This week, we had the opportunity to dive into a topic close to my heart, presenting a webinar titled: Fix Your Back Office in Lockdown.
Using our success formula at Elixir of Purpose x People x Process = Performance, we covered some key insights on how advisers can take the opportunity to fix their back office whilst their team is working remotely. And here’s our trade secret – these are the same steps you’d follow if your team wasn’t working remotely! (You might just do them in separate rooms rather than round the Boardroom table).
We know from our coaching experience that many businesses have some serious gaps in their ‘engine rooms’, and whilst they can work around these gaps when staff are in the office, ‘plugging holes’ as they go, the inefficiencies become incredibly evident when the team is working remotely. With a key success factor in sustainable businesses being efficient and effective back offices, this was a very well-attended session!
I’ve summarised some of the key takeaways in this article.
1. Purpose – Start with the end in mind
Whatever your reason for wanting to improve your back office, the best place to start in order to move forward is with the end in mind. While most advisers would say the purpose of improving their back office is to deliver a better client experience, reduce risk and cost to the business therefore lifting profits, it will help you prioritise your focus when you have a clear picture of what it is you’re wanting to build.
If you were waving a magic wand right now – what would you want your business to look like a year from now?
And what, specifically is holding you back from achieving that? (in this instance, what’s ‘broken’ in your back office)
Perhaps that’s difficult to understand or envision if you’ve not changed the way you do things in some time OR if you’ve just added processes on top of processes to meet the demands of regulatory or environmental change. Not every business will want total optimum performance using the very latest technologies but one question that you really must ask yourself is, what does a successful engine room look like to you?
Self – reflection
- What’s led you to this point?
- What do you want your operation to look like in the future?
- What elements of your back office are letting you down?
2. People – Do you have the right people on the bus, and are you looking after the ones you want to stay on the bus?
Part of your back office improvement strategy should absolutely include people management. This is an ongoing challenge for business owners, one we see often; and it seems that the size of the business or team doesn’t matter. Managing a team doesn’t always come naturally, and we often see Adviser Principals enable poor performing staff through an avoidance of conflict (by waiting until a problem escalates to act).
Self – reflection
- Do you find you’re frequently making excuses for or putting out fires made by a member of your team?
- Does your team understand (and share) your vision and values?
When you recognise team members that are letting the business down, what are your options? In a nutshell – you manage them up or manage them out! Harsh but true – the behaviour you accept now is the behaviour that will continue. You may require the services of an HR Consultant to put in place an effective Performance Management program, or it may simply require you moving past the perception that this will be an uncomfortable conversation. Either way, action is required here, or you’ll be putting a shiny new paint job on an engine with a fuel leak – it’ll either eventually conk out or at some point, it’s going to blow!
Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of retraining skills or reframing expectations. However, if someone on your team doesn’t share the same set of personal values as the Principals then they’re likely not going to be a good long-term fit. You can teach someone the skills to do their job, but behaviours are driven by values, and if they’re not aligned, you’ll continue to find poor behaviour that will negatively impact your other staff, and the client outcomes you deliver.
How do I look after the people I want to keep on my bus?
Equally important as removing team members who don’t fit, is supporting those you want to keep. There are multiple ways to do this that will be covered in another webinar (and article).
What about clients?
The People in our formula for success relates to clients as well as staff. If you’re finding that you’re still trying to be all things to all people it’s going to be very difficult to redesign your engine room to deliver on this proposition. When you’re clear on who you serve and what they need from you to obtain the outcomes they seek you will find rebuilding your back office will become a whole lot easier!
- Are the clients you work with now the types of clients you want to work with in the future?
- Do they fit the vision & values of your business?
Once you’ve examined what you do now, it’s time to plan how you’ll make your changes.
It’s not unusual for an advice business to have over 50 open files at any time for each adviser (a rebalance here, a client review booking there). What’s the operating rhythm of your office – how does your team communicate and prioritise what they’re working on, and keep everyone in the loop (on matters they need to know about)? We recommend some key elements to build into your rhythm that will not only help while your team is working remotely, but they’ll also enhance performance when you’re back to whatever ‘normal’ looks like in future.
- Have a quick gathering every morning to set your intentions for the day. Some call it the daily huddle or the 9 at 9 (9 minutes @ 9am) – make the name meaningful to you. Usually a stand-up meeting so people don’t digress into detail… this is particularly good to get a remote team into the routine of getting their head into work-zone (even while their body is at home). The team are reporting 3 things in this one
- What went well/or didn’t yesterday
- What are my metrics for today (what am I absolutely committing to get done)?
- Where am I stuck? (Take this conversation offline)
- Weekly work-in-progress (WIP) meetings
- Reviewing every open file (clients requiring activity) – not just new business, everything! Where are we up to, what are our priorities, who’s doing what?
- What’s coming – planning resourcing for review meetings and new clients in the coming period
- One on one discussions with key team members – a personal check-in with each person will keep them feeling valued and allow you to ensure they’re doing okay mentally, emotionally and productively,
- ‘Speak-to’ notes to capture those ideas or questions that come to you throughout the day. Are you guilty of ‘pinging’ your team on Messenger or Microsoft Teams in the same way you used to drop by their desk or yell out to them when questions pop into your mind every five minutes? Keeping a running ‘Speak to’ note for each team member will allow you to capture all the loose ends you want to check on in one hit. Imagine how much more effective your team can be this way, rather than interrupting their train of thought frequently through the day.
Redesign or tweak processes
Inconsistency in process will mean that your team are running around doing different things every day, which then has an impact on your clients. Whether you have a long-standing team member doing tasks ‘the way they always do them’, or 5 Advisers all wanting their work completed in a different way you’ll likely end up with an exhausted advice support team, unsatisfied clients, disgruntled Advisers and lack of profit.
There may be some areas where a clean sheet of paper and a complete re-design is required. Then again, if something doesn’t need to be re-engineered then don’t do it – maybe it only needs a part of a process changed, or the introduction of technology to make it more efficient.
Here are some ideas that will help you get your head straight….
- What does your back office look like at the moment?
- What do you love about it? Where can you do better? What do you loathe?
- Does everyone follow the same process?
- Does everyone use the technology you have?
- Do people need training?
Take stock, write it all down, be specific about why you love it or loathe it. If you are redesigning or tweaking processes make sure that you are including everyone in the process and consider the client experience when you’re doing it.
Audit is not a dirty word!
Working through all the tasks or activities you undertake in your business will help you understand your business at a granular level and help you identify :
- Who does which task, or who shouldn’t do which task?
- Do we have the best person doing each task or is someone else better suited?
- How much cross-over happens between tasks?
- Question if tasks are relevant or if they’ve been superseded by something else?
- Question if there’s a better way?
- Do we have the task list right – do we need to add things we’ve forgotten about?
Evolve Alliance members have access to a templated task audit rather than starting from scratch – it’s in your portal under the Implementation spoke.
Technology may not be the golden bullet – how do you decide if or what tech to move to? Look at your options, with this list of questions making sure you’re not getting distracted by too many shiny things.
- What do you want your technology to do for you? (specific tasks and client deliverables)
- Do you have a good understanding of the technology in your business and how well you use it?
- Are you getting value for money from your technology? This is not purely about cost cutting, it’s about whether your technology fit for purpose and fit for future to know that your bottom line is not adversely effected by outdated systems or paying for systems that you don’t use.
- Does it enhance the client experience?
- Does it make life easier for the team?
- Is it more a training issue i.e. your team can’t get your race car out of the pits if they don’t have enough knowledge on how the car operates?
Again, Evolve Alliance members will have access to the template we use with our coaching clients… a thorough list of ‘things’ that can be delivered by technology that you can edit to narrow down your priorities, and then assess how your current solutions deliver. If you start looking at alternative providers, this is a great tool that will enable you to stay focused on the things you really want, and not the ‘shiny’ features that a good tech demo can easily distract you with!
(This tool will be available to Evolve Alliance members by early May).
Bringing it altogether
Consider all that you found in your audit process in conjunction with your idea of operations utopia. Where did you land?
On your list decide what’s a not negotiable, a next in line and a nice to have. Once you’ve done that prioritise in order of importance and put your strategy map together. Next complete your due diligence (if required) and finally test and implement, but please don’t forget the training!
How you measure success when you revitalise your operations is entirely up to you.. here’s a list to get you started….
- Greater client experience and increased client retention
- Happier team – everyone engaged and focused, knowing they have contributed to the end game
- Delivering advice in the most efficient and cost-effective manner
- Less stress about Compliance
- More referrals
- Greater profitability
- Reduction of process friction (smoother client onboarding, reduction in workplace dysfunction, marketing efforts are purposeful and targeted).
- Team operating inside standard processes and less inclined to push their own projects to the front of the queue.
- Team not finding the need for a workaround and therefore not putting processes at risk
- Whole team using all technology – they understand why it’s a part of the process and the functionality. They’ve received training to close the knowledge & skill gap.
For more ideas and tools to help on your operations mission you can subscribe to our Evolve Alliance portal where we’ve packed and continue to add content on a regular basis to help you evolve your advice business OR feel free to call us on 1300 683 680 or book an enquiry online if you’d like some help to get your business more streamlined and enjoy greater performance.
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