A primary objective of lean is prompt service. Why? Because it results in more time for you to be proactive with your clients so you can offer additional value-added services and recommendations.
While working with a firm to analyze and break down causes for constraints in their processes, it became glaringly obvious to everyone in the room that there was a major workload problem. This firm was experiencing problems with promptness in deliverables and spending proactive time with clients. Most CPA firms have similar problems; however, they aren't as willing to admit it.
The good news is that it didn't take long to arrive at the root cause of the problem. The constraint in their process often occurred in the review stage, more specifically, with several higher level reviewers. These partners had accumulated a significant base of work over the years, which included everything from C-level work to highly complicated A-level matters. The problem was these partners were still trying to do all that work in some fashion.
Why did they hold onto all that work? And how is the process impacted when the workload and client responsibilities aren't effectively delegated? You have to understand the reasons behind the behavior before it can be changed.
In the book Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey defines two key components – character and competence – that you must have to build and receive trust. When you look at "level loading" workload, which means balancing production so there are no spikes within periods of time, you have to adjust responsibilities to the right levels. To do so successfully, you have to trust that the people to whom you are delegating are personally motivated, they perform their work for the right reasons (character), and they have the ability to get the desired results (competence).
In most situations, there are good, trustworthy people that are ready, willing and able to step up to the plate. However, we don't ask them to do so. And, when we do, we don't always provide them with the appropriate freedom to do the job. Sound familiar? If you think this situation may be holding back your firm, ask yourself why you have up and comers if you don't trust them to step up and lead.
A lack of trust can have a significant impact on your firm – your costs become exponentially higher. As Covey points out:
Higher Trust = Increased Speed and Lower Costs
Lower Trust = Slower Speed and Increased Costs
Lower trust costs you in: 1) slower speeds due to excess reviews and re-reviews; 2) higher-level people performing lower-level work; and, 3) built in loops and bureaucracies to get anything done.
"[People] can't or won't let go of what they have become comfortable with," said Guy Gage of the Partners Coach in his recent e-newsletter.Partners do a wide range of work for all kinds of clients because that's what they've been doing for decades – that C-level client has been a personal friend for years. But is having a partner perform that work in the best interest of the firm as a whole?
Often times there are A and B clients that aren't optimally served because the expert is spending too much time on C-level work. What would be the benefit of moving that work down to a rising leader? Not only would you be growing that individual, but you are better matching client need and service level, resulting in an overall smoother workflow and greater firm profitability.
Sometimes taking a good analytical look at the strengths and weaknesses of your current processes can help you identify opportunities where people can change their behaviors. One of the nine categories of waste within CPA firms is not utilizing people's talents. To offset this, why don't we all work on getting the right people into the right roles at the right time?
Your clients, and your firm, will be better off if you do.