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R.I.P. To The Accepted Wisdom For Growing Your Practice


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Like many others I have considered the concept of the professional services firm consisting of individuals focussing on what they do best to be an ideal worth pursuing.

The concept of a professional firm requiring 3 distinctly different roles of a Finder, Minder & Grinder is the thinking of one of the most influential authors & thinkers of my professional life.  David Maister literally wrote the book on building, structuring and then managing a professional services firm.  It happens that he wrote quite a few other books, a number of which are utterly relevant to todays financial services professionals.

Playing to the strengths of the different skillsets and mindsets which human beings have is what led Maister to conclude that an effective firm allowed those who were naturally hunters, or rainmakers, to focus upon the pursuit of new opportunities and landing clients.  They are the Finders.  Those more naturally suited to the patient process of managing relationships and paying attention to the execution of tasks diligently serve the firm best as Minders.  And in every professional services firm there is the need for the technically proficient, probably quite analytical (if not “anal”) producer of detail which is rooted in fact, research and analysis.  There hides the Grinder.

Here is the question specifically for financial services firms which I have been asking: is the Finder, Minder, Grinder concept dead already for us?

Many individuals have tried to build practices founded upon this concept in financial services, and I cannot think of many where they have done it successfully.  Partly because the industry has a naturally strong leaning towards those who are naturally Finders or Minders….but not so many Grinders.  Yet the model has worked very well in other fields, especially law and accountancy where entire firms of substantial size work this way: 

The leverage the professional practice seeks is created largely on the back of the ability to hire and keep Finders, who in turn create opportunities for key account management by the Minders. They in turn groom tomorrows Minders or Finders by mentoring them in their technical competencies as Grinders to begin with, and in time elevating them to Minder positions.

The Finders virtually cannot be contained in any other role….they Find their way to prominence through their personal networking and promotion ability, which is more “mindset” than “skillset” I suspect.

The problem for financial advisers is that we tend to be forced through overt regulation, or compliance requirements, into a Grinding role much of the time. The industry structure being what it is in terms of remuneration, established practice valuation methodology and key behavioural levers drive all advisers to actively pursue one of the other 2 roles as well.

Therefore nearly all advisers have found themselves thus far becoming Finder-Grinders or Minder-Grinders, and therefore have a strong leaning towards “sales” or “advice” as a result.  The Finder-Grinders leaning towards “sales” is not an indication that they are any less professional; they just have a different mindset and skillset. They like hunting mostly….but know they have to do a bit of farming and stuff around the farm too these days.  For these advisers the “grinding part is an absolute chore.  At best they can usually be described as “coping” in that area.  While they are coping though, it lessens their effectiveness as Finders.

The Minder-Grinders do better than cope with the Grinding side of the game…they tend to do well at it, which drives them into the space of being “advice” providers.  They however tend to focus on patiently growing the productivity of the farm and lovingly nurture every flowering plant.

David Maister’s model does not quite fit for the financial services sector.  I say that with the utmost respect, and believe that he is an innovative and creative thinker and was absolutely spot on with his thinking at the time for the majority of professional services sectors. His thinking still stands and is (I believe) entirely valid for those professional service sectors with little to no direct regulatory intervention, and who operate only in the advice arena.

They dynamics in financial services are different however, and some of those key changes occurred well after Maister produced his masterpiece.

The model for the successful financial services firm of the future will still play to the differing mindsets and skillsets of the humans involved, but with clear separation of management from advice.  Those in the advice area must work with a constant overlay: Everyone has to be able to “do the job”. Regulators demand it, and that requirement cannot be ignored.

But here is the thing: every professional adviser also has to be able to “get the job” to build a successful practice.

The successful financial adviser of the future has two core functions:

1. Get the job

2. Do the job

That is it.  Much of what Maister called “Minding” is for financial advisers a key element of “getting the (next) job”.

R.I.P. to the accepted wisdom for growing a professional financial advice practice.

If the financial adviser must remain focused upon getting the job and then doing the job, then the practice model has to change.  Unlike Maister’s model where The Finders are creating opportunity which is driven down the pyramid, the financial services model centres upon the delivery of advice, and all else within the practice must be focused upon ensuring that the adviser is focused just on their core deliverable.

There is a need for focused business management.  That may well be a former adviser fulfilling the role of CEO, or General Manager, or Partner….or whatever commercial structure and role description suits.  What is essential though is that there is dedicated business management driving the practice.

Leverage for the practice is introduced from management doing some of the “Finding” through marketing and brand building; via non-advice staff, who fundamentally provide all of the service and “Minding” functions (and a significant number of “Grinding” functions such as research and template creation) which are not directly linked to delivery of specific advice to a client;  and; the use of systems and technology to create efficiencies in both human time requirements and physical overheads for the practice.

Financial Advisers live in an era where all must be Grinders – at least some of the time.  To build a successful practice in that world the practice must be built around the delivery of advice of course, but the advisers job is to only focus on getting the engagement, and delivering the engagement.  All else is actually business management and operations – and that is what a successful practice of the future is investing in building, rather than more technically brilliant advice.

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