Understand process, and thrive

By Cindy Jenner Cowan | June 9, 2008 | Last updated on September 7, 2023
4 min read

(June 2008) A thriving services practice does not have the option of running on autopilot but consistent processes are, without doubt, the single biggest contributor to reliable and quality service delivery to clients. Even without superior functionality, the consistent, repeatable and most reliable service will always win — it may not be the best, but clients know what to expect, and they know they can trust it.

First, it is essential to know what a financial services practice offers to its clients. Second, it is equally imperative to know, record and understand what and how things are done in your practice. In effect, this is balanced control, combined with good governance. To achieve this, a financial services practice needs to follow a defined, consistent and repeatable process.

Why is good process really so important?

Unusually successful advisors typically put two activities — business development and client relationship management — above all others. To do so requires them to confidently and successfully hand off all other responsibilities to staff or experts who are part of their network.

With this in mind, it is easier to see that a financial services practice needs systems in place so operations can thrive. But as an advisor of a growing practice, where do you start making improvements? How do you define what needs to be done? Obtaining some outside perspective is one method that can really help.

An outside perspective may be achieved by having your business processes mapped. This is a way of visually confirming how work is actually done. It is a relatively simple exercise and an excellent tool for identifying issues with current processes and for developing opportunities to improve and design the new way of working.

A process map can be used to illustrate impacts that span across teams and even departments where, previously, this causal effect was not evident. Process mapping can help a team to know where to start making improvements that will have the biggest impact for clients and staff.

Mapping your processes

What is the process? This step involves describing the current situation or process as it is today. Start by describing the process in words first; then draw out the steps involved. Once drafted, you will want to check for completeness — engage your staff and partners to help — and include the time it takes to complete the tasks being mapped.

The second phase involves a review of the process to identify issues and potential improvements. It is important to look over the process with a critical eye and determine if there are any repeated or “circular” steps in the process. This is the perfect opportunity to define what works well today, parts of the process that should be retained, while identifying all opportunities to improve.

The third phase repeats the first two steps for all key processes and systems within your practice. This phase is important to gain an understanding of the current structures, processes and patterns. Consider the interactions and the impact changes will have in each area. Important points to consider include practice boundaries, office layout and equipment, teams and working groups. It is also important to consider targets, goals and items needed to make this new model work.

There are three key questions to ask that set the stage for testing new process ideas:

1. What are you trying to improve?

2. How will you know that the change is an improvement?

3. What change can you make that will result in improvement?

The fourth phase involves designing a new process-to-be and challenging its validity. It is important to understand the different components of the new model and how they will interact with each other. How will your team respond? What technology may be needed to make the new process a reality? What are the associated costs?

In a larger practice, a team of individuals might need to be drawn from different units to work together and design the new processes. With the assistance of an outside resource, a typical session should take two or three hours initially. Regardless of the practice size, it is important to keep in mind that it may well take several weeks for all parties to agree on the design and for the processes to be refined. This is not a quick fix but one in keeping with the premise that business changes occur naturally and, consequently, so should any progression in response.

Cindy Jenner-Cowan is chief operating officer at Worldsource Financial Management. With more than 17 years of experience in the financial services industry, the expert in relationship management and value-added coaching recently developed FRAMEWORKS, a training program for Worldsource advisors, focusing on advisory practice life cycles. For more information please visit www.partnerwithWFM.com. You can also contact Cindy directly at (604) 376-9119 or cjennercowan@worldsourcewealth.com.


Cindy Jenner Cowan