Bob Veres

Raise your hand if you've been told, endlessly from the podium at conferences and in articles like this one, that you need to delegate more.

Keep your hand up if you knew this already. Raise it still higher if you have actually checked out the cost of having somebody do a lot of the rote work that you keep on your desk, and that cost is at least $150 per hour less than your time is worth.

Look around, and you'll notice that everybody in our studio audience is now drumming their fingers impatiently on the ceiling. You don't need to be told, yet again, to delegate. What you need is a way to move that work off your desk A) without requiring more time and energy than you can spare at the moment, and B) in a way that doesn't make you constantly anxious about whether that work will be handled effectively.

Spenser Segal, founder and CEO of the business consulting firm ActiFi, Inc. in Plymouth, MN, has thought more deeply about delegation – to your staff, to your computer software, to outsource providers – than anybody else in our profession. His key insight: delegation is rarely a simple one-step process. If you're serious about getting busywork off your desk, try breaking the process down into three steps, with each taking you deeper into the actual nitty-gritty of the task handoff.

Level 1: Inventorying your tasks

Here at level one, start by listing all the different services that you provide to clients, plus the general activities that have to be done around the office. To take a few simple examples, you have annual meetings with clients. Whenever a prospect becomes a client, you have to go through an onboarding process involving documents and input into your office computer systems. You create financial plans for each new client. You update plans for each existing client. You do year-end tax planning. You look for rebalancing opportunities. You research current and potential investments.

Chances are, you could list the various tasks at your firm pretty quickly and off the top of your head.

Traditional articles on delegation will tell you to look over this list and decide what to move off your plate. But already, you can see the problems with that simple advice. Let's suppose you're doing pretty much all the work on a particular Level 1 task – like, for instance, organizing and scheduling your annual meetings with clients. You'd certainly like to delegate some of this work, but there are parts you want to hang onto, like reviewing the materials that will be presented, and running the actual face-to-face client meeting.

You'd also like to delegate different parts of the task to different staff members (the preparation of the plan to a planner, the phone calls involved in the scheduling to an administrative person), but the service/activity list doesn't help you determine what parts of the annual meeting you should delegate, and to whom.

Level 2: Defining your swimlanes

To address these valid objections, you need to move on to Level 2, which takes you one layer deeper into the delegation process. Here you list all the activities that have to happen for the individual tasks. For example, consider the actions that take place when your firm prepares and hosts a successful annual review with a client. Each advisory firm will do it a bit differently, but the list might include:

  • checking the client's data in the database;
  • identifying whether any data is missing;
  • contacting the client to get updated data;
  • creating the "case" (the updated financial plan and portfolio report);
  • scheduling the meeting with the client;
  • reviewing and finalizing the case;
  • printing the documentation that will be shown to the client;
  • conducting the meeting;
  • creating a summary of what was said at the meeting for the files;
  • sending a summary letter confirming the next steps to be taken by both the advisor and client; and
  • coding those next steps into an organized software system so they can be assigned and tracked.