The Adviser's Consultant

Avoiding management overload by delegating

Julia Carlson learned to manage her fast-growing practice by spreading responsibility and accountability across the leadership team

Nov 9, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Julia Carlson never had much trouble attracting clients to the advisory firm she launched in 2009. But when she started growing by about $40 million a year, she began to recognize the firm's lack of business structure was a potential calamity in the making.

Ms. Carlson, who manages $240 million as the founder and chief executive of Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group, saw her responsibilities as a business manager expanding, which was taking time away from her true strengths.

"I was trying to manage everything, and I'm a horrible manager, because I'm more of a visionary," she said. "We never had a formal structure that gave us a track to run on."

Even as she was building her client base and assets were growing, Ms. Carlson was managing a business with five different offices spread across Oregon. She was worried that growth might stagnate as she "tried to hold on to all the different aspects of the company."

Lisa Dion, founder of the consulting firm Strategic Advisor Solutions, said Ms. Carlson's challenge is common among advisory firms that grow quickly but without a formal plan for building and managing the business part of the firm.

"Most firms need a foundation for growth, but Julia already had that because she was already growing," Ms. Dion said. "But she needed a clear vision for growth so that the firm wasn't running her."

Starting from the premise that "When everything is important, nothing is important," Ms. Dion helped Ms. Carlson identify and establish specific goals, and most importantly, delegate responsibility.

Even though Ms. Carlson wasn't ready to give up her ownership stake in the business, one of the first steps was to create a top-level leadership team that would "take ownership" of helping to manage the business, she said.

The advisory firm has 12 employees, including four client-facing professionals. Ms. Carlson created a three-person leadership team that includes herself.

"Before the leadership team was just me, but now it's me and two others," she said. "I'm now delegating to others, so everyone has their goals and end results."

To make sure there is action behind the structure, the leadership team meets weekly, and the status of specific goals will be measured against a scorecard.

The scorecard, which Ms. Dion helped create, includes a range of near-term, ongoing, and longer-term objectives and projects that focus on revenues, assets under management, the development of a digital advice platform, the status of website inquiries and how many prospect meetings produce new clients.

"You take big things you want to accomplish and then break them down into smaller pieces, and if you're way off track, the other teammates will find ways to help," Ms. Carlson said. "It's like having a pulse for your business, and instead of going to everyone and trying to find out what's going on, everyone goes to the Google doc."

Tip sheet:

• Create an accountability chart, which is different from an organizational chart, so that everyone is held accountable for specific tasks and projects.

• Develop a scorecard system to keep tabs on what is happening throughout the company, so owners and managers can stay abreast of projects and goals without having everyone report to one person.

• Develop measurable performance indicators that focus on both leading and lagging indicators of business growth.

• Have all potential hires take a personality test to determine if and how they will best fit into the organization. This is key to building a team of people with different sets of strengths.

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