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Ironstone Implementers – Lessons from Kooman & Associates

Ironstone has the privilege to work with phenomenal advisory teams across the country, and we want to share their stories to provide you with motivation for change or validation of your hard work.

These success stories provide tips on how they implemented practice management strategies and the results they’ve achieved.

In this interview with two generations of the Kooman & Associates family, we explore:

  • Encountering Challenges of All Kinds
  • Embracing Practice Management Steps
  • Successfully Implementing Processes
  • Achieving Results

All advisors will benefit from their insights on time management, service levels, compensation, and more.


Ironstone: What are some of the challenges your firm faces?

Our office had reached a “ceiling of complexity” to quote Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach.  The “back stage” of our office was unable to keep up with the “front stage.”  There were clear and apparent changes we needed to make for both sides of the curtain to work well. 

We all agreed changes were needed, but we found no clear path for their accomplishment.  People in the office were dissatisfied but we couldn’t see a path forward after several different coaching programs and well intentioned efforts.

A primary challenge was transitioning from one generation of family ownership to the next, the “transfer of trust” and figuring out how to engage all the current staff to support the transition. Additionally, we needed to define staff roles and create service teams to provide higher-level client service.

Another major challenge was inconsistent processes for activities including on-boarding new clients, creating investment options, client reporting and more. Regarding service, we needed to figure out how to measure what we do daily, as we only had one service level that each level of client received. Finally, it was critical for us to develop a business development plan that reflects who we are, and what we do best.

We have been striving to better organize our internal operations and create a seamless workflow that will allow us to spend more time serving our clients.


Ironstone: What practice management steps is your firm taking to improve your practice?

Marty: It’s been a very productive year and a lot of work.  First, we committed to closing the office Wednesday afternoons and one Friday a month strictly for Development.  We have no client appointments and no client work is done, except under the most pressing of circumstances. 

Second, we identified every task in our office. We then logically combined these together to create “How tos” for every service or function we perform or provide in the office, weather it is a direct client experience or not.  “How tos” are written by the subject matter expert within the office and tested with someone in the office who knows nothing about that particular task or service. 

Third, we created three general job categories: 

  • Finders: Whose job it is to find new clients;
  • Binders: Whose job it is to keep the client or keep the relationship; and
  • Minders: Operations and Compliance to keep us operationally sound and legally compliant with all procedures, rules and regulations. 

We’re still digesting these very significant changes.

Barbara: “We’ve worked very hard across the practice to take steps in these key areas:

  • Creating service teams for clients
  • Defining tasks ( who does what)
  • Developing strategic alliances with Centers of Influence, and strengthening those that already exist
  • Segmenting clients among the service teams so the most important clients get priority

Creating the task lists and defining roles for each staff person has helped streamline office processes and identify who is working with each client, and helps to strengthen  the client relationship. We find we are actually doing more for clients, with production increasing dramatically.

Kate: “We have completely transformed our internal processes by organizing teams around each team member’s skill set and expertise in order to manage workflow and firm operations centered around serving client needs.

Specifically, we’ve implemented and innovated in three different areas that have helped to transform our practice. 

  • Re-segmenting our client list in order to better anticipate and manage the needs of each client. 
  • Successfully write “how to” documents on almost every task that our team members complete on a regular basis, which helps us better educate and cross-train other team members, which is essential when someone is out of the office. 
  • Finally, the biggest change we have made in terms of team engagement and morale was restructuring our compensation model and implementing quarterly performance evaluations.
Ironstone: Do you feel the time taken to create processes and systems for your firm has been beneficial?

Marty: In retrospect, the time commitment was necessary to accomplish all of the above.  Closing Wednesday afternoons and one Friday a month seemed like too much at the outset, but it was an essential part of the commitment of the Management Team and the results that the office achieved.

Barbara: It has been very time-consuming, but has really aligned tasks with the appropriate staff person or team.  It has helped with cross-training, and has provided a handbook on “how-tos” available to all on our internal network. It has helped us to categorize tasks around certain activities that further define the expertise available in the office.

Kate: Implementing these efforts and creating more structured processes has increased efficiency for everyone in our office.  Having a seamless workflow allows our service team members to spend more time working on client issues and frees the Financial Advisors to work more on business development.

Additionally, the new compensation structure more accurately links job performance to compensation and provides an excellent framework for providing employees with constructive feedback throughout the year.

Ironstone: What results have you achieved as part of your relationship with Ironstone?

Marty: First, Andrea helped us create a path for our office.  It wasn’t cookie cutter or one-size-fits-all.  We have a customized solution we created, that fits our office like a glove.  Change never comes without a little discomfort.  We controlled our own change.  We controlled the amount of discomfort.

Unexpected things surface.  In the beginning, these things happened more frequently.  We could text or e-mail Andrea or Angie and we would be on the phone with Andrea almost immediately.  There was never a time we could not reach her.  She always had a solution or several for us.  She knew the people of our office well.  She gave us just the right approach for situations that surfaced.

At the very beginning, Andrea promised me that I would never walk into a meeting empty handed or not knowing what to do or how to approach a particular situation.  She delivered for me every time.

Barbara: Andrea has been the catalyst for change in our office.  Her initial three day visit was very productive, eliciting great conversations about what direction we wanted to go in, collectively as a firm, and individually as members of a team. With a shared purpose and dedication to our new mission, we all got to work to first identify the different  job descriptions, define tasks, and begin to develop a new structure that spelled out how to organize our team to best serve clients, and prepare for growth. 

Ironstone has provided great support, structure and awareness about how to move forward. We’ve had many consulting experiences over the years. This one seems to be working! Andrea holds us accountable, and our team is holding each other accountable to achieve what we committed to.

Kate: While we still are a work in progress and still implementing changes, we have seen impressive results in terms of the practice management and workflow changes.  Everyone on our team feels good about the changes and the work flow has improved. Now that the workflow has shifted and freed up some of the financial advisor team, we are able to better serve the more complex needs of our clients.

Ironstone: As Owners, how are you able to find a comfortable work-life balance? 

Marty: Well to be honest, I’ve put in more hours and kept a stricter schedule this past year.  I’m glad to do this to set the example for everyone and show my enthusiasm and support for these dramatic changes.  On the plus side, a lot of my responsibilities have been shifted to better, more competent people.  My headaches are also in the hands of more capable people as well.  I can concentrate on business development.  I can see the time approaching when fewer hours will be required.  The hours spent in the office are more productive.  The hours away are more worry free. 

Barbara: This transition has added additional time commitment and stress on the overall operation, but I think it is a great investment in our time to help smooth the transition to new owners.  I think that all of us, family and staff, working together with a unified plan for serving clients, and streamlining processes has helped Jeff and Kate feel more like a part of the team.  They are working alongside other staff for the benefit of all.  They are demonstrating their commitment, their expertise, and combined passion for this new adventure in their lives, by actively driving the changes we are all experiencing.



Ironstone: How has having family members on your staff impacted your workplace and results you’ve generated for clients? 

Marty: It’s been interesting. Everybody’s job, job duties and job descriptions have changed. Everybody’s cheese has been moved. Not unexpectedly, the internal dynamics of our office have changed as well. The Management Team is made up of the four family members working in the business. We’ve struggled with communication issues at times. Some not feeling in the loop. Minders missing client interaction. Binders with too much client interaction. Some of these issues were very sticky. Andrea helped every step of the way with all of these issues. 

Some things still need to be resolved. There’s no problem Andrea’s not seen and fixed before. In most cases she had multiple solutions for an issue or a problem that might arise. It was nice to pick a solution that best fits our approach. Clients are better served, snap shots are carefully drafted, financial plans are well implemented. We are better able to deliver on our client promises in a more timely fashion.

Barbara: The transition to the second generation Kooman family was a tremendous solution designed to provide continuity to clients.  Marty had been concerned that selling to an entity or firm outside the area would result in a lower level of service, or transition to perhaps less appropriate investments.

He was also concerned that very few if any of the jobs within the office would be retained.  The transition to second generation provides stability and continuity to our clients and staff, and ensure that the objectives were are working on with clients, will stay in place.

“Clients are better served, snap shots are carefully drafted, financial plans are well implemented. We are better able to deliver on our client promises in a more timely fashion.”

– Marty Kooman, President – Kooman & Associates


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