Want to be great? Set your own standards of performance

Achieving greatness

What separates the good from the great in Financial Planning?

In fact, what separates the good from the great in any endeavour?

We all know greatness when we see it. It might be in the sporting arena; a team or an individual that, in that moment, leaves everyone else in their wake. It might be in the arts; a piece of work that leaves you in awe of the actor, musician, writer, or painter who was able to communicate something so profound.

The concepts that apply to achieving greatness across all disciplines certainly apply to you and your business.


Dare to be great

Is it too high-brow to talk about greatness in Financial Planning? Maybe it is for some. If so, then reframe it in whatever words mean something to you:

Being better, being good, or maybe, if you dare, being great.

I read some amazing books last year, and one of them stands out when I think about achieving higher standards of performance within your business.

The book which provided the inspiration for this piece was, The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh. I’m pretty sure it’s a classic in sports literature in the US, but maybe not so much here in the UK.

The short backstory is this. In 1979, Bill Walsh got his first NFL (American Football) coaching job as head coach of the San Francisco 49’ers. They were considered one of the worst teams in NFL history, and a poisoned chalice to inherit. Not the dream first job.

However, in only three seasons Walsh took them from worst team ever to Super Bowl champions. It’s considered the most impressive turnaround in the history of American sport.


How did he do it?

He instituted what he called his ‘Standards of Performance’, a set of standards and a way to perform every single role within his business, the San Francisco 49’ers football team.

He did this for the players, telling them exactly what he wanted and setting specific standards for each position. He then coached to those standards, demanding that each player attempt to hit the standard. He also set standards for the receptionist and the groundsmen within the broader organisation. He set standards for how the team would dress when they travelled to games, how they would act in public, and how they would respond to the media. There were standards for absolutely everything.

In Walsh’s first season as coach, their win/loss record was exactly the same as the year before, when they were considered the worst team ever. The press lambasted them as still the worst team ever. But Walsh knew they’d improved.


How did he know?

Because he was benchmarking against his own internal standards, which were specific, and written down for every person and process within his organisation. Yes, they lost as many games, but some they lost narrowly and he could see things improving.

In year two the win/loss record improved and was a lot more respectable. In the third year they made the playoffs and won the Super Bowl. An incredible feat. From zeros to heroes in three years.


How does this apply to you and your business?

I’m hoping the connection is pretty obvious here for you. What are the Standards of Performance in your business?

Do you have standards that the whole organisation knows about and strives to attain? Do you coach and mentor your people (or organise coaching and mentoring for them if it’s not your skill set), so they can improve?

Have you created specific standards for each and every role within your business, so that the individuals performing the roles know what is expected and what is required?


The benefits

Clearly there are several benefits to setting your own Standards of Performance.

1. By setting your own internal metrics, you can avoid the old problem of ‘compare and despair’. While it can be useful to benchmark against the professions top performers or to use them as inspiration, if you’re not anywhere near their stage of development, such comparisons can be demotivating and a waste of time.

Set your own metrics for what good performance looks like across the business.

2. By setting your own internal metrics, you can measure any incremental improvement and that’s what we’re all looking for. Remember the mantra, ‘progress not perfection’.

3. You can communicate what the standards are for the organisation that you lead, and also the specific positions within it (adviser, paraplanner, administrator, manager). This helps align everyone to what is required and will also weed out those that don’t wish to attain or don’t agree with the standards that you’ve set.

4. By having specific performance standards for each and every role within your business, you can hire more effectively. If you decide that the current person in the role is not willing or capable of achieving the standard, you can re-hire, but with a clear focus on the skills and attitudes you are seeking.


Create your own Standards of Performance

If you are trying to raise your game or achieve your business goals, then creating your own Standards of Performance would be a great place to start.

How do you do this?

Set aside a day with your whole team and work through the various roles, tasks, processes, skills and attitudes that you believe (as a group) will be necessary to achieve your goals. This conversation in itself could be a game changer for you and your team.

The outcome would be to create an agreed Standard of Performance for your specific business, which everyone on the team has had input into.

If you take up this friendly challenge, be sure to let me know how you go and what difference it makes to your business. I’d love to hear about it.


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