Why advisers need to plan, do, check and act

by | Jul 12, 2022

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To help advice firms to boost business success and engagement, Standards International’s Michelle Hoskin offers practical tips and useful process you can use to embed a more disciplined approach to continual improvement.

In a world driven by the highest business and Setting the standards Our recent research into this shows that’s partly because there just aren’t many options. Even amongst funds of the highest ethical and sustainable objectives and policies (of which there are currently around 400) Paris aligned options that help limit a global temperature rise are thin on the ground. Although, markedly better than amongst traditional fund options.

But it’s also made difficult because the data on this is very new and patchy, plus it’s a complex area. This, combined with an inclination to capitalise on investor concerns about sustainability, provides the perfect climate for greenwash to flourish. I don’t know who said it first, but the quote “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” certainly applies here.

The role of marketing is to present a product in the best possible light and the temptation may be to use unrealistic assumptions. With the data gap that exists this can restrict the view and people may not get the full picture.

Setting the standards

For decades, the Plan–Do–Check–Act cycle has remained – and will remain – at the heart of many (if not all) ISO, BS 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you will simply slip backwards, and in the blink of an eye be behind the tide, with an old-fashioned approach and out-of-date ways of working.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, standardsinternational.co.uk/certification. This determination will support us to shift the backwards[1]thinking which can exist across the profession and help us to educate those who miss this point frequently: that we need to replace expectations with standards.

I know that, generally, and despite the challenges, many of your team members are keen to work within a framework of high standards, with well-structured and well implemented processes and procedures. That’s because they know deep down that these are the foundation – the bedrock – of an amazing business.

Now, I am sure you have heard me saying this on a regular basis – but in the main, financial planners are not natural business-owners. Every week, the Standards International team and I will spend time with many amazing firms that pride themselves on their evangelical approach to delivering financial planning – firms that, without question, have put, and will continue to put, their clients at the heart of everything they do. BUT, as a result, these businesses are not always in great shape. Often, they don’t have a clear business vision for the future, their teams feel lost, with little or no direction for their development and growth, and structures and processes to secure efficiency and consistent delivery at the desired standards are patchy at best.

Working on your business

So, what to do? Luckily for you, this is where we come to the rescue.

Off the bat, you could look at how the ever-expanding 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 in fact some of the best-practice standards already exist.

The process-driven approach

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

Some of this scepticism comes from a fear of more red tape, or a fear 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 enhancers and enablers to your business. They are certainly 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, but this requires 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 for the better, but they may not necessarily have the required skills when it comes to streamlining 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 and can therefore be a great starting point to ask what is, and isn’t, working in the business – 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 within a team around making changes to a business. Perhaps this can be due to an unfounded fear that someone is going to be done out of their job. Where people fight us on change, it is often 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 you flip this idea on its head, it’s more the case that if you make improvements and efficiencies, there’s greater opportunity for everyone. The mindset of ‘I need to have lots of work to do to keep my job’ isn’t helpful – busy work is not necessarily smart work.

The blank sheet of paper

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

I’d recommend that, as you approach each of the areas you intend to review, 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 you’re going through a cycle of change and development. This is also the structure we encourage all our clients to use, and it can be explained as shown in Fig 1:

Now, let’s break these categories down into distinct phases and see what actions fall into each one 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 people
  5. Document and share – draft the new processes, share with all stakeholders and key people, and get their buy-in

Figure 1 

PHASE 2- Review, 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, time frames 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 you are going through this process, it’s important not to focus only on one part of the business. All elements of the business are closely linked, and you must remember that many of your processes and procedures will similarly be interrelated and interlinked. This is why this process is so important.

A word of caution

Make sure you take one area, process or layer at a time. It’s important that you review each one conceptually but hat you don’t get bogged down in how you need to make changes at this stage. Then, once your high-level strategy is agreed, you can turn your attention to the more detailed levels of the business area you are trying to improve. It’s about keeping that momentum going, and not losing sight of what you are trying to achieve overall. As with anything in life, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Your business is no exception. I hope that by applying these PDCA processes and principles to what you do and how you do it, that you will discover how you can transform not only the success of your business, but the lives, experiences and enjoyment for you, your team – and your clients too.

* Notes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA

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”. Michelle is pioneering a drive towards increased professionalism and operational excellence through her continued work at Standards International of which she is the founder.



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