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The Tyranny of the Urgent: Why We Don't Get Around to Doing Important Things


I think most of us would agree that time is our most scarce resource. The ways in which we spend our time every day fall into one of four different categories (according to Stephen Covey):

- Important and urgent (Quadrant I)

- Important but not urgent (Quadrant II)

- Urgent but not important (Quadrant III)

- Not urgent and not important (Quadrant IV)

The important and urgent things get prompt attention, as they should. Whether it's an upcoming client meeting, a deadline, or a crisis at home, these matters need to be addressed promptly.

There are also many urgent things that compete for our attention even though they are not important. Often times, meetings, reports, and emails fall into this category. They need to get done but ideally by someone else. The goal here should be to delegate.

Not important and not urgent? Well, this should be pretty self-explanatory. If we really take seriously the belief that time is a scare resource, then we will seriously consider the amount of time spent on video games, watching TV, and (dare I say) fantasy football. 

Important But Not Urgent

The important but not urgent projects are the ones that will determine if we ever really have the success we are striving for. These are things related to planning, self-development, and team development. 

Most advisors plateau at some point. They reach a level of success and then just can't grow beyond it. This is the reason why. 

Important work that needs to be done, but because it's not urgent we procrastinate. If it does become urgent at some point, it's often too late to adequately address it.

Here's the challenge: Often times these quadrant II activities not only lack urgency but they lack clarity. It's one thing to say something like, "we strive to exceed client expectations." It's another thing to actually measure the extent to which a firm is doing this, take action to improve it, and then track results. 

In other words, to take meaningful action in quadrant II, you need to translate big, audacious goals into practical steps that can actually be implemented. Fortunately, this doesn't need to be quite as overwhelming as it might seem. 

The Ultimate Question for Advisors

In a book written in 2006 called The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld from Bain & Company suggested that companies ask their customers one simple question that reveals nearly everything a firm needs to know about where it currently stands with its customers. 

Here's the question: On a scale of 0-10, indicate how likely you would be to refer ________ (company name) to a friend or colleague.

The answers to this question are then translated into a three tier ranking system: Promoters (9 or 10), Passives (7 or 8), Detractors (6 and under). 

The "Net Promoter Score" or NPS is calculated by adding up the total % of respondents who are "Promoters" and subtracting the total % of respondents who are "Detractors".  


Respected companies like Southwest Airlines, Apple, and Enterprise Rental Car have since utilized this "ultimate question" to develop NPS tracking systems that have demonstrably led to increased profitability as a result of greater customer loyalty. 

Now, imagine, as a wealth advisor, you have conducted a simple survey of your clients which posted this question. Let's also assume that the manner in which you distributed the survey allowed you to group the responses according to client tier (A, B, C, D). 

This would allow you to determine the NPS of, not only your entire client base, but each tier of client separately. You would know the NPS of your 'A' clients and how that compares with your 'B' clients or 'C' clients. It would also allow you to track your NPS over time to see if it is improving or deteriorating. 

Translating Vague Goals Into Action Plans

The end result is that instead of having an ambiguous goal of, say, "improving client service," you can initiate a new offering and measure the impact. Let's say in Q1 you decide to reach out to all of your 'A' clients and offer to do customized financial workshops and legacy planning for their family members.

Preparing their heirs for inheritance and helping them to articulate the values they want to pass on... What effect do you think a value-added service like that would have on the NPS for your top clients? 

And, of course, you don't need to guess what impression it made. You can continue to ask "The Ultimate Question" on a recurring basis and track changes in your net promoter scores.

That's just one idea. What's your plan to become a Quandrant II firm?