Advisors: What holds you accountable?

September 19, 2019

Do you struggle with procrastination when it comes to long-term business planning tasks?

Over the last month, I’ve noticed the word “accountability” popping into my conversations with independent advisors with increasing frequency. Many advisors are telling me that sometimes they need and want to be held accountable to help them stop procrastinating on business planning tasks.

In practice management circles, we talk about working on your business versus working in your business. You can easily justify working in your business — there are always clients you could be calling, an account you could be reviewing or a meeting with a vendor that you could be taking. It’s harder to work on your business; Long-range planning takes longer, has less of an immediate impact and there is little recourse if you skip it or procrastinate. That’s why it’s so easy to put off that type of work.

Examples: Group accountability

Consider two recent examples that illustrate my point.

  • I spoke with a Midwest advisor who was discussing her BD-led practice management group. “Carol” has been attending the semiannual sessions for years. Although she feels that sometimes the content can be repetitive, being held accountable by the coaches and her peers keeps her coming back. She makes commitments to people in the room that she must report on in six months. That accountability helps motivate her.
  • Over coffee, I discussed accountability with a local Pennsylvania advisor. We were talking about a project he was working on that he said was moving slowly — too slowly. I could tell that he was concerned about what he had to report to his accountability group. He knew they were going to push him to get clarification on details, a timeline for completion and what his action items were to get it moving forward faster. 

accountability checklistGetting around to planning

Most of the independent advisors I know got their start working for a large wire house or a captive agent insurance firm (and a few joined the family business by working for their father or mother). When these folks eventually created their own firms, most had two goals:

  • To deliver what they considered a better service to their clients.
  • To run their own business instead of having a manager or boss.

But when advisors gain the freedom to make all the decisions, on everything from the clients they take on to the employees they hire, they often find it challenging to make time for important things like forming a long-term vision for their firm.

A recent survey I read asked advisors about their business planning. One question asked if they had a plan for the next five to 10 years – the survey wanted to know what the business would look like and how advisors were preparing. A small percentage of the respondents said that while they did have a plan, it looked out only one to two years (tactical). 

Many more said that they did not have a plan, with the most common reason being “we haven’t gotten around to it.”

My guess is that for these advisors, it is easy to work in but not on their businesses. No one is pushing them to look at the future; no one is holding them accountable for their business plans. 

A four-step program?

So how do hold yourself accountable to look at items like business planning or growth-related activities? First, acknowledge that you may have an issue with time management. Second, look for motivators that help keep you focused. Some ideas that may work:

  1. Internal: Think about systematizing your accountability. We have written about Traction by Gino Wickman before. Traction defines an entrepreneurial operating system for businesses. If you are the “visionary” of your firm, then hire or appoint an “integrator”. Better yet, use a trained EOS facilitator to help on your quarterly rocks. If you institutionalize your accountability, it becomes ingrained in the culture of your firm.
  2. Peers: Join or start a study group. Look to your Broker Dealer or associations like the FPA® or NAPFA to find like-minded professionals who understand your business and have similar issues. The best study groups that I have seen are run professionally. Some require dues to participate, or have required attendance and required participation. Notes are taken and accountability happens when you have to report to your peers. Look for a regional group so you can up the frequency of meetings but not so local that you are concerned with sharing information.
  3. Professional: It seems that many of the coaching programs that I see are built for business growth. In my mind, if you’re going to spend the money to grow your business you should look at two things: First, ask whether the coach’s methods are compatible with your personality/style. Second, ask whether the coach is going to hold you accountable. A one-on-one coach will cost more, but that individual attention means you won’t easily duck required tasks – you’ll have to put in the work.
  4. Stakeholders or COIs: Form your own accountability group. Ask key stakeholders, COIs or other professional services business owners in your community to start a group. Members can meet monthly or quarterly to solve business issues and hold each other accountable. Require members of the group to report back to each other on projects, goals and ideas. Hearing about the issues of fellow members while you share your own will help you learn to see issues from a different perspective.

I think we all need a push sometimes, especially when tackling tough challenges. You can take a call from a wholesaler that has a magic, non-correlated, bitcoin tracking alpha¹ fund or you can create a vision for your firm for the next 10 years. You can personally oversee the transfer of funds (something your admin has done 10,000 times) or work on a strategic growth plan. 

Who holds you accountable for getting the right things done?
 

Legal Note

¹Alpha is a measure of performance on a risk adjusted basis.

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