At times, it’s easy to know when something’s not working correctly, like when your car won’t start or your air conditioning breaks down. But other times, it’s not so simple. A water pipe could drip for days before the tell-tale spot begins to show up on your ceiling. 

The story is the same inside an advisory firm. Staff may notice a failure in your firm’s process for working with clients, but they overcompensate to make up for it. The result is that while your team loses productivity, you may not even know a problem exists. 

Usually it takes something clearly evident, like losing a client within the first two months of the relationship, to see that your client onboarding needs to be fixed. 

For many firm owners, seeing a broken or inefficient process is the push they need to overhaul the way they work and to create a better system for their clients and staff.

But there is a practical way to identify and fix broken processes so your firm can improve employee loyalty, create a superior client experience and grow.  

Understanding Why Clean Processes Are a Must

Good processes are essential for a simple reason  they build firm value. 

When you have a foundation of consistent, repeatable processes that your team can follow, you ensure a consistent experience across your entire client roster.

You can then keep your focus on growth, instead of putting out little fires all the time, and serve an ever-expanding list with confidence. Plus, well-created processes enhance employee productivity and build loyalty. 

People want to work for well-run companies. and good processes keep your employees working productively instead of banging their heads against the wall because of the need to fix things. As a result, they’ll be happier working in your firm. 

In addition, standardized processes create a consistent client experience. As clients learn that they’ll receive good service, no matter who they are talking to, their satisfaction with your firm increases. 

Identifying a Process Breakdown

When processes break down in your firm, it becomes difficult to achieve any of the benefits of clean processes. Servicing clients with consistency becomes especially troublesome.

You first need to verify the problem. When you don’t get the outcome expected from a given situation, troubleshoot by asking if the process is broken or if staff members are not following the process?

If staff are not following a process, it may not mean that they’ve gone rouge. Instead, it can be an indicator that the workflow itself is broken and/or that they are compensating for a process that’s not optimized or out of date.

A broken process may be the result of many issues, but three tend to stand out: 

  • Outdated technology that no longer serves what you want to do and that limits how you work.
  • The solution and problem are not aligned; when firms suddenly switched to working remotely, many found they had to create new processes to match their new reality.
  • Too many steps; you want to document everything, but not too much. Sometimes, processes aren’t followed because they include unnecessary tasks to be completed before staff can move on to the next step; look for inefficiencies in process development.

Once the issue is identified, work backwards. Start with what you want to happen in a given situation. Then identify the steps needed to make that a reality, every time.

Building New Processes: What, Why & How

In its simplest state, building (or rebuilding) a process is as easy as answering the following three questions.

What: Begin by defining where you are going. What experience do we want to create? 

For example, in new client on-boarding, we want to get client accounts opened in less than a week with as little involvement from the client as necessary.

Why: Next, why do we want to create that experience? 

If we look at our new client on-boarding example, we want clients to onboard with our firm faster. This way, they’ll feel more confident in us from the start if their initial experience is flawless.

How: How are we going to deliver the experience? This is where the individual steps get created.

For the best results, you should give this task step to those closest to the process. Typically, this is your operations team. But you want to identify who is responsible for doing the actual work and get their feedback.

As you build processes, always work collaboratively, and ask your team to help enhance and fix those processes with you. Getting into the discipline of maintaining clean processes will help you create an efficiently-run firm.

It requires taking a very intentional approach to running an advisory business. If you can do that, you’ll build a firm that creates a great experience for clients and employees alike.