Guest Blog: If You Want to Build a Perfect Team - Ask a Journalist! - FP Advance

Guest Blog: If You Want to Build a Perfect Team – Ask a Journalist!

BY brett

perfect-teamI’ve talked a lot about getting the most out of your team. So this week I’ve asked one of my clients, Chris Hirsch from Holland Hahn & Wills to talk about how he and his two partners have done just that.

I’ve been working with Jason Lurie, Simon Ainley and Chris Hirsch, the owners of Holland Hahn and Wills for the last three years and some really great stuff has been happening in their business. For example:

  • Annual business revenue is up 55%
  • Recurring revenue is up 80%
  • Net profit margin is approaching our goal of 25% (after everyone gets paid a fair market rate for their day job)
  • Productivity is up 20%
  • We’ve added only one new team member throughout that growth (who was an apprentice to begin with)

Everyone on the team has done their bit. However, I’ve been really impressed with the way that Chris, who is a partner and full-time manager within the firm has been able to get the most out of his existing team of people.

As you’ll see below, the way that work flows through the business is not dictated by roles and job titles, but by individual skills and the strengths of each person on the team.

Interestingly, they don’t employ a qualified paraplanner, yet this is a high-end Financial Planning firm that produces technically excellent work and uses cash flow planning with it’s clients.

How do they achieve all of that?

I asked Chris to tell us what he did and what he’s learnt.

Over to you Chris:

For the last couple of years I have been working to improve every part of our business, with some success. The key to this success has been the forming and shaping of the perfect team (It’s not perfect yet, but it’s pretty good).

I had the added complication of wanting to achieve this with our existing team members and I am pleased to say that, with the help of Brett Davidson and the understanding of staff and fellow partners, I have achieved this goal.

I thought it might be worth considering which lessons are universal and therefore useful to others. Clearly in a short piece like this I can only give a few pointers but I hope that they might prove useful to anyone currently trying to improve things from within.

There are certain prerequisites without which success will be very, very difficult. You must:

  • Have an efficient back office system (we use Intelligent Office)
  • Have a segmented client bank with as few service levels as possible (we have only one)
  • Integrate advisers as equals within the team (not sitting above their support team)
  • Have a burning desire to change – it will be challenging, frustrating and occasionally grim – if you want a quiet life, stick as you are

Here’s what I think is the best-kept secret to success when forming a team:


I have lost count of the number of times I have heard “We must have a paraplanner” for it immediately to become obvious that no two advisers will agree on what a paraplanner does.

Is the requirement for a:

  • P.A?
  • Report writer?
  • Researcher?
  • Proof-reader?
  • Diary keeper?
  • Email reader?
  • Factfind completer?
  • Note taker?
  • Form filler?
  • Etc. etc. etc.

We still don’t have a specific paraplanner, but all the tasks that we need done are handled efficiently and well. How do we do this? By taking the following steps:

  • Breaking down all we do into PROCESSES
  • Splitting each process into a flowchart of individual TASKS
  • Deciding what SKILLS and KNOWLEDGE are required to complete each TASK
  • Designing a system to monitor each PROCESS

In a parallel process we evaluate each team member’s:

  • Skills
  • Knowledge
  • Preferences
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses

It is then a simple exercise of matching these two lists. I think you’d be surprised at how easily it all falls into place once you do that exercise.

Some skills or knowledge training will be required – but what a great way of identifying it!

As you hone and redefine the processes, you will find that skills and tasks ‘clump’ together because they naturally follow on, or they share the same skill sets.

We are very lucky that all our team members have the ability and willingness to take on the responsibility of monitoring processes. It is fair to say that the organisational skills that are now shown by team members dwarf the paltry efforts of the partners!

I have found that it is far better for processes to be overseen and organised by someone who is not doing the actual work, and I’ve been truly staggered with the way all team members have risen to the challenge when given responsibility for organising their processes.

Anyone who has managed to read this far may be wondering what, if anything, the title “If you want to build a perfect team – ask a journalist” has to do with any of this.

The first thing any budding journalist is taught is ‘the five Ws’:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • When?
  • Where?

And sometimes ‘How?’, but ‘the five Ws and one H’ doesn’t sound as good!

It seems to me that these are the questions that you need to ask of your team and business in order to start making the changes.

Perhaps I can give a concrete example of how this works in practice using our Annual Client Review:

Task Leading team member
Process oversight/checklist Lee
Booking appointment/car parking Lee/Jackie
Prep. of Portfolio Report & Client Pack Luke
Update Factfind & Voyant prior to meeting Luke
Prepare Meeting Agenda Lee
Additional research Julie/Luke/Jackie/Frances (dependent on requirement)
Pre-meeting preparation Jason & Frances OR Simon & Julie (these are an adviser & support person pairing)
Advice Jason/Simon (the adviser partners in the firm)
Attendance at meeting Jason & Frances OR Simon & Julie
Meeting notes Frances or Julie
Draft Post-meeting Letter Frances or Julie
Proof Post-meeting Letter Lee

The key to the above approach is that there is effective communication so that any sticking points are quickly identified and acted upon. Short, sharp and targeted meetings will achieve this.

Change can be achieved from within, but it must be done with careful planning, sensitivity, determination and above all vision. It’s an ongoing process.

In the words of Bruce Fairchild Barton: “When you’re through changing, you’re through”.


“When you’re building your team, forget about job titles.” — Chris Hirsch


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ABOUT BRETT DAVIDSON When you work with FP Advance you work with me, Brett Davidson, directly. My motto is ‘advise better, live better’ and I practice what I preach. I’m straight talking and get to the heart of an issue quickly. There’s no beating about the bush, just a focus on helping things improve. Ask my clients – what I teach works.