January 23, 2012

A 3-Step Program for Recovering Over-Serving Advisors

I recently received an email from a Colorado advisor in response to my column on “Owner’s Guilt”. I had written about how advisors often respond to feeling guilty about their success by overcompensating their employees, which then creates a series of management problems. But this advisor says his owner’s guilt takes him in a different direction: “I often feel some owner’s guilt, but I feel I have to work extra for clients. I feel in some ways that I don't deserve the substantial revenues (I just charge 1%) so I work 60 hours/week as I feel there is never enough I can do to help them, but it takes a toll on my health and spouse.” 

This advisor is not alone. In fact, he raises a very important issue that is quite common among independent advisors (and other professionals as well, especially doctors): Over-servicing clients is often a result of owner’s guilt (and sometimes from an excessive drive to simply provide the best service possible), and either way, it can take a giant toll on an owner’s personal and professional life. Additionally, when advisors help their clients too much, they can “enable” them to a point where clients come to expect more and more and more. It’s certainly admirable that independent advisors to want to help their clients so much (in fact, it’s one of the reasons I love working with them), but it's also not fair to them, to their families or their spouses—and can lead to professional burnout, which greatly reduces their ability to help anyone.

Step One: Setting Limits
The first thing that advisors who suffer from over-serving their clients need to know is (to put it bluntly): This is “your problem.” Only you can solve it and it starts by setting boundaries and expectations within your business, with your clients, and for your personal life. The good news is that if you start with your business, your personal life issues will most likely solve themselves. 

Step Two: Defining Your Service Model
In order to do this, you must have a clearly defined service model for your clients; one that spells out exactly things you will do, and things you will not do. This is just good business practice; it manages expectations and goes a very long way to heading off misunderstandings, disappointments, and disagreements before they even arise. Then you need to have the right people in the right positions to help you deliver the service model. 

Step Three: Listing All the Services You Provide
Constructing and designing service models, well, I could write a book about. But a good first step for recovering over-servicers is write down all the services that you and your staff provide to your clients—and I mean all of them, including those trips to meet with clients when they are on vacation, renegotiating their mortgages,  looking over their employee benefits packages for their businesses, etc. Then you can begin to decide which of these are clearly over the top. It's not a "black and white" process, but perhaps in 2012 you should make it a goal to develop and implement a client service model that helps set boundaries with your clients, while actually improving the service you give them. 

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