The Power of Reframing: Analyzing When Things Go Right

Journal of Financial Planning: August 2022


Greg Opitz is an executive business coach with Carson Coaching. He earned both his bachelor’s degree in economics and his MBA from the University of South Dakota. Prior to becoming an executive business coach, Opitz served as director at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Carson Coaching is the official coaching partner of the Financial Planning Association.


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When things go wrong in their firms, many advisers will call everybody together and ask, “What happened?” Then they proceed to examine where the system broke down so they can make a plan to fix the issue.

But when we’re having success—clients are having a great experience, and we’re getting referrals and experiencing a lot of organic growth—do we sit down with the team and examine what in the system is going well?

There’s no shortage of articles touting the benefits of being able to learn from failure and adaptability. Harvard Business Review has numerous articles on how companies and businesses can learn from their failures and how it’s a complex art to dissect what type of failure it was and what exactly is to be learned from it.

But what if we made learning from our successes a science? What if we met on a regular basis to determine what things we are doing that are leading to success?

In this article, I’ll guide you through how to start examining and learning from the successes you have in your firm.

The Two ‘Whys’

When things are going well for your business, you can categorize the “why” into two buckets: things you can’t control and things you can control.

Things you can’t control are things like the markets, which over the past few years have given many folks—boomers like me—a nice tailwind to explore whether they can retire sooner than they’d hoped. You didn’t create these opportunities yourself, so you can’t replicate them. Rather, the positive market environment has created opportunities for you.

Inversely, the recent downturns the market has taken due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is also something you can’t control. But this also presents opportunities for you to demonstrate more value to your clients by helping them through this turbulent market.

Then there are things you can control. These items could include adding client value with new tech. Or becoming better at telling an outcome-based planning story. Or firing up your advisory councils to gain insights that are helping you add value to your firm. Or having a record number of interactions with clients—whether it be outreach, client communications, or touches.

These are all things that you can quantify, focus on, and keep doing to generate success. You can also pinpoint what similar activities you could start doing to continue that positive trajectory.

Two Ways to Continue the Momentum

I once had a boss who was the smartest leader I think I’ve ever known. She would always say, “Let’s reframe the question.” This is the first way to keep positive momentum when you’re experiencing success.

Reframe the question. Continuing the momentum when things are in your favor is oftentimes a matter of reframing your questions so you ask better questions. Rewire yourself to go from asking “What went wrong?” to “What went right?” That reframing to a better question will generate a better process to think through situations, which will generate a better response, which ultimately increases the likelihood of a better result.

It’s amazing how if we just reframe a question, we get a vastly different answer. This shows that more often than not, you don’t need to do grandiose things to get grandiose results.

Think of it like this: You’re a golfer and you take a huge swing and crush it, but it goes into the rough by a yard. But if you were to make a tiny adjustment to your swing, it would go 10 feet to the right onto the fairway. The two golf balls would be only 10 feet apart, but the one on the fairway has a better chance to make a good score. The difference between the two swings was next to nothing.

Examine what you’re doing well. After you’ve made your small adjustments to the questions you’re asking, identify the things you are doing well.

Lastly, start thinking about the things you can’t control and how you’ll prepare what you can control. That could be asking yourself how you are going to adjust when the market tailwinds go away. How will you respond when the markets stop going up?

While nobody can time the market or know when the next correction is going to come, we can prepare so when it does come, we won’t be hurt as badly.

The Importance of Reframing When Things Go Wrong

Life is cyclical. What goes up must come down. So, things will go wrong at some point. Reframing your questions is also critical when exploring why things go wrong.

When things do go wrong, it’s important to not misconstrue a result with a decision by reframing the way you look at it or the questions you ask. Let me explain. There are two situations that could be true when things go wrong in your business. First, you did everything right and got a bad result. Second, you made the wrong moves, and it resulted in a bad outcome.

It’s critically important when things go wrong to go back to framing. Oftentimes when we get a bad result, we think, “I must have done something wrong,” when we should be saying, “We had this bad result. Why?”

Let’s get you to analyze using a better question, which will in turn generate a better answer or response to the bad result. That better answer increases your chance of a better result. Sometimes you do make a good decision, and the outcomes are not good. It’s always a possibility that despite making all of the right decisions, things won’t work out.

Take fishing for example. I like to go fishing all the time. Sometimes you do everything right and, in the end, the fish just don’t bite, or you hook a really good fish but you can’t land it. Instead of seeing it as proof that you must have done something wrong, see it as an opportunity to learn what you could tweak for next time.

Over the course of time, the more good decisions you make, the more good outcomes you’ll have. However, when you do have bad outcomes, reframing the questions you ask in your post-mortem analysis can help position you for future positive outcomes

General Financial Planning Principles