Angie Herbers

Many advisory firm owners and their senior advisors spend much of their working hours today communicating with clients, discussing the ever-changing financial environment and helping them make good decisions.

But operations staff who work behind the scenes, and now from home, are in a slightly different situation. In most cases, operations employees can perform their regular duties and responsibilities from home.

Thus, the current pandemic procedures and environment have helped them, and their leaders, understand where systems were broken. And now many firms are fixing and updating those systems.

While we encourage our client firms to review operational processes and procedures regularly, we caution that these mechanisms can create unnecessary complications to their service model and client experience that greatly reduce benefits to their business.

In short, what most firm owners and their staff can get wrong is thinking that the enhancement of their processes and procedures means “documenting” them, which it doesn’t.

In fact, the improvement of processes and procedures entails taking a hard look at all of a firm’s existing operations — from on-boarding new clients to delivering financial advice to existing clients — and everything in between.

Next, staff need to make recommendations about how to enhance these processes and procedures.

When it comes to operations, it’s not a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of better and best. In other words, how can you start from where you are and make it far better than before?

Here are the three steps that we recommend firms take to get started in the improvement of their operations:

1. Don’t start with what to eliminate.

Begin reviewing your processes and procedures by making a list of all that’s currently in place.

You may have pre-existing ideas about your business and its current operation. But we find that it’s usually more eye-opening to look at the big picture, which should reveal some notable surprises.

For example, two or more of processes may overlap, such as reentering data or creating files. Or there may be a gradual increase in workloads over time, which means one or more of your employees face a serious bottleneck that’s slowing down your client service.

Then there’s the related discovery that two of your employees have, over time, been given the responsibility for collecting the same data from different sources, without any mechanism for reconciling it.

2. Carefully consider the key elements.

Once you have a handle on all the processes and procedures currently in place, turn your attention to making changes and determining what can be eliminated or done more efficiently via technology.

Also ask, what would be the “ideal process or procedure” in each case?

3. Don’t not to try to do everything at once.

Implementing changes one step at a time is the surest path to successful revamping.

It helps you focus on the task at hand, and then enables you to build on each preceding step — or to eliminate what isn’t working efficiently and instead try something else.

4. Don’t neglect training.

We’ve noticed that a common trend among firm owners is to aggressively fix a broken process in their business, but then forget to train employees on how use the new process.

New and better operations can greatly improve your business, but only if your people know and understand how to use them to correctly.

5. Fully embrace the change.

Finally, a new process that essentially does the same things as the old process won’t change anything.

If you genuinely want your business to be different (i.e., better), you’re going to have to start doing things differently than they’re done now. Also, remember to get your staff on board, as they can help you do things differently, too.