One of the biggest problems with the financial services sector is that so many firms and practices are not run by natural business owners or leaders. This in turn causes problems further down the operational food chain.
Without a sense of clarity about the firm’s purpose and a clear direction of travel, many firms and their teams simply cruise along never really being inspired or gaining a sense that they are delivering a valuable contribution.
So, what is the answer?
For me, the solution is somewhat complex and goes deeper than anything that can be shared in one article – but what I can say is that it starts with a bit of honesty with yourself, followed by a bucket load of teamwork.
It’s lonely running a business; you are often the one who is sought out to fix all of the world’s problems. You are sitting at the top of the food chain, and can feel isolated and at times totally unsupported… out on a lake, in a boat, without a paddle.
But if you're going to be the one at the top, then first and foremost you have to understand you! Know what you are good at, what you are not good at, what you like, what you don’t like, what standards and beliefs you have, and what you are happy to let go.
This conversation with yourself is brutal, but it’s essential. It’s always the place I start and in truth it is where I spend the most time when I am sitting face to face, eyeball to eyeball with the captains of their ships.
Here’s some food for thought: the concept of moving from 'woe' to 'woww' was created because I could see that – for whatever reason – my clients couldn’t understand the struggles and messes in their minds unless I literally got my colouring pens out!
So I produced this simple visual
Let me explain how this works:
First of all, I want you to imagine that your business is a lovely calm lake with a water line (see image) that divides the vision at the top and the stuff that goes on at the bottom.
Above the water line is where the ‘strategy’ lives, where ‘concepts’ are created and ‘decisions’ are made. At this level, none of the ‘how’ exists – it’s just the ideas and ideals bursting from the minds of a select few. They are so conceptual and high level that they could be written on one side of A4 and no more!
Then we have the point where strategy meets operations: this is where the operations and leadership teams collaborate with the decision makers on designing the outcomes that will ensure the business realises its purpose and achieves its goals.
This stage requires clarity of thinking and control over the over-eager obsession with diving straight in without a plan for how to get the ‘stuff’ done! Add to this that leadership teams by their very nature are hardcore doers! However, at this stage that approach is the kiss of death. Stay objective, and above the water line – the only focus here is designing the ‘how’. The plan to get the stuff done! Without a plan you will fail to achieve everything you decide to do!
Last up, we have the place where the magic starts to happen!
It's the responsibility of the operations and/or leadership team (preferably not the business owner (or owners), financial planners or advisers) to meet and discuss with the rest of the administration and support team what needs to be done: to create the processes, procedures and step-by-step tasks that are needed to deliver the outcomes you want. This is where the ‘what’ lives!
There is a but here… be realistic with your time, abilities and commitments. Overcommitting helps no one. Pretending that you have the skills and the time to do the stuff that needs to be done is even less helpful – so this is where real teamwork can be seen and enjoyed!
Of course, this can only work like the perfect boat race if you have the right people – with the right skills and in the right place – on the boat!
Crack this… and you will be gliding across that lake with best practice perfection.