April 6, 2012

Advisors’ Biggest Practice Management Mistake: The ‘Now!’ Syndrome

Several of my clients have a habit of calling me out of the blue, all in a lather about some current crises they are “facing” that day, to tell me what drastic action they had decided to take that day to solve the dire problem. Sometimes, it was an employee who “needed” to be fired, a hire they wanted to make now, a compensation plan they needed to implement yesterday. Other times, it was an overhaul of the entire technology setup, or a new service they needed to add before they lost all their clients.

I can’t even count how many times I had to talk clients down off the ledge to discuss the problem—never were things anywhere near as bad as they had made them out, and not once did we end up taking one of the nuclear options they decided on.

Finally, when I just couldn’t take it anymore, I would tell them: “From now on, when you have a quick decision that you want to make right now, I want you to take two days staring out of your office window thinking about the actual, likely consequences of that decision, and what other problems it probably will cause.” 

Inevitably, our next phone call would go like this: 

Advisor: “We really need to do XYZ right now, or all hell will break loose.”

Me: “Did you take your two days staring out the window to think about it?” 

Advisor: “No, it just can’t wait.” 

Me: “Call me back in two days.” 

After two days, I would call them back. 

Me: “What happened with the XYZ crisis?” 

Advisor: “Oh, it wasn’t really as bad as I thought. I think we should just focus on the goals we are working toward.”

In my work, the biggest mistake that I see owner/advisors make isn’t really a mistake at all: It’s a mentality that I call the “Now!” syndrome. It’s an approach to problem solving that ignores things until they come to a head, but then must respond by doing something about them “now.” The problem, of course, is that when people wait to address problems, they often do get worse. Then, in their scrambling to solve the problem “now,” not only do they usually fail to solve the problem, more often than not, they make it worse. 

Douglas Adams’ famous cult book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” features these words on its cover: “Don’t Panic.” They are words to live by, and guides by which to run a business. As it turns out, very few problems in the advisory business are actually “crises,” that is, requiring immediate, decisive action. And once you shed your “Now!” mentality, when one actually arises, you’ll know it. But for the vast majority of problems, a carefully considered, well-thought-out response is usually far more successful. 

The real problem is that business owners such as independent advisors are usually way better at identifying problems than they are at coming up with effective solutions. They want to make quick decisions, but they’re almost always better off if they take some time to think things through. So take a few deep breaths, or a couple of days, to really consider what you should do. Remember, it took you years to build up your business: it would be shame to ruin it in a couple of minutes. 

As a consultant, I personally believe that at times, the most effective use of an owner’s time (regardless of industry or business) is to literally do nothing but stare out a window. As an business owner myself, I can honestly say it works.  

 

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