Don't get shot in the search for the silver bullet

3 mins - By David Smith, Director, Smithink

Many of us have the tendency to search for that elusive silver bullet. You know, the one thing that will transform your business and bring success.

All too often, I see the results of this tendency. Software that is bought but never or rarely used. Ideas that never get past the whiteboard. Initiatives that are started but never finished. It can be very depressing!

Challenge number one is that in most adviser businesses people are very busy. Time is a very precious commodity. There are clients to see, the burden of compliance, not to mention the day to day challenges of SOAs to get done and plans to be implemented and monitored. It’s hard to find the time to spend on re-engineering your business. Past experience where such endeavours have been less than successful also play on the mind.

Occasionally, a silver bullet opportunity may come along, but for most of us in business it is extremely rare. While we should always be scanning the horizon for such opportunities, day to day, we should be focussing closer to home on how we can improve the business.

Taking it step-by-step

The way forward should be to understand that the real breakthrough in improving your business doesn’t come from a silver bullet but instead comes from implementing a myriad of small changes, all of which deliver an incremental improvement to efficiency, profitability or client service.

Implementing smaller changes are easier and less disruptive to the organisation. They also take up less of your time.

Why don’t you re-engineer your business one process at a time? Break your business down into all its processes: how you do fact finds, how you conduct your first client meeting, how you prepare SOAs and so on. Then each month agree that you will re-engineer one of these processes. By conducting process change incrementally you’re not creating a big disruption to the business, therefore it’s easier to digest.

Time to reinvent

Start with a blank sheet of paper, the old process has been thrown away. Now apply new thinking and the latest technology to the problem that you’re trying to solve. Are you leveraging the skills of the millennials? Are you eliminating the need for paper? How can you reduce the number of steps in the process? Are they all necessary? I always prefer the words process elimination to process improvement. It creates a focus on doing less.

Design your processes around the majority not the minority. There is always the tendency to think of the one scenario that a new process may not cater for efficiently. The danger is that steps are included to deal with that scenario that then over-burdens the majority of instances where the step is not required. Deal with the outliers separately outside your normal process.

Another goal is to ‘touch the data once’. So much time is lost in transcribing the same information from system to system. These days there are tools that enable systems to exchange data. Talk to your suppliers. Do your own research.

Ask your team. What’s working for them, what’s not working? What improvements would they make? They’re closest to the issues, encourage them to speak out.

It’s the little things that can have the biggest impact

Think about the small things. Additional screens on people’s desks, training people on the use of Windows short-cut keys, and using the automation features of Microsoft Word or Excel will all deliver small but important dividends.

Conduct an audit of how you’re using your core software applications. What features are you not using? Would implementing them deliver benefits? People generally only use a small proportion of the applications they have. Software products today are very rich in functionality yet people spend far too little time exploring how the functionality might be used or ensuring their people are adequately trained.

The opportunities to improve your business are almost endless. What you need is a simple plan to ensure that process improvement is something that your business does consistently on an ongoing basis.

You’ll be amazed where your business might be in a year or two by following this simple philosophy.

David Smith
Director, Smithink