Streamlining Your Advisory Firm – From Fire Drill to Efficient

There is so much to do in an advisory firm –following the markets and keeping up on economic developments, responding to client inquiries or preparing for client meetings and events, hiring and developing employees, working on the marketing message, ensuring technology is up-to-date… Lots to do and, most weeks, seemingly little time to do it in.

Sometimes a firm can evolve into the fire drill mentality, where people are just running from one fire to another and trying to address the urgent, knowing they should focus on the less urgent, but having no time to do so. Things are getting done but people are worrying and wondering what’s being missed. Employees have less restful sleep at night, and can become very stressed and agitated during the day. While the work gets done, no one is at a high level of productivity and effectiveness – they can’t be.

If this sounds like your firm, or the one you work in, it might be time to consider making a change. When things are just spiraling and you have to take the time to stop and figure out a better way, it can feel like changing your clothes in the back of a pickup truck barreling down the highway. You are trying to keep your balance and not fall off, but get the new clothes on in time for the party you are racing to! Unfortunately when the fire drill mentality gets embedded, it’s very hard to remove without some sort of concerted focus and effort. Things won’t change on their own; it will take you to say “stop the madness!”

What does this mean? Here are five ideas to streamline your firm:

  1. Take time to examine what’s working and what’s not. Yes, that’s right – in the midst of having too much to do and not enough time to do it, take more time out of the craziness to do a review. You can’t change what’s happening without an opportunity to step outside of it and view it objectively. Your team sees things every day that you might not even know are happening. When people get into fire drill mode, they cease to stop and ask, “What should I be doing right now?” Schedule an informal place, away from the office if possible, to review what’s going on and what can be changed.
  2. Review your processes and associated technology. This is often where economies can be made. What is your team still doing manually? How many systems does an advisor have to go to in order to create a client report? Does everyone who needs it, have access to client information? Actively seek those places where technology could be better utilized.
  3. Confirm that the right people are in the right roles. So much time and energy is wasted when people are in ill-fitting roles. They have to work much harder in order to be successful, because the fit is not natural and comfortable. If you are asking financial people to sell, for example, do they have the skills, the knowledge and the tools to do so? If you are asking low-rules people to play a compliance role, do they have the aptitude to find errors? Align people with their natural talents and the work is much easier for them.
  4. Align expectations with the role. In many advisory firms, the tendency is to have an “all hands on deck” mentality; anyone who is breathing may be asked to do anything at any time! It’s great to have people who will pitch in, but it’s not efficient. Streamlining happens when people are accountable, own their roles and responsibilities, and know what to depend on from others. The fire drill environment breeds the “do whatever you can” approach, and it actually makes everything more complicated, not less.
  5. Be willing to change. Some leaders thrive on chaos. Yes, it is largely ineffective; yes, it burns people out; and yes, it rarely allows a firm to gel, but it is the preferred style of many leaders. There is a fine line between entrepreneurial, which may be creative and change-focused, and chaos, which has no real rhyme or reason and changes continually just to shake things up. Be willing to be self-reflective and consider whether your leadership style is part of the problem. You will be better off in the short and long term with a streamlined firm that is moving in the right direction as efficiently as humanly possible!