Navigating the Four Levels of Advisory Firm Success


Three critical drivers seem to separate top performing businesses from those that are struggling, according to Vital Business Partners’ Sue Viskovic.

In a short video she outlines the four different growth stages her business has observed in financial advice firms, saying the three critical drivers that separate them are:

  • Clarity – in knowing where your firm is going and how to get there
  • Alignment – of the firm’s people and systems
  • Accountability – how well everyone on the team pulls their weight
Sue Viskovic

Viskovic says the greater these three elements are evident in a firm, the better the performance of the business tends to be.

She sees the different levels for a firm’s success in a pyramid format, noting that each of the four levels are not directly correlated to the size of the business or its turnover.

At the bottom of the pyramid sits what Viskovic calls the Red Zone.

These businesses might still in business, but they are stuck at the lowest level. In terms of clarity these business owners have no direction, service is slow, errors are being made, there is no alignment between the systems and back office people.

Viskovic says that when a business is stuck at this level it’s hard to get out of.

People find themselves trapped below a fear and inaction line because every decision they make or need to take has big ramifications. Most decisions bring big leaps in relative status to their current situation.

Courtesy of Vital Business Partners –  The pyramid helping businesses discover where they sit in terms of getting to ‘flow’.

At this level people typically have no real business plan. There is usually only one adviser and while they may have staff they haven’t learned to delegate, they are wearing too many hats and are not focusing on their strengths.

She says the myth they buy into is that they just need to keep working harder for things to get better.

But if you recognise that you can “customise the advice but must systemise the process” almost immediately there is a jump to the next level.

Here, she says, the clarity is still a bit uncertain, there is some direction and they have a long way to go to get alignment and traction between people. The owner is still very hands on.

…the key to moving through this level is to commit to change…

The key to moving through this level is to commit to change, Viskovic says.

Once you do that, you start making good decisions and evolving the business, you move into the next level which she calls Cadence.

“At this level we tend to see you have got some clarity, some idea of what’s going on. You won’t have total clarity, but things are working, it’s going okay.”

The business owner is delegating now, but is still involved and can’t quite trust that everything will run smoothly without their intervention.

She says at this level the business hits the ‘good enough’ line, and feels that “…we are doing okay and okay is good enough.”

But  ‘good enough’ traps you. Viskovic says when you get to this level, it’s easy to get complacent.

…’Good enough’ stops you from evolving and if you are not evolving you are going backwards and missing the big opportunities that technology and the QoA Review can bring…

‘Good enough’ stops you from evolving and if you are not evolving you are going backwards and potentially missing the big opportunities that things like technology and the QoA Review might bring. At best you sell up, and do okay, at worst you drop back a level.

Viskovic says that in order to move through this level you need to have focus and once you understand the power of that, flow follows focus and everything changes.

Now you have moved into the ‘flow’ state – the whole team is in sync and the business is getting better results with less effort.

She says at this level the game is very different.

“We see the whole team is crystal clear on where they are going and how they are going to get there together. You have got absolute alignment in the back office, services are delivered seamlessly and everyone is working to their highest and best use.”

She says businesses at this level are very happy with their results, clients love what they are helping them to achieve, they are in the top quartile for profit, the team is well rewarded and these businesses are attracting premium multiples.

She notes these businesses never settle and are always executing on their strategy and staying dynamic.

“To stay at this level you need… discipline and systems – staying in a state of flow is easy when you’ve got discipline and systems, but that doesn’t happen automatically.”

She suggests advisers consider the model outlined, think about where they sit in it and where they would like to be.

VBP’s newly launched Growth Alliance is a business coaching solution for financial advisers which offers a blend of one-on-one coaching, group sessions and on-demand learning modules. Viskovic says it also has different streams for different stages of growth and allows its subscribing firms to tap into the brains trust of fellow members.

Click the image below to view the VBP video.

Sue Viskovic.