It is an election year in the United States and our fate is once again in the hands of people who are asked to elect our leaders because they can do one thing; have enough energy to complete the balloting process. Are you, like me, concerned about what people are thinking?
My concern extends beyond the elections; after all, this is hardly the appropriate forum for a discussion about politics. In this article, I want to advocate for the value of collaboration and critical thinking when making decisions, and also talk about a couple of tools that are creating impressive results because they employ inclusion and teamwork as an alternative to rugged individualism.
How Do You Think?
All of us occasionally make bad choices so is there something we can do to help avoid making a decision with catastrophic consequences? Check out this short article from Erika Andersen about Seven of the Worst Business Decisions Ever Made. In it she cautions that bad decisions are made mainly because the decision-maker over-values their own knowledge.
For some, short memos, summaries, elevator speeches and marketing messages provide all the information necessary to form a belief and take an action. They put a great deal of trust in certain types of people and information and that allows them to make quick decisions.
I’m personally not built that way. According to my Kolbe profile, I’m a “careful researcher and planner” who “weighs the potential outcomes of any project with care.” I don’t put a great deal of trust into a single source of information so I often look for alternate sides of an issue before I make a decision. You’d want me on your team because I’m going to be looking out for hidden traps and dangers. But you’d want someone else picking where we’re going to eat tonight because I’m likely to spend too much time trying to find the place that most pleases everyone.
If you pair me with someone who tends to make quick decisions we will both likely be better off. I’ll help guard against bad decisions and the other person will help guard against analysis paralysis.
How Do You Work With People Who Think Differently?
At Boomer Consulting, we use, and offer, Kolbe Consulting services to help bridge gaps like this; gaps that often exist between people with different work and communication styles and preferences. By knowing that there are strengths and weaknesses for each type of person, I’m much more appreciative to be on a team that includes someone who thinks differently than I.
Process is another tool that helps to bridge the gaps between the various ways people think. In a way, process is like a compromise that predetermines many of the actions that would otherwise be subject to someone making a decision. If everyone follows the process, you would expect maximum efficiency, quality and customer satisfaction.
But processes can get sluggish over time, especially if people inject their own preferences or if there’s a change in the business climate, such as changes in technology or customer expectations. That’s why the marriage of Lean and Six Sigma has produced one of our fastest growing services.
Our CEO, L. Gary Boomer, has been talking about this for years. In his 2006 book, “Performance3: Planning X People X Process,” he wrote the following as an introduction to his chapters on process:
Every firm has processes; but are the processes as efficient as they should be? More importantly, have they changed over the years to reflect the changes in technology and client demands?
Compliance services are becoming a commodity and firms must differentiate themselves or be caught in a great price war. Those that differentiate and relate to their clients will be rewarded nicely. Firms that improve their processes see significant reductions in time, improved quality and reduction in costs that relate to increased profitability.
Process improvement requires some deep thinking. As our Master Black Belt Lean Six Sigma consultant Dustin Hostetler says, “You have to go slow for a bit so that you can go fast.” The success of Lean Six Sigma is often built on its insistence on developing buy-in and inclusion of representatives from every step of the process. Is it worth the effort? One of our clients shared with us their email response to four questions they were asked in a reference check. Here are some relevant excerpts:
Question: Tell me about the scope, people affected?
Our client: It takes time to work through your existing processes, identify the issues, overcome the fear of change, complete your homework, rollout new processes and get personnel trained. The time commitment is a must. You have sessions with Dustin plus your “homework” for follow-up and rollout. You must commit personnel from every part of your firm. You would be surprised to know that IT/Administrative/Clerical staff may understand big parts of your existing workflow better than professionals. Our typical lean team included 15 – 18 members from our 50 person firm. A process affects every member of your firm in some manner. To scope a project is different based on the size of your practice areas. For example, we focused on tax in two phases with 1040s first then entities, due to size.
Question: Was it worth the cost?
Our client: Yes, we do more in less time. The 1040 process produced a 15% effective improvement in production when you consider the increased number of returns completed in less hours than the previous year. Entity process results were about a 6% improvement. Client accounting experienced a 2-3% improvement. That process is under review and I expect to see better results over the next 12 months.
Would Our Tools Help Your Decision Making?
Watch this seven-minute video to learn about the benefits and obstacles in using Lean Six Sigma. To get started, schedule an introductory workshop or register to become your firm’s in-house efficiency guru by earning your CPA Green Belt Certification. The class is limited and starts in June.