The decisions you make about your people, processes and technology don’t just impact your firm today. They determine your trajectory over the next five to ten years — even next year. Unfortunately, we often see firms make decisions that cost less, cause the least disruption, or seem the easiest today, but will stunt their growth in the long term. Perhaps worse, we see firms avoid making decisions at all (which, in effect, is a decision).
Many professionals are feeling the pull of change fatigue right now. Others want to wait to focus on technology or process until there’s more certainty. But it’s crucial to create your own certainty. With that in mind, here are five process trends impacting your firm today and how you should address them.
Efficiency to capacity
In the past, firms focused on being more efficient. Now efficiency is a milestone and results from the effective use of technology — we can’t really get more efficiency out of our people without leveraging technology. So your focus should be on consistency rather than efficiency, as consistency allows you to leverage automation.
When we think about the process and technology, we’re looking for consistency. By automating consistent processes, we create the capacity needed to focus on things that add value. Today, we’re leading with capacity. Efficiency is a result of process improvement but is no longer the number one goal.
One big challenge to focusing on consistency is eliminating personal preferences and moving to the firm preference, and this is leading to crucial conversations. We need to be prepared to have these conversations. If we avoid them, we won’t have consistent processes and will miss out on automation opportunities.
Implementation and process metrics and analytics
Firms are using workflow software and tools like Power BI to track process performance metrics. We’re no longer relying on metrics of realization alone.
Workflow management continues to evolve into business process management. These are also tied to performance and accountability metrics. Firms that have the most success are keeping their metrics visible and transparent.
Process finds a home in operations
True process improvement in your firm isn’t confined to your tax or assurance department or any other silo. It involves every person at every level of the firm because every role is doing something that brings value to clients. That’s why process deserves a home in operations.
Giving process a home in operations involves:
Budgeting for process improvement as a line item
Acknowledging that process improvement starts with and supports the firm’s strategic plan
Tying process to performance
Thinking of process beyond compliance
Putting a person in charge of process improvement
Automate, upskill, eliminate
As firms work on process improvement initiatives, they should be determining which tasks to automate, which ones should just not be done anymore, and which could be leveraged more effectively. This way of thinking aligns with the transition from the pyramid to the diamond.
We’re used to a firm hierarchy that looks like a pyramid, but we’re headed towards organizations that are shaped like diamonds: a few partners at the top, a large number of mid-level leaders and managers in the middle, and a small number of staff at the bottom with automation and outsourcing filling in the gaps. We’re no longer evaluating processes as paper to electronic but as electronic to automation. We need new roles to support new ways of doing the work.
To have everyone working at their best and highest use, we need to leverage operational professionals to take on higher-level work and free up client service professionals.
Technology, client experience, process improvement
Current firm processes are siloed to departments and service lines, where they rely on multiple technologies. As we move up the continuum of value, we need to increase focus on the client experience. Technology is a big part of this.
To consolidate and align technologies, we need to look at process improvement from a firm-wide perspective instead of in silos. When clients have to work with each department separately rather than with the firm as a whole, client experience suffers. Today, we need to focus on the client experience not just in technology and process, but as part of the firm talent, focusing more on training the client during rollouts of new applications.
With constant disruption in the professional and ever-changing technology, labor and client expectations, your firm’s processes need to continue to evolve. It can be tough to change the status quo, but coming up with a plan and using vetted strategies for process improvement can help you understand what needs to change, make a plan and get buy-in.
It’s important to be mindful of these trends because with change comes opportunity. If you’re not making these changes today, it won’t just hinder growth in the near term but also put you behind exponentially.
Are you ready to become a process improvement leader in your firm?
Boomer Consulting's Lean Six Sigma CPA Green Belt Certification has helped hundreds of CPA firm professionals implement the framework they need to create lasting process improvement in their firms. Register now so you can begin confidently leading change within your firm.
As Shareholder and Consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry-wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.