Scott Charlton takes you to some places you’re trying to avoid in helping you learn what it’s going to take to have more great days at the office, and Sue Viskovic from Elixir Consulting says advice business owners need to involve their salaried adviser staff in the vision they have for their business and for its clients…
Top Tips on How to Have More Great Days at the Office
In this article from Slipstream’s Scott Charlton, Scott takes you to some places you’re trying to avoid in helping you to learn what it’s going to take to have more great days at the office…
The most value that gets added to a professional services firm is when the owner is “In the zone”. What a shame so little time is invested there.
For the vast majority of professionals in practice, their most enjoyable periods at work include “doing their thing” in face-to-face client meetings, engaging in that first interaction with a new client, completing a major assignment or reaching a project milestone, mentoring younger team members and collaborating with other professionals.
Most practitioners agree these are also the areas where they are adding the most value. They further agree that if the majority of their time was involved in these activities, they would be far happier – and make more money.
Because time invested with clients and prospects on high-level issues is usually the ‘optimal professional zone’, it raises some interesting questions. If this is where professionals are best suited, why don’t they spend more time there? What can you do to have more great days at the office and why is so little time spent in the optimal professional zone?
Obstacles and distractions
Some of the immediate obstacles that come to mind preventing professionals from being in their optimal professional zone include dealing with client queries and doing low-level work, attending to issues relating to management, finance and team members, marketing and sales, and finally, organisational deficiency in which too many hats are worn because there’s no one else who is available to do the task. (See the Slipstream checklist below.)
Many of these have the potential to accumulate, and once you have these responsibilities or distractions, it is very difficult to shed them. Distractions can be the worst enemy of a professional. It’s not always easy to get into the headspace required to work through a complex problem. The concentration needed to deeply consider a client’s situation and develop potential solutions is a delicate flower, easily crushed by interruptions.
On top of this, most professionals are their own worst enemies in terms of their willingness to assist others, be accessible, and be seen to do “their fair share”. Consequently, they can be seen photocopying, filing, binding reports, chasing up debtors, and even emptying the dishwasher in the office kitchen.
Let’s talk management
Few professionals enjoy management-related activities. Those with talent for management invariably migrate to such roles. For the majority, however, management responsibilities occur by default – because they are the owner, the most senior person and/or there is no one else on the team deemed capable.
The seriousness of this situation goes much further than simply not having an enjoyable day. By losing focus on what they do best, professionals run the risk of severely compromising the success of their firm and the potential benefits their clients could receive. These other responsibilities bob up at inopportune times, cause stress, and otherwise consume headspace best directed elsewhere.
Towards better work habits
There are three important categories of work habits that need to be considered and how these have a significant effect on the daily work of professionals:
- Diary management
- Setting priorities
- Personal organisation
Unfortunately, few professionals have had any training in these categories and invariably they lack the awareness and discipline required to achieve optimum results.
Lack of diary management
It’s all too easy to be a slave to your work diary. Invariably appointments are scattered throughout the working week and sometimes beyond business hours. These appointments often feature a high degree of perceived urgency, with the result that professionals use their energies keeping up with a torrent of interaction.
This compromises less deadline-oriented issues, including time out for holidays, professional development, attending significant family events, developing goals and strategy, business development, and improving processes.
Failure to set priorities
Without a clear sense of what’s important, professionals react to what is immediately in front of them. Consider a typical day at the office that starts with contemplating various files and documents left on the desk from the previous day.
These get pushed to one side while the overnight emails are attended to and the first of the day’s management hassles must be dealt with. One or two client phone calls later and it’s lunchtime. This process continues until the close of business, at which time some more serious client work gets undertaken, before rushing home to see the kids before they go to bed.
Professionals need a strong sense of what they should be doing and what they should let go. This means delegating tasks best performed by others, declining opportunities that are outside core objectives, and encouraging subordinates to come up with solutions and recommendations rather than just bringing problems to be fixed.
In fact, the most powerful question in successful management is, “What’s your recommendation?”
Lack of effective work habits certainly contribute to a professional being distracted – making appointments, responding to emails, filing, booking travel and accommodation, interruptions, accommodating the priorities of others.
To overcome this, professionals must train and develop their team members to take on new tasks, encounter fresh challenges and build their skills so that you can spend more time with clients, developing your skills and having time away from the office.
Simply put, your razor’s edge can’t be maintained if it’s continually being blunted by work better delegated to others.
Having more great days at the office
There is absolutely no reason why you should continue to toil away in areas you are not enjoying and adding little value. It’s time to take charge and explore the activities that you should be almost exclusively involved in.
Here’s a simple self-test: “How best do I structure my working week to have great days at the office all the time?”
If you are unsure about what it is that you like doing, approach it from the other direction, progressively peeling back the layers to reach a more satisfying centre. Start by identifying those tasks which aren’t core activities. What should be delegated, reassigned or otherwise divested? Typically, these tasks will be non-client related.
Whether you find this analysis straightforward or challenging, your imperative is to maximise time in your optimal professional zone.
Putting this simply, you are going to be happier, add more value and make more money the longer you are there. It is your responsibility to implement the changes required to become more professionally fulfilled. Making such changes may be scary at first but ultimately, it’s essential for you to enjoy professional life.
Scott Charlton is a Chartered Accountant and a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. A long-term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice.
Getting the Most From Your Team
Running an advice business will often mean employing salaried advisers and involving them in the provision of advice and client services. There is, however, more involved in that process than just providing them with a job description and a desk, writes Sue Viskovic.
When running a business with multiple advisers, it’s imperative that your team is in sync with the vision you have for the business, and everyone is empowered to contribute to the best of their ability. Sounds admirable, perhaps even simple, and yet achieving this state is not as simple as it sounds – in fact, one of the most difficult elements of running a business is dealing with staff.
For some time now, I’ve been fascinated to know what systems and structures an advice business can implement in order to minimize this difficulty and create a harmonious team environment that consistently achieves the growth and development targets on the business plan.
Having worked with many businesses over the years, I’ve summarised here my observations on what contributes to building a successful team. Assuming you’ve taken all the right measures to find the right people in the first place, and your team members are all qualified for their role and share your personal values and commitment to client service and quality advice, how do you get the most from – and for – your people?
Pay them well
And by well, I don’t just mean ‘a lot’. One of the reasons we undertook the Adviser Remuneration Report was because we discovered that many Principals misunderstood FOFA’s ban on conflicted remuneration and removed any performance measures from their salary packages.
We were seeing too many instances where a high base salary resulted in a lack of urgency from advisers, and poor performance results for the business and its clients.
While the Principal wanted their advisers to deliver outstanding service to their clients, to keep the ones they had and to bring in new business, the advisers had no incentive to go out of their way to deliver great results. Performance managing ineffective staff is an arduous and time-consuming process that has mixed results.
ASIC’s updated Regulatory Guide 246 removed the general exemption and extended the ban on conflicted remuneration to include life risk insurance products in 2018, so this became an issue for risk specialists as well as financial advisers.
However, there are still effective and legal ways to incentivise advisers for delivering great results. By implementing a Balanced Scorecard*, you can still build incentives into your adviser salary packages, that reward them for doing the right thing by your clients and your business.
Bring them into the fold
Share the vision of the business you want to build and involve them in your strategic planning. Not only will your people contribute ideas that you may not have thought of, but they’ll be more inclined to work together as a team to implement the grand plans if they were involved in creating them.
Once you’ve created your targets and goals for the business, be sure to keep them in the loop on a regular basis about your achievement towards those goals. If you’re falling behind, encourage them to contribute suggestions on how you can regain ground, and if you’re beating your own targets then celebrate your milestones as a team.
Manage your team effectively
In its simplest form, this starts with ensuring you provide documented job descriptions and absolute clarity on what’s expected of your people. Establish clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that include quality advice measures as well as financial elements, articulating your expectations for both new client acquisition and retention and servicing of existing clients.
As tedious as it might sound, even if your team is small, it’s important to have clear HR policies and procedures so they are supported in day-to-day management. I thoroughly recommend you join your chamber of commerce or an HR service provider so you can keep your policies up-to-date.
Ensure you conduct regular staff reviews where you have a two-way dialogue about not only your expectations and their performance or contribution as part of the team, but also their contribution to continuous improvement of the business. Ideally, this review will include an ongoing training and education plan to help them continue to grow their talents.
One hundred percent of the firms in our research included payment of relevant education in their advisers’ remuneration package. All covered the full cost of CPD, most did so for university degrees, and one co-contributed to the cost of a Masters Degree with the staff. Many also included study leave in their packages.
Clarity on who does what
Be really clear about the tasks each team member is responsible for. Naturally, the best way to do this is to have robust procedures for how you deliver your advice process, with due consideration of the best person to do each step.
Ideally, you’ll involve your team in the creation of these procedures and encourage them to continually improve them. The last words you ever want to hear are: “…but that’s how we’ve always done it.”
Be sure to also have timely reporting and visibility on the progress of all active client files so nothing falls through the cracks and your work-in-progress is completed efficiently.
Create a great environment
Let’s face it, we all spend the majority of our waking hours at work, and everyone performs better when they feel better. This notion extends from the environment they work in, to how supported they feel when things don’t go as well as they’d planned.
From indoor plants to improving the air quality (and yes – brain function – it’s a proven thing) to massages once a month, to guided meditation, to stand-up desks to fruit baskets and healthy snacks in the kitchen… Consider what you can do to make the office more pleasant.
Providing insurance advice is an intimate and sometimes stressful# role, so also take active steps to ensure you look after your people on an emotional level. You can do this by creating a safe place to have open dialogue about how your team is feeling, supporting those who are finding it tough#, protecting any who receive abuse or simply making it okay to have a mental health day once in a while.
I highly recommend you spend some time researching how you as an employer can support the emotional and physical wellbeing of your people. It will be an investment that pays you back in spades.
*The fifth edition of Elixir Consulting’s Adviser Pricing Models Research Report, was released in September 2020.
#If you or any of your team are finding it tough, please don’t hesitate to reach out to groups like Beyond Blue, or the AFA Care program.
Sue Viskovic is the founder of national consulting business Elixir Consulting.
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