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An Overlooked but Key Role in an Advisory Firm: Office Manager

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Good planners recognize that the path to growth is leverage: having the right people, structure and processes to serve a larger number of more profitable clients. Many firms reach a point at which maximizing that leverage requires the attention of a full-time office manager. 

The responsibilities of an ideal office manager include people, processes and projects. In each of these areas, there are a number of duties: 

Office Manager Responsibilities No. 1: People

  • Hire new staff : identify strong candidates, coordinate interviews, extend offers and generally manage the hiring process (including termination, when necessary)
  • Provide staff training for both new hires and existing staff
  • Manage performance: in addition to coordinating, and in some cases conducting, individual performance reviews, the office manager must be prepared to deal with difficult or poorly performing employees
  • Rewards and incentives: manage the compensation of the staff, including incentive plans;  ensure that all employees receive the appropriate recognition and encouragement
  • Communicate: ensure full, open and efficient communication
  • Coordinate: ensure that tasks are assigned and completed, that staff is meeting expectations and fulfilling their roles on a daily basis
  • Serve as a resource, including being available to answer questions from staff and help resolve problems 

Office Manager Responsibilities No. 2: Process

  • Design and develop efficient work processes
  • Manage the development and delivery of the client experience – all the things the practice does to deliberately make a strong, positive impression on the client
  • Compliance and risk management: ensure that compliance requirements are strictly adhered to
  • Oversee marketing processes: for in-house and/or agency initiatives
  • Ensure that the right technology is in place, i.e., that it is working properly and being used to its full benefit
  • Conduct periodic audits or checks of all systems and processes to ensure everything is working properly
  • Manage to the budget 

Office Manager Responsibilities No. 3: Projects

  • Ensure any non-routine task is completed correctly, on time and on budget. (This doesn’t mean the office manager necessarily does it, but assigns projects appropriately and monitors completion.)
  • Projects can include organizing client events, implementing new technology or software, or selecting vendors and coordinating their activities.
  • The office manager must be forward-thinking, focused on determining how to make the business more efficient and cost-effective. 

In addition to the above duties, a good office manager is basically the planner’s right hand. He or she is the person in your business who will tell you the blunt truth, especially when you are doing things that inhibit the efficiency and success of the business. This person represents you and your values to the entire staff and serves as an additional voice, reinforcing what is important about your business, your profession and your clients. The right person should be a sounding board for you—and someone to whom you can offload every non-goal-oriented, non-revenue generating task that you would otherwise have to do. 

How to Select an Office Manager

Given the responsibilities of this position, it’s important to hire the right person. While it is helpful for them to have industry experience, it is more important for them to have strong business and people management skills. If candidates with leadership and financial experience are not available, look for strong leaders from other service industries.  Leading and managing the staff of a CPA firm, a law firm, a dentist or physician’s office or a real estate agency is 95% the same competencies as managing a financial planning practice.  The other 5% can be learned on the job.

Finally, keep in mind that this person is a manager, with an assumed mandate to manage people and processes. As the planner, it is your role to empower him or her to do that. In other words, set a clear direction, then get out of their way.


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