How Advisors Can Improve Operational Efficiency with Sticky Notes and Checklists

Posted by Maria Considine King

June 4, 2014 at 1:30 PM

advisors can improve operational efficiencyHaving more clients is great. But it also means more work—more review meetings, transfers, portfolio rebalances—as well as more staff members and advisors to manage. To overcome these challenges, financial advisors can improve operational efficiency and their bottom line—all by increasing scale.

Scalability is vital for success as workload rises. Here at Commonwealth, the Practice Management team and I believe that two strategies are particularly important for building capacity and scale:

Improving operations—including workflow—helps improve all employees' time management and productivity and ensures that organizational complexities don't impede providing the highest-quality service.

An Example of Operational Improvement

The financial planning industry isn't the only sector facing operational challenges; all organizations should strive to do things better and more efficiently. Surgeon and journalist Dr. Atul Gawande studied high-volume surgical floors in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. He asserted that many routine errors—some of which cause serious complications and death—could be avoided by fine-tuning operating procedures. Despite the balking of many surgeons, Dr. Gawande commissioned a formal study of this theory in eight hospitals around the globe. The results were staggering.

When all caregivers involved in the process (i.e., doctors, nurses, and technicians) used a simple, one-page checklist for surgical procedures, infections fell 47 percent, major complications following surgery fell 36 percent, and deaths fell 47 percent. A similar approach can help you smooth out the operations in your firm.

How to Improve Workflow at Your Advisory Business

There are many ways financial advisors can improve operational efficiency. Depending on your business's size, staffing model, and focus, some methods will work better than others. The checklist is a great strategy that can help many (if not all) advisors ensure that high-quality service is delivered consistently. Here are four steps to help you create successful checklists.

Step 1: Chose high-impact processes. Rather than setting out to create a checklist for every process that occurs in your office, identify five or six core procedures that will benefit most, such as preparing for a client review meeting or rebalancing a portfolio.

Step 2: Break down the operational process. Once you've identified an operational process that you want to create a checklist for, schedule a meeting with everyone involved in implementing the process. As a team, write each discrete task involved in the process on a separate sticky note. Use different color sticky notes to designate the different people who complete each task (e.g., yellow to denote an advisor and blue to denote the operations manager). Place each sticky note on an empty wall, mapping the entire process from start to finish. Arrange notes in a diagonal position to identify points in the process when a decision needs to be made.

Step 3: Brainstorm about the process. This method is a great way for you and your team to discuss ideas and opportunities collaboratively to enhance the process and improve efficiency. During this meeting, be sure to discuss the following questions:

  • Have all discrete tasks been included?
  • Is value added at each step?
  • Can any steps be eliminated?
  • Is the order of the steps appropriate?
  • Who needs to be involved to complete all steps?
  • Can technology automate any step?
  • Where can the client experience be enhanced?
  • Where are the opportunities for the process to break down? Pay extra attention to points where the process is handed off from one individual to another, since this is when breakdowns typically occur.

Step 4: Create and implement the checklist. Once you have mapped out the process, convert it into a simple, one-page checklist that includes each task to complete before, during, and after the operation. In the following months, be sure to discuss ways to improve the process and the checklist itself.

Remember that improving workflow isn't a one-time conversation or event. You will need to continually improve processes and operations as your advisory business grows and changes. When you prioritize this, you're better positioned to grow scalability—as well as your bottom line.

Do you use checklists in your office? What other tactics have you found to be effective in improving your processes and procedures?

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