By Dave McCarthy, CPA, Lean Six Sigma consultant
Recently, I was watching the movie Austin Powers on t.v. when my mind wandered to Lean Six Sigma. Luckily, for the "world" in the movie, Dr. Evil didn't grasp a key component of creating efficiency and effectiveness – empowering your employees.
Throughout the movie, Dr. Evil plots elaborate schemes to unleash on the film's hero, Austin Powers. Dr. Evil's son Scott works with him and frequently points out the obvious, "Why don't you just shoot him?" Dr. Evil responds, "That's not how we do things, Scott."
Scott was looking for other ways to achieve the ultimate goal, but he wasn't encouraged to take action. When you apply Lean Six Sigma methods to your business, you can't adopt Dr. Evil's philosophy. Rather, you have to empower your employees to be able to help you achieve what's most important to your firm.
If I asked you what is the most important thing your business should concentrate on, I'll bet you would have no problem telling me. However, if I asked your employees out on the floor, would they say the same thing? More often than not, I find that the answer is no. Somewhere along the way, the message gets jumbled, people focus on their part of the process, and the larger goal gets lost.
Whether you're producing tax returns, audits, financial statements or some other product, your goal is not just to produce as many possible. You do want to produce as many quality widgets as possible, and constantly look for new ways to do it more efficiently. To do that, it takes your entire team focused on the same goal, using consistent methods and searching for continuous improvement.
Communicating what is most important to your business is key, and it's a constant process. Before your employees can help you achieve business goals, they have to understand, in clear terms, what's most important. It's one of the single most important steps in becoming a Lean firm.
This includes all of your employees, too. Everyone in the firm needs to clearly understand what it is you are trying to achieve. You will encounter people who are resistant to the changes you'll be implementing. Sharing a consistent goal makes it easier for your staff to understand what is your top priority.
When you adopt a continuous improvement mindset, you need to move away from the "we've always done it this way" mentality. Employees should be pressed to come up with ways to improve their processes in a way that better serves your clients. You need to ensure they speak up about problems. Have the confidence to suggest changes. And know there is no retribution.
In Austin Powers, Dr. Evil didn't listen to Scott. While he may have had a better solution, Dr. Evil dismissed it without consideration. For lean to succeed in your firm, you can't be like Dr. Evil. You need to embrace a continuous improvement mindset and get all firm management on-board. Once your people understand what is most important to you and your clients, your firm will reap the rewards.