Better Business from Brett Davidson: it’s all about execution

As an adviser you are on home ground when advising clients. However, running your business effectively and efficiently involves a different skill set – and one that many advisers often find challenging. Whether or not your 2017 strategic business planning is all done, Brett Davidson of FP Advance gives some practical tips you can use to see your business, and satisfaction at work, take a giant leap forward.    

You know what you’d like your business to look and feel like, but there’s a gap between your vision and the current reality. The only way to close that gap is to execute effectively on your ideas and it’s a crucial skill for anyone building a business.

It’s often said that business is 10% strategy and 90% execution and I certainly believe this to be true. As part of your business education it’s important to read widely, listen to business experts (inside and outside of the profession), and to keep absorbing new information.

However, all that reading, listening and absorbing needs to be synthesised into actual ideas that you can execute.

So how do you improve your execution skills?

Here are five steps you can take:

1. Make decisions

Good business owners make decisions. They may not always be right, but they continue to make them anyway. In my experience it’s better to make a mistake and know it’s wrong, than to forever procrastinate and theorise without taking action. It’s amazing how, when you take your first steps forward with something new, it becomes clear very quickly if you are on the right track. If you’re paying attention you can always change course or scrap the idea if needs be.

Often, in that quick and immediate failure, you learn more useful information than in weeks or months of deliberation.

Yes, you should take some time to consider a decision or do some research, but don’t take too long. Venture capital firms back ideas knowing that the original business plan might be changed, often two or three times in the first year or two, as the new venture finds its way.

Business is a small series of experiments, many of which end in failure; that’s just how it is.

2. Hold weekly meetings that resolve issues

Some firms hold weekly meetings, others don’t. However, if you want to execute new ideas successfully, your leadership team needs to be meeting weekly and actually resolving issues that arise in the business.

When I suggest this in my consulting work, most small firms initially have a fit. “What do you mean hold weekly meetings? Surely that’s overkill for a firm our size”, they say. I assure you it’s not.

The reason some firms don’t hold weekly meetings is that their meetings don’t ever seem to achieve anything. It’s the discipline and structure of the weekly meeting that allows you to resolve issues. The best process I’ve seen for meetings is contained in Gino Wickman’s book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. Grab a copy and read it, if you haven’t already.

When an issue is raised at your weekly meeting, ask yourself “Is this the real issue?”  The real issue you need to resolve is rarely the issue you first notice. Often it’s just a symptom. By asking yourself, “Is this the real issue?”you’ll find the quality of your ensuing discussion and solutions improve out of sight.

3. Have strict quarterly objectives

As part of your execution skill set you need to be setting quarterly goals that move your business forward. Ideally you want between three and seven of these goals. It also helps to remember that less is more, so three or four per quarter is usually spot on.

These quarterly objectives need to be focused on matters other than financial results. They need to be small projects that create “jam tomorrow”. In my experience firms that focus only on hitting their financial targets (“jam today” in other words), often get stuck at a level of growth, because they are not working on tasks that make them bigger, better and stronger for the future. That’s what your quarterly objectives are for.

Once these goals are set, re-read them and ask yourself the right questions: “If we hit these goals will we be a better business in 90 days’ time?”; “Will we have fixed something that is currently holding us back?”

If the answer is ‘yes’ then it’s essential that they become your absolute top priority for the next 90 days. At your weekly meetings, the status of these goals should be one of your key discussion points. Are they on-track or off-track? If they are off-track then do something immediately (that very week) to bring them back on-track for completion by the end of the quarter.

It’s easy to get sidetracked each week with new issues that appear to be vitally important. However bouncing from issue to issue is a major blockage to effective execution; don’t do it. My definition of ‘business hell’ is having seven projects 98% completed. Getting one project 100% completed adds value. Partially completed projects don’t, and can really raise the stress levels for you and your team.

Stay focused on your quarterly objectives and simply record any new issues that arise during the current quarter on a separate list for you to consider in the next 90 day cycle. That way the issue is captured and not forgotten, but doesn’t dominate proceedings or distract you from what you agreed was your core focus for the next quarter. This is a discipline that can make all the difference to your execution skills.

4. Make long-term decisions

Another key to better execution is trying to make long-term decisions. It’s all too easy to become target focused; aiming to hit the weekly, monthly and quarterly financial targets you’ve set for yourself and the business. Constant short-term decision making leads to short-term results, but creates no foundations for future improvement.

An example: bad data

You try to extract some information from your back office system, but the report is useless because the data you’ve entered is no good. Clearly, you can just find a workaround for this problem. It’s easy to believe this is the right call with pressure to get a range of other time-sensitive work done. However, if you were taking long-term decisions, you’d identify the real issue and create a plan to address it. In 12 months’ time that long-term decision sees your business in much better shape. It may not seem like a big decision at the time, but I believe it is.

The same can apply to staffing issues. If a team member isn’t performing and you’ve tried to address the situation, then it might just be time to replace them. If you make that decision, then get on with it. It’s also a sound long-term decision that many business owners try to avoid or defer because of the short-term pain that might go with it.

In my experience, thinking long term is the fastest way to short term success

5. Get some outside accountability

For some reason we’re all pretty adept at identifying everyone else’s issues, but not our own. So the final step in improving your execution is to get some outside accountability. Often this will be an external person who can sit on your board or attend regular strategy meetings to hold you, the owner, accountable for what you said you would do.

No one likes to turn up and say they haven’t done what they promised, so this simple step can really make a difference to your execution skills.

Hire a non-executive if you can afford it, or just ask a friend, business acquaintance, or your spouse to attend key meetings and help keep some accountability. I play the non-exec role for some firms and both they, and I, believe that it really helps keep the focus.

Try actioning these five steps and watch not only your results, but also your satisfaction at work take a giant leap forward.

About Brett Davidson

 Brett is the Founder of FP Advance, the boutique consulting firm that helps financial planning professionals advise better and live better.  He is recognised as one of the leading consultants to financial advisers in the UK. You can follow Brett online and via social media:

 Website: www.fpadvance.com

Twitter: @brettdavidson

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidsonbrett

Facebook: www.facebook.com/FPAdvanceLtd



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