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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Choosing the infinite game

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The following is based on one of Norm Trainor’s clients. All of the names and telling details have been changed to preserve client privacy.

Initially, Ted’s success as a financial advisor was based upon his charisma and status as a former professional basketball player. Standing 6 feet 7 inches tall and a muscular 230 pounds, he is an impressive man.

His athletic prowess and warm personality drew people to him. Having played and coached professional basketball for 11 years, he returned to his hometown and started a new career as a financial advisor. In just three years, his income exceeded $500,000. However, when I started working with him, he was frustrated and the growth rate of his business was slowing. Until that point, growth had come naturally.

In our work with financial advisors, we’ve learned that an advisory practice does not grow in a linear progression. Instead, growth follows a series of “S” curves with breakpoints or “ceilings of complexity” that determine whether the practice will evolve to the next level. Each curve consists of an initial stage of formation or building the base for growth, a second stage of significant growth and a final stage of slowing growth and reaching a plateau.

The peak of the “S” curve is the breakpoint. At this point, future growth requires a new approach and the formation of a new “S” curve. Typically, the breakpoints occur around $125,000 of revenue, $250,000, $500,000, $1 million and $5 million. Talented advisors like Ted can get to $500,000 or even $1 million solely by leveraging their unique ability. For many advisors, this is exactly what they want to accomplish.

Ted, on the other hand, had a larger vision. He wanted to build the premier financial advisory firm in his community. To do so, he had to change tactics because his success to that point had been based upon playing what we call the Finite Game, where the objective is to leverage individual unique ability. Ted needed to change to the Infinite Game, where the objective is to leverage not only one’s own unique ability, but also the unique abilities of a myriad of people inside and outside the organization.

Fortunately, Ted’s prior experience as a successful basketball player and coach enabled him to recognize what was required to build an effective team. When playing the Finite Game, Ted worked with two assistants whose responsibility was to ensure he could focus on his unique ability through maximizing his time interacting with clients and prospects. As a relationship specialist, Ted’s gift was his ability to earn the trust of his clients.

In the Infinite Game, however, the objective is to leverage the capabilities of all the team members. As a player/coach, Ted has a dual responsibility. He is a star player and a coach who is responsible for the overall success of the team. Ted realized he would have to attract other advisors if he wanted to build a multimillion-dollar business. In addition, he would need qualified staff that could perform specialized functions, such as marketing coordinator or analyst. He needed an organizational structure that defined the roles, role relationships, accountabilities and authorities of each person on the team.

Working with Ted, we helped him define his business, set objectives and develop the strategies for building his enterprise. The good news is that he has successfully made the transition from player to coach.


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