Almost all financial advisors say they’re open to making changes to position themselves for the future. After all, everyone has read about the shifting competitive landscape – and that altering how we run our businesses is imperative.
This situation raises two questions:
First, given that advisors recognize the need to change, why do so many postpone making meaningful modifications to how they work until they begin losing clients or get squeezed on profitability, at which point they are playing catch-up?
Advisors, by waiting until they have no choice, realize only a fraction of the benefits they would’ve gained by moving earlier.
The second question: “Are there ways to improve the chances that you will take action to make meaningful change in your business?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.)
– The gap between intention and action
This issue came to the fore at a keynote speech I gave recently at a large conference for advisors.
After some preliminary remarks, I asked advisors in the audience to think about the last conference at which they had received business-building ideas.
Then, I asked them to write down all the things they were doing differently as a result of those ideas.
If advisors are honest, the number of things they’ve changed as a result of attending that conference is a big, fat zero.
Why the shortfall? Was it because the ideas they heard weren’t compelling and the advisors didn’t intend to implement the new initiatives?
The answer from the audience was unanimous: the problem had nothing to do with intention; it was all about what happened when they got back to their offices.
– The barriers to change
At this point, I asked the advisors in the room to take 60 seconds to make a list of the obstacles that had prevented them from acting on their intentions and then to circle their biggest barrier to change in the past.
When I canvassed the advisors, they identified a long list of obstacles.
Here were the top five barriers to change:
1. Time. For most of us, keeping up with the volume of online communication means that we are starved for time. Quite simply, there’s just no time and energy left over to contemplate additional initiatives unless there’s an immediate threat.
2. Existing routines. We’re all creatures of habit. As a result, a second obstacle to change for advisors and their teams is inertia – the routines we already have.
3. Priorities. Given how busy we are and the competing demands on our time and attention, we live in a “need to do” world. If advisors walk away from a conference saying, “That was a neat idea. I can see that working and it would be nice to do,” chances are nothing will happen.
For most advisors, the only way that intention gets converted into action is if they walk away saying, “I have to make this happen. It’s not a ‘nice to do’; it’s a ‘need to do’.”
4. Resources. None of us has unlimited resources. All of us are constrained by time, money, staff and energy. A fourth issue that some advisors said stood in the way of making new ideas happen was resource constraints. That’s especially true when there’s misalignment of timing between the investment and the rewards: the cost is immediate, but the payoff comes down the road.
5. Team buy-in. A final barrier to change is resistance from the advisors’ teams. Even if advisors are pumped about an idea they heard at a conference, when they get back to their offices, their teams don’t feel the same level of urgency.
– Overcoming resistance to change
These barriers to change are real, and the only way to overcome them is to put in place a plan designed to overcome them.
Here’s a four-point plan that has proven effective in converting good intentions into action:
1. Narrow down your goals: less is more. The first strategy for change is simple: change fewer things. Many advisors walk away from conferences with pages of ideas and a long “to do” list, and promptly get overwhelmed.
Instead, whittle down the things you’d like to change to a maximum of three.
For some advisors, even three is too many. Research by British psychologist Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t and How to Make Any Change Stick, shows that the more things we try to change, the less successful we’ll be in changing any of them. And if we want to maximize the odds of success, he writes, we should focus on one – and only one – big change in our life (or in our business).
2. Mark your calendar. The second strategy is to block out time in your calendar to dedicate to new activities.
This is not a new idea. Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens worked in blocks of time, and management guru Peter Drucker advocated setting aside large blocks of time for important projects. More recently, Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote about the tyranny of the “urgent” pushing aside the “important,” and the need to schedule time in your calendar for important activity.
A recent study in the U.K. on getting people to exercise reinforces the power of scheduling time for important activities. By asking people to commit when they were going to exercise in the next two weeks, activity levels went up significantly.
3. Create accountability. Regarding follow-through on our intentions, even the most disciplined among us fail. That’s why if you’re serious about change, you should ask someone to hold you accountable.
Your accountability partner can be someone on your team, another advisor at your firm or even your spouse or a good friend. The core idea is simple: once a week for the first four weeks that you’re implementing new ideas, you carve out half an hour to meet. In those 30 minutes, you each answer these questions:
– When we met last, what did I say I was going to do?
– What did I actually do? Did I follow through on my commitments in whole, in part or not at all?
– What kind of results did I get – good, neutral, disappointing? Or is it too early to say?
– What did I learn?
– What will I do in the next week?
The idea of meeting weekly for four weeks is to help establish early momentum. At the end of the four-week period, you may decide this was a dumb idea and abandon it, or move your meetings to every two weeks or once a month.
Many advisors who have tried this routine have found that it has made a big impact in helping them stick to their commitments.
One advisor has built this process into his Monday morning team meetings. Each week, every team member answers those questions about what they did last week and what they will do in the coming week. Each week, note-taking duties are rotated and whomever took notes is responsible for circulating a summary of commitments to everyone on the team on that Monday afternoon.
A second copy of that summary goes out on Thursday morning, along with the agenda for the team meeting the following Monday.
This advisor told me that in the hour after that reminder note goes out, there’s a flurry of activity by his team members to ensure they meet the commitments that they made earlier.
4. Develop early momentum. When we embark on making fundamental changes in our lives, getting distracted and discouraged is easy, which allows our good intentions to slip and leads us to revert to old habits. That’s the reason for the appalling track record most people have with New Year’s resolutions.
To make change happen, we have to build momentum. To lose weight or begin to exercise, seeing progress is critical to maintaining momentum.
The same principle applies to making changes in your business. Many advisors are used to setting 30- and 60-day goals. Although those goals are important, 30 days is too far in the future to effect change. Instead, focus on weekly and daily goals.
Tracking short-term progress is one way to increase the odds of making changes in your business, and this works in many contexts.
We all know that change is difficult. If it was easy, all of our goals would’ve been achieved, we’d all be exercising regularly and we’d be weighing our ideal weight.
If change was easy, there would be no need for articles like this one.
But by recognizing the barriers to change and putting in place strategies to overcome those obstacles, you can increase the odds dramatically of making the changes to position your business for future success.IE
Dan Richards is CEO of Clientinsights (clientinsights.ca) in Toronto. For more of Dan’s columns and informative videos, visit investmentexecutive.com.