Don't let them impact your firm's optimal performance

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone ask "Do they realize the extra time they're causing everyone else" well, let's just say I'd have a big stack of money.

From firms that are new to Lean and want to explore process improvement to firms that are analyzing their current processes to firms that are testing and implementing new processes, they all seem to struggle with those handful of people who are holding them back.  

While this way of thinking is clearly a problem within our profession, it's not as much of a problem in other industries. It also crosses all age barriers. A 25-year-old may resist change just as much as a 65-year-old. Age is neither an excuse nor reason. You shouldn't exempt anyone in your firm, no matter what the reason, from following what your cross-functional team has deemed your optimal process.

Everyone is Involved in Production

Unless they have no client responsibilities, everyone in your firm, partners included, is involved in the production of the services you provide. Typically, in other industries, production occurs out of sight from the professional or office side of the business. Professionals aren't the ones making the product, packaging and shipping it, stocking the shelves, bagging groceries, preparing meals, etc. However, in our industry, they are the ones producing the services.

Can you imagine what a professional in a manufacturing company would say if she saw one employee on the manufacturing line completing a process entirely different than everyone else? How about the manager of a retail establishment who has a sales clerk who doesn't use the bar code scanner and manually keys in every SKU instead? 

How do those examples translate to a CPA firm? Let's say you have a partner involved in the production of tax returns. He is responsible for the final review, yet bucks the system. Rather than utilize your paperless system, he wants everything done manually with hard copies. Or there is a senior auditor who routinely doesn't have workpapers prepared for review in the field when the partner is ready for them. 

If you touch any part of a client's work, then you are that retail clerk or manufacturing line employee. You are involved in production. When you are close to a problem, you don't always see it for what it is until you compare it to other industries. And just as inefficiency impacts other industries, it negatively affects your production, too. Here's how:

  • Capacity is reduced and productivity is lowered during all steps, and not just one step, of the process.
  • Quality issues are more likely to arise due to the increased variation in the process.
  • Morale suffers as many in the firm see and feel the impact of those who don't follow the optimal process.
Create Buy-in and Accountability 

Lean Six Sigma thoroughly assesses your current process and identifies an optimal future state process, and the future state does involve change. Before embarking on a Lean journey, you need to ensure that everyone in the firm has a chance to understand the thought process, express their concerns, and be ready and willing to buy-in to the optimal process for the firm and its clients. 

No one is above the process. Even those people resistant to change should be involved from the beginning to try and earn their buy-in. You can create and maintain buy-in by:

  • Challenging them to lay out their concerns and questions, then methodically addressing them.
  • Putting them in contact with others (in your firm or from other firms) who have made leaps of faith to adjust their old ways of doing things.
  • Asking everyone in the room during the rollout of a new process if they agree. It's hard to go back on that later. And remember, silence is agreement.

This doesn't mean ideas for improvement are not wanted or expected. It's quite the opposite in fact Lean is about continuous improvement. But outright going around the process that everyone agreed to without bringing a better idea to the table could be one of the more damaging things someone could do at your firm.

No Exceptions

It's time we raised the bar in our firms and in our profession on all these exceptions. This behavior would never fly in most industries regardless of experience, years in practice, past accomplishments, etc. If there are people involved in your production who don't want to jump ahead with the rest of the firm, should they really be involved in the process at all?

That's an uncomfortable question to answer, but one that needs to be addressed if your firm is going to operate at its optimal level.

Lean CPA
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