December 12, 2017

The uncommon denominator



Over the past two months, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of leading practices both in Australia as well as the US and, as always, I left each office impressed by what I’d seen. And while these practices were working in different countries, under different environments and were employing, in some cases, different business models, they all had one common (in essence, not so common) attribute – the owner(s).

So, what was it about these owners? It seemed to me that they all possessed a number of similar attributes:

  1. They had a very clear view of where they were taking their business and what it would look like in 3-5 years’ time.
  2. They were able to clearly articulate how their vision was going to be realised.
  3. Importantly, they were realistic in relation to where they stood today and what was ahead of them.
  4. They knew who their clients were.
  5. Their people had bought into the vision. Indeed, they weren’t afraid to hire people better than themselves.
  6. Their people were supported, delegated to and encouraged to continue their personal and professional development.
  7. Reduced principal dependency.
  8. They were all enthusiastic, excited and proud.
  9. These owners realised that they were running a business, and treated it a such. No personal fiefdoms here! They were prepared to invest in it, emotionally as well as financially.
  10. And most refreshingly, each owner kept an open mind, was willing to listen to and consider new views and ways to do things.

Now, I know that there’s not much new in the above – you’ve probably heard it a thousand times before. But when you’re charged with judging practices for an award (as was my job for these visits), how do you separate the walk from the talk?


Converting the ‘what’ into ‘the how’

Each of these businesses had comprehensive and documented plans for the immediate next 12 months (an operational, business plan) as well as a strategic plan that outlined the business’ 3-year plan. In each case, the two plans were aligned and complemented each other.

The plans not only had goals, which were clear, objective and measurable, but they were underpinned by strategies, actions, timeframes and accountabilities.

Finally, these plans weren’t a set and forget exercise – they were reviewed regularly.

Here’s what else these practices had in common:

  • They possessed a clear statement as to what their client value proposition was. In each case the CVP was proudly displayed throughout the office, in various communications and so on.
  • Each staff member had a current, clearly defined job description with measurable objectives and standards.
  • Team meetings were held, at least, on a fortnightly basis.
  • Incentive programs (linked to the success of the business) were applied to all staff.
  • They monitored the key metrics (their important lead as well as lag indicators) and were able to track progress over time, as well as identify early warning trends. They incorporated industry benchmarks, including ‘best in class’ and ‘peer to peer’.
  • They regularly sought feedback from clients, staff and referral sources, acting upon it as warranted.
  • They imported external expertise (coach, business development manager, advisory board) to validate their thinking and, most importantly, to bring accountability and challenge.
  • And perhaps, most pleasingly of all, these businesses had documented succession plans in place, with successors and funding locked in. They also ensured their business was revalued every few years.

As a result of our various office visits during 2017, we remain convinced of a positive future for professional advice practices. These leaders have, in our view, embraced the doctrine – “It is not the strongest of the species who will survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.

For your consideration.

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