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Coaches Corner: 5 Steps to Creating Systems for Your Practice

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In my previous blog posting in this series (Coaches Corner: Nixing the Top 4 Excuses for Not Building Systems), I addressed the four most common advisor excuses for not establishing standard operating procedures and how to move past those excuses. Systems, standard operating procedures, processes, work flows or whatever you want to call them are primarily designed to be training aids and to ensure continuity in service to clients when staff changes occur.

To help you prepare office systems for your practice follow these five steps and you’ll be on your way to a more effective team and scalable business.

1. Create a Checklist
As with the development of any system or structure, start with an outline or checklist of tasks that must be completed each time a system is followed. Much like a recipe that includes a high-level list of ingredients, the checklist comprises your high-level action items. A sample checklist can be downloaded by going to, clicking on the Free Tools tab, and entering the code “checklist” for our New Client Processing Checklist.

2. Develop the System
The system complements the checklist with more detailed instructions. It requires specific, clear steps around each task on the checklist. Like repeatedly following the directions of a recipe, once a cook has become familiar with the process, he or she no longer needs to access the directions but may still refer to the list of ingredients. The same is true with systems. Once the specific steps become automatic, the checklist serves as confirmation that nothing has inadvertently been overlooked. 

So how does this get started? Assign the person currently executing the task to write the system. Remember, its purpose is to ensure a seamless transition should someone else suddenly need to step in and perform the job. Be sure the system is kept updated in regards to current technology, social media and the addition of any new team members.

3. Collaborate With Compliance
A core function of your compliance department is to assist with the development of policies, procedures and guidelines for complying with changing laws and regulations. Ideally, compliance will work in conjunction with team members to draft systems. They will have primary responsibility for developing processes related to your Compliance Department. Many also help to update systems to reflect new regulatory rules, business products, services and trends. The key here is simply to ensure you have your newly developed systems cross-checked and that they align with what your compliance departments requires.

4. Train Your Team
Clearly define who is taking on specific tasks for each system so each team member understands their role. Once defined, ensure each person receives thorough instructions for executing their portion of the system including when, where, how and who to contact with questions. For small offices, it’s not always possible to have a second person trained to serve as a backup; therein lies the beauty of a written system. If something happens to the person typically responsible for a certain function, the checklist and written instructions are available to ensure systems continue running smoothly no matter who is responsible. As you develop standard operating procedures for your office, remember to educate your team about why and how these systems will help them. It may appear to be an exercise in futility but I assure you the simple act of gathering everyone and communicating the purpose of it all is what makes good offices great.

5. Use the Systems
As difficult as developing systems are, the biggest challenge I see in helping advisors grow is this step: the actual implementation.Ron Carson put it best when he said, “Those who implement win.” Lead by example and ensure you have written systems for your job as well. It will instill an impression on your team that even your role has step-by-step actions leading to the success of the firm. Start by writing a continuity plan to ensure client service is uninterrupted. Always begin with your current clients in mind – they are the reason you made it this far and why you have the opportunity to grow. 

The guidance and direction provided by a solid written procedure may seem elementary at first, but I assure you it will give your team more confidence in their roles and in the future success of your firm for two reasons: the team will put more focus into the quality of their work because the process doesn’t force them to remember what to do first, second, third, etc. – and it allows you, as the leader, to fully realize the capacity of your team for building scale into the future. 


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