will you make and what actions will you take to drive retention, efficiency and growth in 2017?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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The Value of Time and Experience

I recently visited an adviser whose business had grown very quickly. In a five-year period, he went from one employee to five and his production tripled, easily putting him in the seven-figure range. In comparison with many other advisers with similar businesses, this adviser is 15 years younger, on average and has a commensurate 15 fewer years of industry experience. Listening to his business challenges—especially those having to do with human resources—gave me pause. Did this adviser have more people problems than most or was something else going on?

Getting Better Vs. Getting Used to Things
In considering this young adviser’s situation, I believed one of two things was going on:

  1. He had not yet developed the skills necessary to manage staff, which was actually contributing to his issues.
  2. He had not yet recognized that people issues are an ongoing component of managing a business.

For example, the adviser felt that he needed to revise job descriptions and re-create a compensation system that would more specifically motivate the behaviors he desired. He wanted his employees to take more responsibility for producing error-free work, instead of depending on him to review their work and catch errors. The issue extended beyond his support staff. He had recently brought on a staff CFP® and discovered that the process of guiding and mentoring the young woman required a significant investment of time to help her understand how to apply financial knowledge and theory to clients’ reality. That’s not to mention the time he was spending helping her evolve business development skills. When I asked how much time he was investing in managing the business, he said 50 percent.

But is that really too much? Comparing his story with that of other advisers with similar business scale and capacity, I found that they were far less verbal and seemed less frustrated with their human resource situation. What was particularly thought provoking was that the young adviser had assumed he must be doing something wrong or that there was something wrong with his organizational model.

We’re Never Done
There is no doubt that if we make the effort to improve, we get better over time. We learn how to manage resources—time, money and people—more effectively. What this young adviser had yet to learn was that he was doing just fine as a manager. The reality is that just when we have things lined up to achieve the perfect organization, a lot can change—someone gets sick, leaves for a different job or needs to implement new technology or procedures, which actually causes him or her to be less effective and may even lead to performance issues.

The longer we spend in a leadership position, the more we learn that when things are going well, all we have to do is wait a bit—they’ll change! The good news is that the reverse is also true. When things are not going right from an HR perspective, focusing your attention on the issue can help improve it. The fact of the matter is that we are never done managing our people. And that’s the real value of time and experience.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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What Comes First—Changing the Tech or the Staff?

Firms are struggling with technology adoption because they believe their executives or staff can’t change or learn new methods of operating. So they stop implementing the tech (aka the change) and instead start interviewing potential hires to replace their current staff who appear unwilling to change and learn. This stoppage and hiring effort creates a dark cloud over the mood of the staff. It sends a message that the firm isn’t prepared to improve nor invest in change management. Rock star-quality staff take this stoppage as a sign and ultimately stop recommending improvements and cease their championing of change. If the stoppages happen often, your best staff might even start interviewing at other firms or start their own firm.

How do I know if my staff are able to learn new systems?
The easiest way to test the team’s ability to learn is to sell the change before implementing it. As the firm owner, you must believe in the change, know the benefits, and persistently encourage productive feedback. Remember that the administrative person might care about reducing data entry work, while the adviser will want this change to help them onboard a new client more efficiently. Staff that can’t adopt the change will stand out immediately. If they are your key team members, have your executive team talk with them and explore why they are resistant to the changes. Then, and only then, will you know if it is time to search through the resumes and start to recalibrate the staff with a new hire.

Do I lay off a loyal staff person when they can’t learn?
We all know it is very expensive (money, energy, time) to lay off and hire someone new. Any new hire requires you to use energy and time to train them on your firm’s method of operating, philosophy regarding client service and expectations. It is best to NOT lay off those who seemingly can’t embrace change and instead invest in training and change management first. Training can be in the form of scheduled weekly webinars, paying an outside expert or software provider to provide customized training, or having a staff person train his/her peer. Change management comes from the top. If you are not sure you are managing change properly, you can hire a coach to learn how to do this effectively now and in the future.

While you invest in training and management, you should also be scouring the earth for potential hires. A great employee, successor, or partner hire won’t fall into your lap the minute you decide you want to re-calibrate your team. It is never too soon to start networking and doing informational interviews and building your pipeline of candidates. If the training and change management does not produce the results you want, you know you can call upon a pool of qualified candidates.

Change isn’t easy—if it were, everyone would be doing it! Remember that any meaningful technology change—even implementing a new software program—takes more than 66 business days to adopt. Give your staff time to embrace the new tech and provide continuous training, positive reinforcement and examples of the long-term benefits. Most importantly, be sure to give yourself time to lead the troops with a positive attitude and realistic change management goals. Progress may be slow but as long as you’re seeing change transpire, rest well knowing your firm is on the right track.

Jennifer Goldman

 

Jennifer Goldman
Founder
My Virtual COO
Boston, MA

Editor’s Note: FPA members receive a $500 member discount on a My Virtual COO consulting engagement. You can find more information here


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Create Time Budgets to Produce Results

An adviser’s time is precious. For each available work hour, there are countless ways to consume it, and with each hour productively applied, the adviser and his or her business prospers. However, advisers are not machines that can simply be programmed for completing tasks. There is a person at hand, a person with talents, skills, histories, ambitions and preferences.

Professional services firms connect an adviser’s work effort (see the blog “Your Product is You”) to the business. Essentially, the adviser and the business become one.

Important Business Work
An adviser’s direct client service—the firm’s product—can be captured within the broad categories of wealth and investment planning such that a client’s plan leads to investment execution. Advisers trained for these specialties find these activities intellectually appealing and personally fulfilling; it is a pleasure to do this work.

The business connection to these services arrives when a client pays the fee and the firm’s revenue increases. So far, so good.

A vibrant operating business requires much more than service delivery. Sales calls must be made to fill a sales pipeline; client reports must be produced; bills must be paid; employees hired, managed and nurtured; technology vendors evaluated and selected; investment research conducted; compliance requirements completed.

This list comprises many important activities that many advisers do not like to do. They are chores and are often held in limbo due to procrastination or even neglect.

Budgeting Time for Business Advancement

Like a financial budget that allocates limited monetary resources to the most important priorities, a time budget ensures that a business’s essential tasks are completed on time and within the optimal operating range. Tasks are linked together in order for efficient use of every employee’s time. Greater efficiency means less time on a task, and this is a worthy trade-off for important tasks, but those that are not personally fulfilling.

How a Time Budget Works
Foremost, a time budget is a planning document that considers specific allocations of time (i.e. a time block) according to business priorities, job responsibilities and task sequence. While similar to a project plan, a time budget integrates a person’s assigned tasks into a single view based on a rolling week-to-week evolution.

A time budget is not for regimentation but to be a guide as executed using these steps:

  1. While formal tools are available, an Excel or Word table suffices. Or, your CRM can be used to schedule activities through the workflow function.
  2. Divide the rows into one-hour time blocks and the columns into the days of the week.
  3. List the week’s tasks to be completed keeping in mind these parameters: tasks related to the firm’s strategic and operational priorities need to be given precedence.
  4. Batch related activities together.
  5. Without considering whether a task is loved or hated, ask yourself this question: what is the best time for this task to be completed optimally? For example, schedule sales and client service activities for the peak periods in the day. Place planning tasks at the beginning of the week (for assignment) and the end (for reflection).
  6. Place each task into its best time block day by day.
  7. For unappealing tasks, spread out the work over several consecutive days in order to have bursts of focus and avoid drudgery.
  8. Important tasks are scheduled when execution will be crispest such as in the morning or the beginning of the week.

Connecting Time Budgets
At the end of each week, evaluate the results from the time budget with these thoughts in mind:

  • If a task wasn’t completed, determine if it was from procrastination, interruptions or insufficient allocated time.
  • For repeating tasks week to week, consider if the results could have been better if allocated to a different time block.
  • For the next time budget, experiment with different sequences and time periods.
  • At the end of each month, compare the previous weeks’ time budgets and summarize the results achieved and the nuggets of learning.
  • Take the monthly summaries and use them with the chain of command for the next period’s business planning as well as employee reviews.

Time Budget Warnings
A time budget is a guide to reinforce results (good behaviors) and to inform about weak spots (procrastination).

Few things are more satisfying than looking into the rearview mirror of a year’s set of time budgets and seeing significant business results, on-time delivery, improved efficiency, personal growth and the absence of regret.

Kirk Loury

Kirk Loury
President
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey


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Letting Go of Relationships

Compared with professionals in other industries, financial advisers typically enjoy uniquely satisfying relationships with their clients. One reason is that “clients for life” is more than a catchphrase. Given the myriad of critical financial issues, life circumstances, and market volatility that can occur in any 10- or 20-year period, it’s no surprise that deep relationships develop.

But what happens when it’s time to let go of these relationships so a new adviser can take over?

Time for transition
No matter how competent the new adviser, nor how well honed his or her relationship skills, the new adviser is often stepping into a situation where both the original adviser and the client are grieving the loss of the relationship. Two things can happen: in the healthy approach, the client and the original adviser mutually agree to let go of the past and foster the development of the new relationship. In the unhealthy approach, the client and/or the adviser holds on to the existing relationship for dear life, which could undermine or even sabotage the relationship with the new adviser.

For example, it’s not unusual for the original adviser to think that his or her way of doing things is best. Although a new adviser may do some things similarly, the likelihood that his or her way of doing business will be exactly the same is small. That’s true even when the new adviser is the child of the transitioning adviser. If the original adviser feels the need to swoop in and mediate, the relationship between the client and the new adviser certainly won’t get off on the right foot.

So what can advisers transitioning out of the business after decades-long relationships with clients do?

  • Acknowledge that leaving one’s career may create a sense of loss. For some, you may even go through a grieving period similar to when you lose a loved one. In such cases, it may be tempting to keep tabs on client relationships. If keeping tabs is purely personal or “golf-based”—fine. But the original adviser should avoid interfering with the professional relationship between the client and the new financial adviser.
  • Those transitioning out of the business should seek the counsel of those who have experienced the same process. Sometimes the transition out of a long-term career can lead to depression, especially in the last third of life. Another adviser who has already gone through the transition process may provide a good sounding board.
  • Plan for a transition early. Both the original and the new adviser should budget ample time for joint meetings with clients to transfer knowledge and to foster the transfer of the professional advisory relationship.

The bottom line is both advisers must do what’s best for the client—even when it means letting go.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

 

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.