How to Streamline the Workflow Process

Before implementing workflows, we envision a road leading to operational efficiencies and enhanced client services. After implementation, we find that the road we are actually on is filled with bottlenecks.

Many workflow processes end up with bottlenecks, which if not managed properly, can result in your workflows collecting dust on a virtual shelf. Advisors shared some of their problems including checklists with items that didn’t apply to many of their clients, and additional tasks that ended up being a burden on staff. In one case, tasks were assigned to one person who had over 30 tasks to complete in one day (along with her other responsibilities.) One firm blamed the CRM software for the firm’s workflow problems and planned to start over, beginning with a new CRM.

Taking a few steps back is more effective than taking a drastic step

Don’t equate bottlenecks with a failed implementation. Admitting that the workflows aren’t working or staff complaining about problems in the workflow process is a positive sign. Everyone wants to make them work, but the current structure doesn’t allow that to happen. To achieve your goal of streamlined processes, you need to assess (not finger point) what happened and how you got to this point.

Re-visit the roads you took

Review how you implemented workflows and reflect on which turn your firm made during each step along the way:

Staff buy-ins - Did you voluntarily receive, or demand them?

Throughout my career, I’ve had managers tell me how to do a task (incorrectly by the way), why I should see views their way (even though I had my own views), and why my agreeing with them is good for the company (with a pat on my back and a big smile on their faces).

The decision to implement workflows may come from the CEO or top management, but the implementation requires a firm-wide team effort.

Raef Lee, Head of New Services and Strategic Partnerships, SEI Advisor Network, understands the importance of staff buy-ins when it comes to building successful workflows. “Most firms get the idea that top management support is essential. Just as essential is that everyone involved in the workflows is involved in their creation. This means everyone in the firm. When designing a workflow have a meeting including everyone and design it together. This is the way to ensure adoption.”, said Raef

Workflow assessment – Impartial or biased?

During the initial design process, perhaps you insisted on automating the current processes without improvements because “this is the way we always did it.” Or, without understanding what the right solution is for your firm, you constantly pointed to the CRM vendor, templates, and other firms’ workflow processes.

Outside references are a great starting point; however, they should not be your end point. Taking the time upfront to assess what the right practices are for your firm, your staff, and your clients will increase the odds of the streamlined processes you envisioned.

Project manager – The right person, or any person?

What is the most important aspect of a successful workflow implementation – the CRM software, vendor, workflow templates, your clients, or your staff?

Answer: All of them. Good project management skills require an understanding of the implementation at several levels. Your designated leader needs to know how to manage resources at all levels, resolve conflicts from within and outside the firm throughout the development period, and facilitate discussions toward agreement on the processes involved.

Client services – Did you implement steps covering most, or a few clients?

Which clients were you thinking about when implementing workflows? While the 80/20 rule is enough for most situations, the key here is developing processes that fit closer to 100%. One issue is getting too bogged down with the details of every client’s processes, and then creating too many steps for most client situations.

According to Raef, “The answer is to not have too detailed workflows. It is really 98/2 rule. A workflow should be designed for nearly all circumstances. If you reach 80/20 it is too detailed and you should rework it.”

A better vision for your workflows

Understanding the underlying issues with your bottlenecks enables you to identify solutions that can be implemented. Whether it’s giving your staff more input into the process, better understanding your clients’ needs, or ensuring the right person is leading the project, your end result will be processes that work for the firm.

Your vision should be clearer now