Change is never easy, and the accounting profession has often shown a particular resistance to relinquishing traditional patterns. But for those firms that embrace change at all levels through process improvement initiatives, the results have been both visible and rewarding.
When this kind of initiative succeeds, generational conflicts melt away as the shared vision and firm-wide efforts unite older and younger team members in their quest for the common goal.A key reason this improvement trend works is because firms are discovering the often scattered and disjointed ways of changing processes and technology in the past aren’t sustainable in today’s rapidly changing external environment. One-off improvements and best practices, at best, lead to short-term and isolated gains. Without longer-term vision and understanding, changes never truly take hold and the all-important buy-in factor is often missing.
CPA firms are often now using a five-step process improvement approach – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC). This model is applied to both client-facing processes as well as internal ones. This powerful model of change management cuts through the inertia and challenges the status quo – to benefit the client and the firm.
The benefits can be significant in the short term. Engagements are led more effectively and efficiently, which leads to improved profitability and financial performance. A solid operational foundation is built by creating capacity within a process. In essence, this helps firms ensure that their efforts on the top line are rewarded by increases to the bottom line.
What is a culture of continuous improvement?
- It’s a culture that is focused on results, not just effort. Effort is easy, and you track effort very well in our profession. It’s called charge hours. Firms that embrace continued improvement realize a focus on results leads to much better financial performance and better client service.
- It’s a culture focused on timely delivery. Output goes up as turnaround times come down. Both internal and external customers (clients) of the firm are satisfied. You don’t have to wait forever to get a tax return prepared or an audit section reviewed. Discipline is built into the process and the strong desire to put the client first – both externally and internally – is what people care about.
- It’s a culture focused on being proactive instead of reactive. It’s easy to sit back and wait. A proactive constant improvement plan helps firms avoid that plague of reactiveness and think ahead as much as practically feasible. Clients don’t find value in reactiveness.
- It’s a culture focused on switching from compliance mode to advisor mode. By removing waste and freeing up time, we are able to create capacity at all different levels in order to think and operate more strategically for clients. We call this providing delighter-level service to clients.
- In essence, it challenges the status quo – every day, every week, every year. The question, “How can we get better?” is constantly on everyone’s mind.
In today’s rapidly changing business environment, it is my strong opinion that CPA firms can’t sit back and maintain the status quo. Those that do will most definitely be falling behind. Forward-thinking firms are taking advantage of the tremendous opportunity to embrace a culture of continuous improvement. I hope your firm is one of them.