Most people see processes and procedures in business as the bane of their lives.
But I look at having great processes as much more than simply working through checklists.
Each financial planner will have their own ‘magic’ that makes their business what it is. But unless you capture and document how you’re going to repeatedly deliver that, sometimes that magic will happen and sometimes it won’t.
The starter for 10 here, and the question firms should ask of themselves is this: when thinking about the stuff that we do, and the way we do it, how exactly did that come about?
For example, how do you engage a client, or how do you run a team meeting? We ask these kinds of questions to the firms we work with, and then we always follow up with: why do you do it that way?
Now, this ‘why’ isn’t in the sense of finding your purpose (which I’ve covered previously here). This is about understanding what the basis was for your methodology in the first place.
It may not surprise you to hear the usual answer to “why do you do it that way?” is often “because we’ve always done it that way”. Alternatively, people point to compliance reasons or because a certain person likes things done a certain way.
There is often no real logic to why things are being done the way they are.
The compliance driver can overtake potentially innovative ways of doing things differently, and people end up becoming frightened to death of doing something in the wrong way or in the wrong order.
I am also quite wary where some practice managers are involved.
Bear in mind that just because someone has experience in running operations in another financial planning practice, your business is likely to be completely different. So don’t encourage your firm to be set up in exactly the same way - it’s unlikely to work for your firm and your specific needs.
Once you understand the reason why you follow a particular process, you can challenge yourself on whether that it is the right reason to do it that way.
The warning signs
Sometimes ways of working have been created based on fear. Perhaps something has gone wrong in the past, so 50 checklists are put in place to guard against that happening again.
Clearly, processes motivated by fear are coming from a negative place. It’s a business ‘can’t do’ attitude.
But by looking at things in the context of what you want to achieve, the question then becomes: what is the best way of doing this?
The red flags when it comes to needing better ways of working are when your team talks more about processes than clients, more about checklists than being creative, or more about control rather than leadership.
The language is everything, and a problem with processes can be a flag that something else is wrong.
Another issue can be the lack of a formal review process to ensure current practices are working.
We recommend putting in place an internal auditing procedure, where throughout the year certain parts of their business are audited, so that annually every aspect of their business has been subject to a process review.
That leads to suggestions for service improvements which are then fed into the leadership team, and it creates a cycle of continuous improvement.
No one person should ever write a process, and no one person should ever design a process.
If this happens, you are only capturing one person’s view of the world.
Instead it should be collaborative. If a person is involved in making something, in this case mapping or designing a process, then they own it. In turn, they are more likely to follow a process they themselves helped create.
If you’re looking to embed better ways of working in your business, the first thing to do is to get all the team together. Talk about what it is the business is trying to achieve longer term, and what your firm stands for.
If what you stand for is your caring ethos for your clients, every process you follow has to lead you to that caring outcome.
If you’ve earmarked your firm as being straight talking, innovative and dynamic, but your processes are old fashioned or traditional, then there’s a disconnect. Processes have to be a good fit for your culture.
While reworking your processes will be a team effort, someone still needs to own this – you need to have an ambassador for process and service improvement. They will be responsible for overseeing the work that’s going into doing things better.
It’s helpful at this stage to go through what I call an ‘activities inventory’. This is where every person in the business captures every task they undertake for a period of three months.
Get people to write down their tasks as they carry them out, building a list as they go. These lists can then be pulled together and compiled into one central spreadsheet, which gives you a list of the procedures that need writing.
There are lots of benefits to being on top of your processes.
If someone is looking to buy your business and you have a fully documented operational procedures manual, then they can just buy your business and it runs.
This isn’t because a manual exists, but because it shows that every aspect of your business has been discussed, potentially redesigned, documented and well thought through. It adds significant value to your firm.
Also, everyone is happier because they’re not having to remember each next step – common standards are covered, which gives space and time for creativity to flourish.
And this is before we get to things like growth and scalability, which are all helped by better processes. There’s no bad outcome to capturing the essence of who you are as a business and how you want stuff done.
Advisers need not be fearful that this somehow strips them of their individuality and makes them more ‘corporate’.
Having good processes is about supporting creativity in the areas that matter. It’s also about allowing people to focus that bit more on how they can add more value to clients, and to the business.