Plan, do, check and act; practical tips from Michelle Hoskin on achieving continuous improvement in your advice firm

by | Mar 9, 2022

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Financial Planners can often find it harder to work on their business than in their business. If you fall into this camp, Michelle Hoskin of Standards International comes to your rescue as she outlines a simple yet highly practical approach which you can adopt to ensure that your business really is fit for the future.

The plan–do–check–act (PDCA)* cycle is a high-level methodology for achieving continuous improvement in all areas of your business that may not or are not achieving the required level of performance. Typically this approach has been used for decades in organisations such as Toyota Production System and Tokyo Institute of Technology as an improvement tool to manage the improvement of processes and procedures.

Now, I know within all busy advice firms’ teams that there is a daily battle of getting their fellow team members – and even more surprisingly the financial planners and owners of the firms – to grasp and then accept the importance of setting standards, structures, processes and procedures. But, as we all know very well, these are the foundation and the bedrock of an amazing business.


For decades, the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle has remained – and will remain – at the heart of many international, British and sector-specific standards. Why? Because, as we know, if you are not improving everything that you are doing on a regular basis you will simply slip back. Within a blink of an eye you’ll be behind the tide, with an old-fashioned approach and out-of-date ways of working.

This cycle was the initial draw for me to create and continue to develop the many standards of excellence that we have today in financial services which you can see here

This determination will support us to shift the backward thinking across the profession and to help educate those who miss this point frequently: that we need to replace expectations with standards.


Now, I am sure you have heard and read me saying this on a regular basis – but, in the main, financial planning businesses are not run by natural business owners. Even in the last few months I have spent time with a wonderful firm whose team prides itself on its’ evangelical approach to delivery; a true financial planner who without question has and will continue to put their clients at the heart of everything they do…

BUT, as a result, their business is not in great shape. They don’t have a clear business vision for the future, their team is lost with little to no direction for development and growth, and structures and processes to secure efficiency and consistent delivery at the desired standard are patchy at best.

It’s time for action

So, what to do? Well off the bat you could look at how the suite of standards specific to financial services could help you and your firm. And then I suggest that you review everything you do in line with our recommended approach.


Over the years, I have seen a lot of time being spent – and sadly wasted – on trying to find the best way of working, when some of the best practice standards already exist.

We have all come across people who are resistant to change, which often includes adopting new processes.

Some of the scepticism comes from a fear of more red tape, or that having more systems and controls will somehow put unnecessary limits and restrictions on the day-to-day job of being a planner and/or running a business.


But having good processes and a robust framework for the business isn’t about any of that.

Done right, these systems should serve as an enhancer and enabler to your business, not a limiting factor.

When people first come to either adopting standards or approaching business development more strategically, there tends to be an acceptance that they don’t have all the answers, and that can require a bit of a switch in mindset.


Financial planners spend most, if not all, of their waking hours charging in and changing the lives of their clients, but they may not necessarily have the required skills when it comes to their own business.

So, what can you do?

Often, the compliance support role is one of the most trusted in the team. Everyone knows that your main function is effectively to keep everyone out of jail, so I would say we know you have our back!


A small warning and I know you know this, but I’ll say it anyway.

There can be wariness around making changes to a business within a team, perhaps due to an unfounded fear that someone is going to be done out of their job. Where people fight us on change, it can be those who are fearful for their own roles. Making efficiencies can uncover those who perhaps haven’t been doing their job properly, but these business improvements don’t have to mean someone effectively becomes redundant. If they flip this idea on its head, it’s more the case that if they make improvements and efficiencies, there’s more opportunity for everyone. The scarcity mindset of “I need to have lots of work to do to keep my job” isn’t helpful – busy work is not smart work.

Blank sheet of paper

First of all, when you are improving and developing any business, you have to start at the inside and work your way out.

Also, I recommend as you approach each of the areas that you intend to review that you start by imagining that you are designing this process or procedure from scratch.

Within Standards International we have designed and use a process called The 6R Revolution!™ which can be helpful when going through a cycle of change and development. This is also the structure we encourage all of our clients to use, and it can be explained as follows:

Phase 1- Rewind

  1. Establish ideal outcomes and requirements – “What does best look like?”
  2. Identify the current process or way of working – look at any challenges that may exist
  3. Review and analyse the gaps – ‘ideal’ vs ‘real’
  4. Present real vs perceived issues to all stakeholders and key persons
  5. Document and share. Draft the new processes, share with all stakeholders and key persons, and get their buy-in!

Phase 2- Reviews, Rethink and Redesign

  1. Review and amend processes and procedures as required. Make sure you involve other people in this work: share the workload, agree what is required, \ allocate responsibilities, timeframes and key dependencies, and get moving
  2. Present and launch the plan – including who is doing what – to all key people

Phase 3- Reignite and Relaunch

  1. Implement the ways of working, stick to your plan and make sure that everyone involved is pulling their weight
  2. Measure progress, record and compare results to ‘best’ – keep your project plan up to date
  3. Sign off and establish your process for continual improvement in each newly designed area.

When going through this process, it’s important not to focus only in one part of the business. All elements of the business are so closely linked you must remember that many of your processes and procedures will be interrelated and interlinked. This is why this process is  important.

A word of caution

Make sure you take one area, process or layer at a time. Review them conceptually but don’t get bogged down in how you need to make changes at this stage.

Then once the high level is agreed, you can turn your attention to the more detailed levels of the area you are trying to improve. It’s about keeping that momentum going, and not losing focus on what you are trying to achieve overall. I wish you all the very best as you move forward and start to integrate the plan-do-check act steps into your own business – and am sure you’ll see excellent rewards for doing so.

About Michelle Hoskin

Michelle Hoskin (aka Little Miss WOWW!TM) is well known for her endless enthusiasm and energy, infectious personality and unique outlook on what she describes as a “magical profession”.

With over 20 years’ experience working alongside some of the world’s most successful financial services organisations, Michelle is an internationally recognised author, speaker, coach and leading expert in the design and implementation of international framework-based best practice standards

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