by Tony Vidler
I keep hearing “don’t sweat the small stuff” and every single time I hear someone say it I think of work, and what we do, and automatically think “if we don’t sweat the small stuff we are doing an awful job”.
The small stuff is the very stuff that financial advisers need to sweat. It is the detail which is key to understanding client objectives and needs, communicating effectively, maintaining compliance and privacy responsibilities…small stuff matters to us.
One of the most brilliant strategies I remember ever hearing was the “Broken Windows” concept, which was used in New York as a method of creating safer public transport to begin with, but rapidly gained traction elsewhere.
The concept was a brilliantly simple one: focus resources on the easy wins initially, which would in turn flow through into preventing the bigger and more dangerous issues becoming issues at all. So instead of putting police on trains, put police at the gates to prevent the ticket jumpers…after all, the people willing to commit the small crimes (not buying a ticket) were the ones most likely to progress to the bigger crimes(mugging commuters); whereas those who didn’t commit small crimes (they bought tickets) were unlikely to commit more severe ones. In fairly short order the police were using the same strategy and focussing on preventing, or holding accountable, those committing meaningless acts of vandalism and destruction – hence the “broken windows” label – or interfering with the law-abiding citizens.
It was “sweating the small stuff”…and it was a game changer for the citizens of the city at the time. Like so many great ideas the more bureaucrats tinkered with it the worse it got of course, and eventually it became an unworkable strategy simply because so much resource was getting mis-used. Nevertheless, it was an excellent idea until the tinkering began.
I have been thinking of the “broken windows” strategy quite a bit while discussing strategy with a number of firms in recent times, because it is absolutely appropriate for the times we are operating in right now in financial services. There is so much that financial advisers simply cannot control that has an impact on business performance and business value that we have to find the areas that we can actually control if we do want to build value, rather than find ourselves simply reacting to external influences continually and watching business value be eroded. The danger for advisers is that we focus too much on the wrong “small stuff”, like NYC bureaucrats did.
Those external influences such as increased regulatory and consumer oversight & liability; increased litigation or complaints risks; volatile product and market performance; revenue and remuneration squeezes; increasing costs….they all contribute to it being a much tougher market for the professional services firm now than ever before perhaps. As such the “small stuff” focus is directed at these areas.
We DO need to pay attention to the detail in these areas of course. However it is not the “small stuff” which actually matters most to driving business performance or creating value.
We should not lose sight of the need to concentrate MORE energy and resources on the small things that matter most: our individual relationships with our clients. Sweat the small stuff in how we provide service, communicate and manage our client relationships.
Despite all the distractions and external pressures on financial services practices, by concentrating on getting the small things right in our client relationships and client communications we can develop more valuable businesses.