(Before I begin, I should probably address the use of the non-word “efficiencising”, unfortunately there isn’t a word in the dictionary to suggest “making a process more efficient” – if anyone knows of a word I can use, please comment below!)
The tax landscape is set to undergo digital transformation and as a result you are probably considering necessary changes to your systems and processes, to align yourselves with the future of the profession. For example, you may need to review your current client segmentation strategy or how you identify and deliver tax advice.
To help prepare you, here’s my breakdown of the top 5 objections you may find yourself hearing from your team when trying to systemise certain established processes (and in fact make their lives easier!), along with some tips on how to overcome them.
Up first it’s “I’m too busy” & “I’ve not got time”
I’m not doubting your team is busy. Indeed, if they’re not then you’re doing something wrong employing them in the first place. But this concern with being busy can make implementing any changes within your business difficult. It’s up to you to convince your team that setting aside a few hours a week to actually think about how it is they do things rather than just continuing to reactively do them in the same way they have for years is time very well spent. In fact it’s an investment for them because time dedicated to spotting where efficiencies could be made and implementing these changes will pay them back down the line in significant time savings.
“But what’s needed is different every time” / “It’s too complicated”
Again there will be some truth in what is being said here by your team but the key to this is getting your team to think differently about the work they do each day. Instead of thinking of the product/service as a whole, they need to break down each step of the process they normally carry out (usually without even thinking!)
The best approach is to define the process step by step by brainstorming a flow-map or “journey” on paper. Depending on the individuals involved, some will find this harder than others. Very often even the brightest technical minds who are used to dealing with very complex and sophisticated concepts struggle to break down what it is that they do on a regular basis into smaller parts. This is in part because sometimes they’re just too intrinsically linked to the process. The key is to pair these people up with those who are naturally process-minded and/or just a little further removed from the process itself, who can ask them the right questions and structure their approach carefully to ensure that all required information is extracted from them and the journey from start to finish is mapped out in stages.
Only once you have got your journey mapped out in stages can you start to spot which aspects can be streamlined and made more efficient. Often this involves changing the order in which things are done or removing certain steps altogether. Once your journey is mapped it will become very clear what steps can be taken to improve things.
“But it keeps changing”
Within a dynamic business, processes will change frequently. This is healthy and often shows that the business is responding to its customers’ needs and continuously improving when it spots something that could be done better. But it does also sometimes foster a reluctance from staff to putting any defined steps in place given they feel this energy is wasted when the process inevitably changes again next week.
In fact, you need to make your team see that it is precisely because things change often that the exercise of reviewing how things are done becomes so important. No-one sets out to do things inefficiently and so when a business first starts to offer a particular service or product very often the initial process put in place is designed with efficiency in mind. However when changes take place around the edges, very often initial efficiencies built into a process at the outset can become redundant (once the process starts to interact with other processes, when new tasks or requirements are added into the mix). The key is to map out the key steps and keep these under review regularly to ensure the process is always being reviewed as a whole for efficiency savings. Assign an owner to each service/product whose role includes keeping this aspect in mind at all times.
“I don’t know where to start”
If you task someone with improving efficiencies within your business process alone then expect to hear this a lot. This sort of task is one definitely better undertaken as a team using a collaborative approach. Indeed it can be difficult getting started and can feel overwhelming. Don’t let that put you off! Break it down into small tasks and don’t expect massive efficiencies to be made immediately as it will take some time to get into the swing of things. But the good thing is, once this becomes part of the way your team does things, it gets easier and good ideas flow more quickly.
“Surely it’s obvious?!”
This is more of an “internal” objection that you may hear in your own head when starting to get your team on board with becoming a more efficient operation. For those of us distanced from the day to day and with a natural tendency to look out for where things can be made more efficient, it’s all too easy to think that what needs to be done is blindingly obvious.
You will often be surprised to find out that a really smart member of your team makes the same amends to the template suite of documents they use each and every time they deal with a client rather than taking the ten minutes required upfront to update the template itself for further use (thus saving that 10 minutes each time in future). Or when, despite the fact that every time you deliver a particular service to a client you need to know a key piece of information from them (which often delays the process as it takes some consideration on their part), your team are only asking for that information right before it is needed instead of earlier on in the customer journey (which would allow the client more time to properly consider the relevant issue before it causes any delays in their journey).
The key is to bear in mind that it is always going to be easier for you to spot these things when you’re at a distance from what is going on. Try not to get frustrated with what has been done in the past.
Focus on the positive fact that what is needed is being done now and encourage your team to work together to collaboratively come up with a way to get more done with the time and the people that you have!
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