Five Steps for Creating Effective Processes

Journal of Financial Planning: May 2022


Jessica Harrington, PCC, is an executive business coach with Carson Coaching. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University and a master’s in leadership and organizational development from the University of Texas at Dallas. She’s passionate about partnering with firm owners to bridge the gap between their current situation and their desired success. Carson Coaching is the exclusive coaching partner of Financial Planning Association.

Creating documented processes for your firm isn’t always the most fun or exciting task, but the impact of doing so is compounding.

It’s important to note that creating documented processes isn’t something you do just once; rather it’s something that once completed has to be updated on a regular basis to reflect any changes and reap the benefits of having processes in place. The benefits of creating documented processes include continuity, growth, efficiency, consistency, and confidence.

In this article, I’ll dive into each of those benefits and offer you five steps for creating effective processes in your firm.

The Benefits of Solid Processes

Processes ensure that your business will continue to run smoothly, even in your key stakeholders’ absence. Sarah Cain, vice president of Carson Coaching, recently noted in a discussion with advisers that in her previous role at a different company, one of her key stakeholders passed away, but because the firm had documented processes in place, the clients didn’t experience any interruptions.

Continuity is just one of the benefits of having solid processes in place. Here is more on continuity and some of the other benefits of having documented processes in place:

  • Continuity. Process manuals are part of your continuity plan. These are tools you can use to hire and train more effectively, and a backup plan in case unplanned events impact you or the team, like the one that impacted Cain’s previous team.
  • Growth. Having clear processes opens the door to growth. You can easily scale processes in the business, delegate effectively to people or technology, and be well prepared for growth through mergers and acquisitions.
  • Efficiency. If you give two people the same task, it’s highly likely that they’ll end up with a similar result, but the route to get there may be very different. Having processes can ensure that not only are the results consistent, but the way they are accomplished is the most effective use of your team members’ time.
  • Consistent client experience. Providing clients with outstanding service and experience may be something you strive to do, but without processes, you likely aren’t doing it in a proactive way. There’s a huge difference between answering a phone to help someone and creating a communication plan that allows you to address the client’s needs.
  • Confidence. As a business owner, documented processes can give you the confidence that both the client experience and your operations are consistent. That confidence and comfort might be exactly what you need to step away from the business a little more to do the things on your bucket list—or simply to sleep through the night without waking up to a frantic “did we do this?” thought.

Here are the five steps to take to create effective processes:

Step 1: Determine What You Want to Systematize and Prioritize

You can start this in a few ways. I generally recommend that you have a wish list of processes you want to develop. Sometimes, after working on process development for something like client onboarding, you find that you need to follow that up with processes that are a bit simpler, like a process for client birthdays.

If a wish list feels too big or daunting, ask your team to come to the next team meeting with a list of one to three processes that are most important in their work. This will give you a nice place to start, and also give you a head start on the next tip.

Step 2: Get Buy-in from the Team

Carson Executive Business Coach Gerry Herbison noted in a recent Tuesday Morning Advisor Coffee, an informal conversation with advisers, that oftentimes stakeholders are resistant to documenting and creating repeatable processes because if they do, they might feel they’ll be out of a job.

I remember in my last role talking to an adviser about getting pushback from a team member on creating processes because of that very reason. It turned out that the person had concern for their role and thought that processes made it easier for them to be replaced. This is why it’s key to frame the process conversation to the team using the benefits listed in the previous section.

To encourage team buy-in, I suggest finding a way to celebrate and track process completion. Some advisers who have started from scratch have even made creating a process manual part of the team’s incentive compensation plan—either in the form of an additional bonus or as one of the performance expectations in the existing compensation structure.

No matter how you do this, make sure the team understands the vision and the benefits of creating and documenting processes.

Step 3: Create Champions

Start by identifying the most process-oriented person in the office. This might be a great project for them to champion and manage. If you don’t have that person in mind, now is a good time to figure out who they are.

This champion will oversee the overall process creation and documentation project and keep the team accountable to their goals. Then, you can identify subject matter experts (SMEs) for different areas of the business to tackle the processes for their respective areas.

Step 4: Create the Plan

Now it’s time to prioritize the processes and determine an overall scope for the project.

Schedule out the processes and any meetings or dedicated work time for the team members who are creating and reviewing processes.

Then identify an easily accessible place where you can store the processes. While some of the processes will be created in workflows—or simply be links to other systems—it’s important that the document or software used is able to be accessed and edited by more than one person at a time. I would also highly recommend regularly backing up this resource. This could be an Excel or Word file on your shared drive or an Asana task list.

It is of the utmost importance that you do not store the processes on paper or in notebooks. I once had an adviser tell me that their assistant had all the process documents—which were kept in their notebook—shredded upon their departure because they didn’t need the notebook anymore. I was speechless. I thought he was joking, but it was true!

Then you have to execute. You can have the best strategy in the world, but you have nothing without execution. Develop a way to stick to the plan and adapt as needed.

Step 5: Create Regular Reviews

Creating processes isn’t a one-and-done event, it’s an ongoing initiative. If you created a process manual five years ago, it’s out of date—it’s a relic documenting the way you used to do things.

To keep your process manuals fresh and accurate, you need to create an annual process review so you can update the processes. This is also a good time to connect with the team to have their input on updates needed.

Creating great processes isn’t easy, but these tips can make it more achievable

Practice Management