As your firm grows, you get more set in your ways. It’s normal. The need to repair and improve workflow processes gets put on the “after busy season” back burner, never really getting the chance to be addressed.
With the increase in new client engagements, brings the need for additional staff to take on the work. Your company begins to grow bigger and faster, than you previously expected. Yet your processes have stayed the same dating back to when it was just you and your partner, knocking out all of the work.
At some point, your processes will begin developing “cracks” and work will start to be late and suffer.
Usually, this brings up the discussions on updating technologies which will then update processes. Learning how to repair broken workflow processes can be quite a daunting task for CPA firms. Especially when you have the potential of a clash between older members of the firm (namely, partners) and the younger, more technologically savvy associates.
Your role is not only going to be looking at new solutions and executing but also mediating the problems that will arise.
Realize you have a Problem:
Step 1 - Diagnose the issues
This is a crucial first step, if you ever want to repair and improve the workflow processes at your firm. You need to ask yourself: How do you know what to diagnose?
You can also ask your managers & staff what are issues they hear about again and again. Is it that work is late? Communication jumbled? Work quality taking a dive?
You will run across a couple issues, but hone in on 1-2 you see having the largest effect on your bottom-line. Take note of these.
Step 2 - Have A Discussion
In order to repair and improve workflow processes within your firm, you must sit down with your managers and discuss the 1-2 issues, diagnosed in the first step, to pinpoint where the issues are taking place (i.e. within processes, a certain need for technology, etc). Is it an employee, perhaps? Is it complacency? Those are questions to bring up first and then proceed from there.
Typically, when a firm reaches milestones in employees, the problems begin to arise. A good rule of thumb is when a firm hits 3-5 employees, a change is needed, followed by when you hit 20, 50, 100 employees than 200 etc.
The reason is simply the volume of people getting their hands on work and thus human error rears its head.
In situations like this, usually there is a process improvement needed plus a technology improvement. The older your tech is, the fewer people will know how to use it. However, don’t forget about your Millennial associates, who become ecstatic with the idea of implementing new technology.
To kickstart a solution, start opposite of what you think.
Most firms will start with executives talking and trying to come up with an answer. Then they pass down their ruling to the lower employees. This is the wrong way to do it!
Instead, start at the bottom and work up from there. You start at the bottom as they are the ones in the trenches and there is usually more of them! Get their ideas, where the common struggles are and then work up the chain.
Take the solutions you hear from the lower employees and then bring them to the managers. Get their feedback and ideas. Only afterwards, bring it up to the partner-level.
Think of it as a benefit. If the processes and technology are efficient at the bottom, it makes the partners’ jobs MUCH easier.
For Software, Shop Around:
As mentioned, starting as early as 3 employees, processes begin to break down. Building workflow software, this was the problem we heard again and again and again. Accounting isn’t going away anytime soon and is needed more than ever. Thus, firms are growing again which requires much more streamlined processes.
With software, look at some demos and get feedback from your team. Bring companies in, buy some lunch and watch and see how your employees respond. Figure out which brings the most value.
Pull the Trigger:
This is where many accounting firms struggle. They enjoy doing the talking and meeting, but then when it comes to making the decision, they clam up. It’s how accountants are, so it’s (again) your job to act as mediator but also the executor.
If you’ve done your due-diligence and worked with your team to get their feedback, the only hesitation would be when to roll out the new software and processes (preferably in the summer when your team isn’t deep in the trenches of busy season!).
A new way to do things is tricky, scary and hard. But think about it like this:
Can you afford to keep going on the path you are? With broken processes and upset clients?
It’s always easier to continue doing things the way you do things. We were working with one CPA firm and they were divided because one founder wanted to implement new technology to improve processes but the other wanted to continue doing everything on paper (even printing emails to read them!!).
As you can imagine, the first partner’s side of the firm is thriving and the other’s has floundered such to the point where the first partner has to supplement to the second.
This is the reality when an action doesn’t happen. As CPA's, we love doing risk assessments and analyzing every dark corner, but this could lead to complacency. You won’t see the hole in your roof until it starts raining.
Where will you be when it starts raining? Dry and thriving? Or, like the stubborn partner above, scraping by because he didn’t see the storm coming?
Remember, you can repair broken workflow processes in your firm, before heading into the next busy season. Set up a demo time with Jetpack Workflow to help with your workflow so that client work doesn't fall through the cracks