Are Employee and Partner Paradigms Holding Your Firm Back?

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."                                                                                                                    - Henry Ford

Do your people believe in what you're doing? Do they think they can achieve what you ask of them? Ford's quote gets to the heart of the culture most organizations strive to have - one where everyone, from your administrative assistant to your most senior partner, is dedicated to continuous improvement. However, in many organizations, including CPA firms, it's not that easy to get individuals who are set in their own ways to embrace improvement ideas, and they may actually resist them.

It's All About Attitude

There are nine categories of waste found in CPA firms referred to as DOWNTIME + A. The "+ A" is attitude. Complacency and resistance to new ideas is a classic example of the waste of attitude in a firm. If widespread, it can be detrimental. Actually, it only takes a few people to resist an implemented change in order for a project or initiative to fail. It's why all the various stakeholders in your firm must understand the concepts and benefits of process improvement if you are to ever evolve into an organization that is dedicated to continually improving what you do.

Identifying Attitude Waste

There are people within firms, who, although they have good intentions, actually hold their firms back. They appear at all levels of the organization and typically resist buying into firm initiatives because of the paradigms they have developed for the way things should be - regardless if there is a better way.

Do any of these people sound familiar:

  • Managing Office Partner A - When asked what could be improved within the office, she goes on the defensive and claims everything is working really well. Processes are in place and are efficient and effective. It's always the "other" office where the problems exist. Yet, other individuals of varying levels in that office believe there are lots of opportunities to improve processes and better serve their clients. Your leader doesn't see the problems or chooses to ignore them.
  • Tax Partner B - A very good technician, he believes the tax department is running smoothly and effectively. With all of the current technology in place, they can't do anything better. Yet, some rising leaders in the firm believe there is opportunity to improve processes and make more money. He dismisses Lean Six Sigma as too basic and doesn't see how the process, while simple to implement, can help even the most polished department knock off some low hanging fruit.
  • Reviewer C - Doesn't see how his personal preferences for how preparers should handle his clients' work is actually being counterproductive to effective and quality processes. While there is a lot of room to develop consistency, he believes his way is best. In the meantime, other reviewers and preparers, and ultimately the clients, are being impacted.
  • Staff Accountant D - He doesn't take ownership or believe it is his responsibility. The partners are at fault for not communicating or doing what they're supposed to be doing. The principle of serving and meeting the needs of "internal customers" is not understood.
  • Administrative Assistant E - Having kept the office or department in order for 20 plus years, she is actually still using decades old processes. Everything eventually gets done, but involves stretches of overtime, leadership involvement and staff stress. The manual "hodge-podge" processes actually delay client service.
  • It's rare that individuals purposely try to hurt their firms. However, that's exactly what they are doing in the instances above without knowing it. The paradigms they've developed become an obstacle to your ultimate effectiveness.The good news is with training and coaching, most people, including the stereotypes above, can be developed into better team players and leaders in the organization. Lean principles, like understanding what's valuable to internal customers, reducing bottlenecks and building quality into the process at earlier and lower levels, can help most people overcome their resistance to process improvement - even if they don't realize they are obstacles to your continuous improvement.
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