Strothman News

Assess and Adapt: 5 Tips for Increasing Efficiency in Professional Services Firms

Quinn Hart, CPA, Tax Partner

It is no secret that many businesses are struggling during these challenging times.  With so much uncertainty about when employees can fully return to work, whether or not customers will be able to pay the bill, and how long the cash reserves will last, many businesses have taken steps to cut costs and find areas where they can eliminate waste to become more efficient.

I recently took a course in lean six sigma concepts to learn more about the process of making changes in an organization to be more efficient.  Although these concepts started in the manufacturing industry, there has been proven success in professional services firms.  Lean is all about making a process more efficient to gain capacity.  Six sigma is about consistency, making a process that rarely produces defects or quality issues.  Combining these two ideas helps you find the capacity to create more value as your customer defines it.

In most cases, a significant amount of time and effort is required to make lasting process changes, so it might be overwhelming to think about what this would look like in your organization and determine where to begin.  Here are five things to keep in mind as you start this process to assess the need for changes and get those changes made.

1. Bring in an outside facilitator.

Rather than having the firm’s expert in a particular process lead the discussion on how it can be improved, consider bringing in an outside facilitator.  Your firm’s expert in this area will have a deep understanding of the current process, but the whole point is to determine why and how change needs to happen.  In most cases, it’s best to have someone facilitate the discussion who is not an expert in the specific area being reviewed.  You want the facilitator instead to be an expert in guiding a team through the change process.  Rather than providing the answers and immediately suggesting practices that have worked before, the facilitator’s job is to ask the right questions to guide the team to the right answers.  This leads to more discussion about different opportunities as well as increased buy-in because the ideas on the table belong to the team and not to the facilitator.

2. Create a cross-functional team.

You may be tempted to form a small team of people that are the most knowledgeable about and most directly impacted by the process in question.  Although at first glance that seems like the way to go, a cross-functional team will be much more effective.  Adding members from various areas of the firm will help you gain a more holistic view of the process, facilitate buy-in from areas outside of the obvious team members that will be affected, and give you more access to fresh ideas by bringing in different perspectives.  The most effective team will be one made up of subject experts from various parts of your firm and a mix of newer/younger team members and more experienced ones.

3. Keep your Why in mind.

Change is all about feelings.  When trying to push changes through in your organization, you’re not dealing with creatures of logic but with creatures of emotion.  It’s important for the entire team to be able to communicate why changes needed to be made and why the new process will be better.  Having the team work together to visually map out the current process where everyone can clearly see where there are issues and opportunities, gives you a Why that you can refer back to anytime.

4. 100% buy-in is a myth.

You’re never going to get everyone fully on board with changes.  It’s easy to get stuck and focus on the small percentage of people that aren’t going to want to go along with changes, but you will be much better served to focus on the many that will.  Success should be defined as being able to move forward without that 100%.

5. It’s all about continuous improvement.

The improvement process is never really complete.  It’s easy to slip back into old habits and get complacent, and this could lead to taking steps backward if we’re not careful.  The new process you create is not set in stone forever.  It’s important to maintain a culture of open communication so people feel encouraged to suggest changes and new ideas.  Make tweaks as needed and continue the process of measuring and evaluating and update when necessary.

If you want to hear more, make sure you sign up for our seminar on August 20th – Assess and Adapt: Strategies for Today’s Professional Service Provider – where we will discuss this process in more detail, along with other topics relevant to professional services firms.