Help – We Are Process Crazy!
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I have recently joined a new RIA after being with my old one for almost 17 years. I always complained about the lack of infrastructure and process in my old firm. It often felt like we were winging it when it came to client communication and management. Not to denigrate the firm – they do great work – but our founder was a “shiny penny” guy, meaning we were always chasing the newest thing. It often felt out of kilter.
I had my eye on the firm I joined for quite some time. But it is too much to the opposite. We are process crazy. Everything has a process – from small things like asking for vacation time to larger things like client onboarding. I like process, but here it chokes progress. There are times where we should think a little creatively, but it cannot happen. The words, “consult the process,” are sacrosanct.
Is there a middle ground? Chaos isn’t good, but process that at times doesn’t make sense isn’t good for anyone either.
I’m not sure if you are questioning whether you went from one bad situation to another or whether your question is rhetorical. Certainly, there is a middle ground – firms implement processes that help spark creativity and allow for customization all the time. I prefer a repeatable process over the chaos you describe. mostly because the more things are repeatable and known to all, the fewer opportunities there are for errors. You also can get a rhythm and a system in place where people work together efficiently and effectively.
Your real question is about whether, in the environment you are in now, you can influence others to consider thinking creatively from time to time. In order to do this, you have to respect the intention behind the process; their desire is likely to have repeatable actions and consistency.
I’m not sure how long you have been there, so this may be premature. But at some point, suggest a meeting to review what’s working and what’s not with some of the processes. Outline some of the observations as the newer person you have and make recommendations for things to consider to make the processes even more effective.
If you are still new, use this to be more inquisitive and explore why these processes were put in place. If you understood more about the problem they were trying to solve, you might be able to offer an insight or reflection based on your experience that would be supportive of their goals.
Every firm has a culture, if not by design, then by default. You might have a team of people who are process-oriented and feel safer and think things are more productive if the processes are in place. If so, you have to be careful not to be too negative or dismissive. I’m sure you know this, but it’s always good to have a reminder.
We implemented new systems at the start of this year to help integrate financial planning into our approach. We now take what we call, “a whole life picture” of the client’s situation. In theory it makes a lot of sense and some clients are happy to participate in the process. But we haven’t put a process around it. Some advisors have embraced the approach, but some have not, and it is up to each of us whether we want to do it or not.
I’m struggling with telling a story of a whole life picture when I’m not sure what the picture is. We have two junior people running the planning software and they aren’t going to give much direction on how best to deliver this new approach to clients.
Do I just do my own thing, or do I try and pull everyone together to figure out what to do? We’re all operating pretty independently and I’m not in charge. I don’t want to act like I am giving instructions but if I’m having a hard time figuring this out, I believe others will be too.
In too many cases a firm has an excellent idea and implements it without establishing the steps and information that needs to accompany the new approach. It’s common to assume it will just get done if someone says so, but then people are left trying to figure things out on their own, as you are here.
As you likely know if you read my column often, I’m a fan of pulling people together and talking about outcomes, obstacles and what disciplined action is needed to make sure plans become a reality.
But in your case I’m going to deviate from that advice.
Perhaps I don’t understand enough about your culture, but if you are one of many advisors being asked to implement this, I’m not sure it is up to you to pull others together and figure it out. You definitely could raise it to whomever thought it was a good idea in the first place and ask that person to do this, but I think there could be a risk if you do it. You don’t know what all of your colleagues are doing – some might be managing the new approach well, some might be happily ignoring it, and some might be trying to figure it out like you. There is a risk to not knowing and opening the dialogue.
That said, there is nothing that prevents you from establishing your own process in how you want to do a whole life picture with your own clients. While it would certainly be ideal if this were a value proposition embraced throughout the firm and implemented in a systematic fashion, right now it is not. Therefore, you can determine what works best for your clients and their needs.
Consider what you want the new planning group to do and then sit down with the junior people and explain your expectations and how you intend to put this process into place with your clients. It sounds like they don’t have a dedicated approach they must adhere to, so they might welcome your direction.
Once you get the plan and process in place and it is working well with your clients and in concert with the junior planning team members, share with other advisors what you are doing and why it is working so well. You will likely have success stories with clients who may have been resistant or may have not seen the value of planning and you have been able to work with them more positively with your new approach.
Sometimes people need to see successful outcomes before they are willing to try something new. Instead of complaining or pointing out deficiencies, do what you believe is best, put the plan in place and then share the wins once you have them.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.