Some planners may find themselves working so hard that life is one big blur. Sound familiar? You're not alone.
Not so long ago, Kathleen Day, the president of The Enrichment Group in Miami, says she didn't know which end was up. By most estimates, Day was a successful entrepreneur whose firm had amassed $150 million in client assets. But by Day's own admission, she was a quintessential workaholic-as harried and overworked as they come. "I hadn't taken a day off in years, not even a weekend day," she says. "If I was home or on vacation, I had a laptop and cell phone, and I assumed that the world would fall apart if I didn't make decisions."
In a fairly zealous bid for assistance, Day, 54, sought out a strategic coach, who helped her realize that her work was consuming not only her life, but the better part of her creativity at work, too. In the four years since, Day has recreated her firm, including the role she plays there.
The result? More free time to spend with her adult children, satisfying her wanderlust and spearheading projects at work that advance the way her firm deals with clients' evolving needs, such as philanthropy. "I spend as much time out of the office as I need," says Day, who has encouraged flexible schedules for the firm's 19 planners and staff members.
Day is a member of an enlightened and growing cadre of advisors who have found a richer and, yes, even more profitable way of running their firms and their lives. Through determination and strategic planning, these advisors have been able to structure their practices to accommodate their lives. In the process, they're finding that increasing flexibility doesn't mean the end of control, but the beginning.
For Brian Britt, a partner in the Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.-based firm of Nevans, Britt and Associates, several phenomena seemed to occur simultaneously. Both Britt and his partner became parents; they decided they wanted to attract clients who enjoyed their lives and had enough assets to hire great planners. Miserable advisors, Britt decided, would probably have a hard time attracting such clients.
So he set out to restructure the firm to attract clients and reward the staff that helps service clients and their $50 million in assets. The goal was more flexibility for everyone. The enlightened planners decided to go the egalitarian route and put the issue of flex time up for an office vote. "We asked the staff what their perfect work week would look like," Britt says. They collectively agreed on a "nine-eighty" bi-weekly work schedule (translation: The firm's staff works nine days, about nine hours a day, and takes every other Friday off. "It's really motivating and inspiring to employees, and it's great for me to spend times with my kids," Britt says.
While office staff adheres to the nine-eighty schedule (trading off alternate Fridays to ensure phone and client coverage), Britt, his partner and their staff planner have created their own individualized flexible schedules. Britt spends a little more than half of Wednesday at home watching his three children, ages 2, 3 and 5, so his wife can work one day a week as a dental hygienist. "It's important for her, and it's important for me to spend time with my kids, even if I am the only man in the park with them," Britt laughs.
Whether they know it or not, the firm of Nevans, Britt is accommodating rapidly shifting demographics in the United States. There are more married families where both parents are working (75%), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Almost 70% of single women and 55% of single men head families with children.
"The ideal was to give everyone more balance in terms of the time they needed to be with family," Britt adds. Staff incentives such as flex time and bonus-based compensation also have helped retain employees.
"I want everyone to be well-vacationed and overpaid, and I think flexibility is a big part of that," he says. "If we're all working hard and the business is successful, there's plenty to go around."
The firm's office manager, a key person in Britt's business, had submitted a letter of resignation, but was wooed back by flex time and the bonuses. Britt's own goal is to take all day Wednesday off. "It's a little tough transitioning from being with the kids to client meetings," he says.
The priority at the firm and a growing number of other businesses is not so much face time as results. It also recognizes that people are most productive at different times of the day and can be entrusted to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. It's a crucial component of success for Gayle Knight Colman, who is determined to be home with her 8- and 11-year-old kids when they get home from school. "That means I work 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.," says the Boston-based advisor.
"Hiring the right people is the most important thing," says the advisor, 41, a partner in the Carlisle, Mass.-based planning firm of Knight Colman Advisory Group, which has three advisors and two administrative staff members. "The other people in the firm have the same flexibility as I do. I want this to be a place of enthusiasm, so any time you need to attend to personal matters, you take the time. We don't track vacation either. I trust that everyone is an adult."
As for Colman: "I take as much time as I need. I tell my clients, 'I want you to be living the life that's most important for you.' I don't want to be running around in urgency every second, or what kind of example would I be?" Instead, she wants to be seen as a purposeful advisor, parent and wife, which she communicates clearly to clients.
To nurture herself, she spends two mornings a week working out and comes in at 9:30. And she travels. The family recently spent a week in the Turks and Caicos Islands, about 40 miles southeast of the Bahamas. They frequently visit Maine, and next summer, Colman wants to teach tennis at the Blue Ridge Mountain summer camp her daughter attends (her son goes to the neighboring boys' camp), which happens to be the one she attended as a kid. She'll spend a week or so this fall at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, for a seminar on transitioning successfully into retirement.
Not for herself, mind you, but clients. In fact, Colman, whose husband is a tax attorney in the firm, sees evolving technology such as virtually paperless offices enhancing flexible schedules and prolonging a meaningful work life for herself. "It will do wonders for our craft and leave us more time to bring our wisdom to bear. And that's what I want to be paid for. Not time on the job, but wisdom."
In Miami, Day couldn't agree more. When she set out to recreate her firm several years ago, she admits, what drove her was flexibility. "I started asking whether I wanted to pay people for time and effort or results," says Day. "And I decided it was much more important to me to pay for results than for the specific hours they were sitting at their desks."
Those employees who have to be at their desks, such as receptionists, arrange their flex schedules with other staff at the firm so that phones and clients are covered. For Day it meant learning the world wouldn't stop if she delegated. "I've changed a lot of what it is I do in the office. I have no primary responsibility for clients any more, so even when I have client meetings, someone else does the prep work and follow-up. I may do three to four meetings one day, but the next day, if I'm doing business planning or analyzing a new project, I may work at home," says Day.
To foster greater teamwork, the firm moved from "kill-what-you-eat" compensation to salary and is working on a profit-sharing plan, which most flex-time advocates admit is crucial in one form or another to drive the type of professionalism a progressive planning firm requires.
Now, she travels without a cell phone or laptop and staff is encouraged to make decisions when she's out of touch. "They may not always make the same decision I would make, but they know I won't second guess them. That's the deal."
Empowering planners and staff has worked wonders.
The firm's current office manager left the company because a nine-to-five schedule didn't work for her. Flex time attracted her back. Day says the manager doesn't get in early, but she often works past 7 p.m. and is able to use her creativity in a host of profitable ways for the company. Her most recent coup was finding a phone system that saved a salary.
Day, who works with her husband in the firm, has been able to transition from an advisor who never had a day off to one who travels without a cell phone or laptop, has little front-line client duties and takes about a week off a month. She and her husband skied four times in last year, explored up and down the California coast and went fishing in the Bahamas. Next up, they'll tack on an extra five days or so as part of their attendance this fall at the Financial Planning Association's Success Forum in New Orleans.
"We can go where we want and stay as long as we want," says Day.
Now that's flex time.