Goal Setting For Dummies

Don't like all that touchy feeling introspection that goes with goal setting? Try this black box approach.

David R. Evanson

The Career Advisor, Fall, 2004

As a financial planner, you make your daily bread selling the notion there is value to planning, and that it’s a technical discipline that can require the assistance of a professional. Ergo, the not too surprising, though mightily contradictory phenomenon, that many financial planners do not set goals for their practice.

For example, Katherine Vessenes, principal in the consulting firm Vestment Advisors, Minneapolis, reports that few if any of the superstar planners (those who make $1 million or more in fees) she has worked with have any written strategic plan. Though this would seem to indicate that the absence of planning is the path to success, Vessenes says, no way: “These planners were often generating a lot of money, but little in the way of income.”

The problem with the strategic plan that you carry around in your head, she says, are manifold: your goals get fuzzy over time, there are no milestones, they are hard to communicate to staff and colleagues, and there is no accountability.

For many, though, the business of goal setting is difficult and uncomfortable. It requires introspection, you have to stop selling, and you have to get in touch with your feelings and the feelings of others. This keeps a lot of people from ever planning, says Vessenes, “Which is too bad, because any variable around which you plan, whether it personal development, staff development, revenue or profitability, will generally improve.”

As a result, Vessenes has come up with a single goal advisers can use to improve their practice. Drum roll please . . . .Meet with 15 prospects or clients a week.

This idea seems simple enough, perhaps even banal. But Vessenes says that simplicity is the source of its power.

First, she says, “This is a very easy goal to communicate to the entire organization.” This is incredibly important, says Vessenes, because if you ask five staffers at almost any organization what the goal of the organization is, you will hear five answers. “It’s very difficult to communicate your goals in a way that is memorable, or perhaps even understood by staff.”

In fact, this single goal approach overcomes almost all of the pitfalls of a virtual strategic plan that you carry around in your head. No fuzziness, easy-to-read milestones, and a high degree of accountability across the entire staff,

But the real beauty of this approach, she says, is that it sets in motion goals for all of the other areas of the business. For instance, assume that of the 15 meetings you hold in any given week, three are annual or quarterly reviews with clients, and the balance are meetings with prospects for either the first or second meeting. If your ratio of clients who agree to a second meeting remains fairly constant, say 50%, your marketing goals are now very clear. In a 50-week year, you will have 200 second meetings, which requires 800 meetings with first-time prospects. If you know about how many raw leads will ultimately agree to a first meeting you now know how many leads must be generated. Thus, your promotional goals become very clear very quickly.

But it goes deeper than just selling. Staffers responsible for setting up and integrating new accounts know what they need to do to keep pace with new business. Those responsible for client service know how much time to allocate to setting up meetings. The people who work in marketing get a better sense of how many seminars, direct mail pieces or luncheons that need to be put together. And if you are the person who meets with prospects and clients, you now know have goals for how to organize your time each day, each week and each year.

“In terms of goal setting and overall practice management, 15 meetings a week has a black-box feel to it,” says Vessenes. “But the underlying algorithm for this one is that 15 meetings each week with a mix of prospects and clients will align all of the other resources of your firm in a productive, and hopefully optimal way.”

And it may make you rich. Do the math on what this will mean in terms of new account generation, and equally importantly account retention. If properly managed, both become annuities that will result in the creation of significant value over time.

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