Your Thriving Practice

How ‘sharpening the saw’ benefits you and your practice

Creating the habit of self-renewal

With burnout a continual threat in the modern workplace, professionals must be on the lookout for ways to promote their own growth and renewal. In his classic self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described this need to create a daily habit of self-renewal in body, mind, heart, and spirit as “sharpening the saw.”

Creating a routine for renewal will typically incorporate elements that positively impact one’s health and wellness, such as getting proper nutrition, exercise, and rest; reading and learning; building meaningful relationships; and engaging in reflection and mindfulness activities such as meditation or journaling. Without a focus on such renewal, said Covey, the body and mind become weak and actions become rote and mechanical.

"...engage in self-reflection and activities that promote continuous growth and improvement will help keep your practice fresh, evolving, and innovative..."

Daily activities to sharpen the saw that people adopt for self-improvement can also hold important lessons that financial professionals can apply to their practices. Taking time to engage in self-reflection and activities that promote continuous growth and improvement will help keep your practice fresh, evolving, and innovative—benefitting not only you but also contributing to the overall success of your business.

It’s important for financial professionals, especially those well-established in their practices, not to be content with past successes; otherwise, they and their businesses risk growing stagnant. Some of the ways financial professionals can introduce meaningful “renewing activities” into their practices include taking an intentional pause for reflection, collaborating with team members to develop and implement solutions, and engaging in continuing education and self-improvement.

The power of the pause

Jeannie Underwood-Kotner, senior vice president and head of Global Atlantic Consulting, a practice management division of Global Atlantic Financial Group, recommends that financial professionals consider taking time to pause and conduct an audit several times a year—in this case, not a financial audit, but a broader, thoughtful analysis of their practice and how it can improve.

Scheduling time on the calendar for this type of audit helps ensure that professionals not only prioritize ongoing self-reflection and review of their business practices but also engage in those activities regularly and intentionally.

" professionals should put themselves into the shoes of their clients to experience every aspect of what their typical office visits are like, from start to finish."

“A lot of times, financial professionals get caught in the hamster wheel,” she says. “They just go and go and go, and they might be super successful. But when they stop and pause, do they know why things are working?” The pause for reflection is an opportune way to create a “renewal formula” for their practice, she notes—a time to not only identify what’s working but also to figure out how to repeat that success and build on it.

To start, producers can walk through all the aspects of their business from the client’s point of view, and ask themselves at all stages, “Am I providing the best experience possible for clients?”

As part of this exercise, financial professionals should put themselves into the shoes of their clients to experience every aspect of what their typical office visits are like, from start to finish. For example, for clients who drive to an in-person appointment, where do they park when they arrive? What kind of signage or direction is provided to make the office location easy to find? What can be done to ensure that the entrance is accessible to people of different physical abilities? How are clients greeted when they enter the office? In other words, what can producers do to improve the client’s arrival experience, before they even meet?

“Taking the time to pause, and ask, ‘Are we doing all the right things for our clients?’ It starts there, and that in itself can renew and reinvigorate and provide a little bit of energy to your practice,” Underwood-Kotner says. “You have to keep it going by saying, ‘That’s good, but is there anything else we can do to make it better?’”

She suggests producers also review their book of business, not only to identify where they are (or aren’t) seeing growth, but also to analyze their findings. Questions to ask may include:

  • Why are we successful with some clients but not others?
  • Why are we finding more business here than there?
  • Do we have a plan to replicate our successes?
  • What are our challenges, and how can we overcome them?
  • Where are we today, and what’s gotten us here? -Where do we want to be in the future?

The groundwork for growth and innovation

When they take the time to reflect on their practices, financial professionals may often look back on some past successes they’ve forgotten about, and it re-energizes them, Underwood-Kotner says. “There’s a classic thing people say in this business: ‘I forgot about that idea; it worked really well! It worked so well that I stopped doing it.’”

"...early stages of a new client relationship, they want their financial professional to know who they are as human beings and what their worldview is.”

Regularly taking time to “sharpen the saw”—to reflect, rebalance, renew—can benefit the health, growth, and success of both financial professionals individually and their practices, but it’s not a good idea for professionals to wait until the point of burnout before trying it.

“There was a woman financial professional in Chicago I talked to who was stuck in her business,” Underwood-Kotner recalls. “She was tired and exhausted and didn’t know what to do to improve things. She wasn’t producing the way she had normally done in the past. We helped her unpeel the layers by asking some questions like, ‘What did you do before? And what did that mean to your success then vs. now?’”

Ultimately, engaging in renewing activities and reflecting on past success helps financial professionals avoid burnout as well as provide the groundwork and motivation to move forward, improve, and succeed.

To get started in addressing any challenges identified during these exercises, Underwood-Kotner recommends focusing first on small or incremental improvements before considering a larger overhaul, because “bite-size changes can have a big impact.”

Producers don’t necessarily have to go it alone in addressing challenges and implementing solutions. “Surround yourself with people who can spot trends or who can execute on great ideas,” she says. “If you don’t have someone who can help you execute, none of your improvements will get done.”

Staying sharp for success

As in any profession, financial professionals often start their careers hungry and ready to learn new skills and stay sharp, but over time, some start to believe they no longer need to learn or change because they’ve already “arrived,” says Global Atlantic Consulting AVP and Program Director Bill Sweeney. In reality, most people cannot achieve sustained and lasting success without continuously improving and renewing their capabilities.

Something financial professionals should keep in mind is that client expectations are higher than ever, which affects what successful outcomes look like.

“Everyone expects a financial professional to offer financial planning, investment expertise, and good services—that’s just table stakes. But what some consumers may be looking for today is a one-stop shop,” Sweeney says. “They want help not just with financial matters but also with big questions like ‘What do I do with my life?’”

In other words, many clients today may expect producers to go beyond offering traditional services to being “experience-centric,” offering holistic planning for a potentially wide range of scenarios.

Financial professionals should regularly ask themselves what they’re doing to improve and adapt to meet the needs of today’s clients, Sweeney says. Professional development and continuing education are obvious but sometimes overlooked solutions, whether reading articles on trends and best practices, attending lectures on experience-centric branding and marketing, or attending workshops, webinars, and conferences.

“We’ve conducted focus groups, and one of the most telling things we found is that in the early stages of a new client relationship, they want their financial professional to know who they are as human beings and what their worldview is,” Sweeney notes. “What do they stand for, what are their goals, what are their values? With traditional financial planning, that’s well beyond the typical intake for a new customer. It used to be about how much money you make, but now it’s about who you are.”

Financial professionals who aren’t prepared to raise the stakes to meet today’s client expectations may be left behind.

Global Atlantic has designed many practical workshops for financial professionals to help them be better at what they do and stay abreast of what today’s clients are looking for in a financial professional. Learn more at:

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