It seems to be human nature. We’ll go along, avoiding a problem or challenge—in our personal lives, our health, our relationships or our business life—until one day we just can’t ignore it anymore, so we decide to “do something.”
If it’s a big problem, we’ll often seek professional help. Then, in our new-found zeal to solve the problem, we’ll launch a full attack on all fronts: stop smoking, go on a diet, buy a new wardrobe, find a new job, move to a new apartment, etc.
This behavior (often borne out of more than a little unexpressed insecurity about our ability to get the result we want) is what psychologists call “setting ourselves up to fail”: attempting to make so many big changes at once that our likelihood of succeeding at all or any one of them is very low.
In the independent advisory business, we often see advisors setting themselves up to fail. They’ve built their firm with some ideas but without real goals and, not surprisingly, without sustained success. In a moment of clarity, they realize they need some help and come to us to solve their problem, whether it’s low growth, high turnover or long hours. In their zeal to fix the problem, they want to do everything at once.
Too many goals sets them up to fail for two reasons: It puts too much stress on the owner and staff, and no one can successfully make too many big changes at one time. When we try to talk them out of taking this path to self-destruction, owner-advisors often become quite belligerent, argumentative and sometimes even verbally abusive—and we’ve lost a few new clients this way.
Ironically, we’ve found that not only does making one major change at a time lead to a much higher rate of success, in the advisory business often one change is the key that makes all the other changes much easier, actually shortening the time required for the whole process and greatly improving the end result.
The first step in an advisory firm makeover is getting the firm owners and everyone else involved to understand the difference between “goals” and “targets,” which enables them to focus on the process rather than the results. Golf is a good example for this distinction: Your ultimate target is probably shooting a lower score, but if you go out on the course thinking about shooting a low score, you will 10 times out of 10 achieve the opposite result. To score in golf, your goal must be to hit the ball properly every time (solidly, in the right direction, at the right trajectory, with the right firmness and with the right spin). If you can do that, you’ll reach your target of scoring low without even thinking about it—and you’ll have a lot more fun.
In an advisory business, the key to success is to focus on the goals that will result in reaching your targets, then work on achieving each of those goals one at time. When we ask advisors to tell us what their goals are for their firm, they usually say things like increasing revenues, attracting the right clients, getting more of existing clients’ assets, hiring more advisors or increasing firm capacity and efficiency. While each of these is worthwhile, they are targets, not goals. They are the results, not the causes. When properly measured, they will tell us when we’ve achieved success, but they don’t tell us how to get there.