Many of the advice firms we see appear to be doing very well financially.
Their business is growing, either organically or through acquisition, and they are even turning away potential clients. However, when questioned about their vision for the future, while owner managers may be enthusiastic, they can sometimes lack a clearly defined vision and set of values.
Typically firms do have a business plan in place, but generally the part that attracts the most attention is the page containing the numbers. In that respect, you could say it is rather like a suitability report.
Many advice businesses have grown over the years from having two or three employees to a team of 10 to 20 or more.
From here firms have three options: to grow, to stay the same, or to go backwards. On the basis that most firms will want to go for option one, it's crucial they have clarity about their vision and values.
Importantly, where this clear vision exists, has it been communicated to employees and clients so that they understand what it means for them?
As a business owner, you need to be honest with yourself on this. Our experience has shown very few have their vision and values documented, let alone communicated these clearly. There have been cases where we've gone into firms and asked employees to articulate what the vision is for the firm – it quickly becomes clear that either the vision is missing at the very least not understood at a team level.
Creating values and a defined vision will take time but it is only the start. Once a firm is clear on this, with input from the leadership team, it needs to be communicated to the rest of the business. If appropriate, this should also be extended to clients and third party firms.
Email isn't the answer here. Take some time away from the office and use this opportunity to congratulate your team on what they have achieved so far and start to share or reinforce the company's values. Set out the vision for one, three, and five years – there could even be a ten-year dream. Perhaps think of this as a relaunch of your firm with everyone made to feel a part of it.
Look to incorporate the values as part of your firm's culture, especially when employing new people. If new recruits don’t share in your values they will hinder the firm's ability to achieve the plan. Also, values should be at the centre of existing employee reviews. This is powerful in making sure you have the right people doing the right jobs.
A blank canvas
Next comes the challenging part – what does your business need to look like in order to achieve the plan?
You have to begin this process by forgetting about the existing people you employ – you need to start with a blank piece of paper. Draw up the organisational structure and then think about and write down the individual job roles. It is at this stage, and only this stage, that you think about putting the existing people into the structure and roles that have been created in order to achieve the plan.
You will hopefully find that most people fit into the new structure, which will be great as you will then have the right people doing the right jobs. You may find that you have the right person but they need to change roles. The upside of this is not only will you have realised someone was doing the wrong role, but it's also likely the employee knew it too but was too frightened to say anything.
Once you are clear about your values, your vision, and what the organisation needs to look like in order to achieve the plan, having the right people in the right roles and all pulling in the same direction will be amazing. Everything you do from now on must be with a view to achieving the plan, no deviation, keeping all in the business focused on the task in hand.
The GB Men's Rowing Eight is a good example of the single-mindedness that's needed to succeed. Having failed to win races and medals in the past, the team changed their way of working, with every action based on one criticial question: Will it make the boat go faster? The outcome was a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics.
You should adopt the same thought process, that is, is what you are doing going to ensure you achieve your plan?
In some of the firms we talk to about implementing change, owners can sometimes get very excited and want to make changes straightaway. Instead, it's worth taking the time to stand back from your business and think about what you are going to do next.
It's worth involving others in shaping your plan, including your leadership team. It may also be worth considering bringing someone in from outside the business who can act as a sounding board and help you with implementation.
Paul Miles has partnered with Jigsaw Tree founder Chris Baigent-Reed to develop Silvertree, an 18-month programme to help advice firms build an efficient business model. More information will be available over the coming months here