Picture this. It’s a Sunday afternoon and I am finally turning my attention to the pile of personal paperwork which has built up. It’s time to file it all away neatly. And then bribe the 13 year old to shred the confidential paperwork. I was literally ready to start, my trusty hole-puncher in hand. (Well, actually my husband’s old trusty hole-puncher) And then the thought hit me, we were practically paperless in my business so why not in my personal life? Why was I diligently filing away another 3-6 months of bank statements? Why not, as I had been meaning to do for years, scan them in and file them away in Evernote?
My experiences with my personal formal paperwork and my husband’s reactions to my electronic filing have so many parallels with how practices approach changes to working practices. Over the course of this article I will share the conversations my husband and I had that Sunday and also what you can learn from these for your practice when it needs to adopt changes to its working practices.
Engaging with your staff before deciding on a change to working practices is key
I’ve been literally thinking about making the change to paperless in my personal life for years. In fact every time I spend about 3-4 hours sorting through the accumulated piles of paperwork I consider making the change. But have I once talked this through with my husband? Nope. He’s always told me not to treat him like a mind reader. But like every long relationship (20 years together, 18 married at the time of writing), I just expect from time-to-time he knows what I have been thinking about. Regardless of whether I have actually talked things through with him.
It’s the same with your staff. They are not mind readers. If you want them to fully back and endorse your plans to improve the working practices in your firm you need to involve them from the very beginning.
Key takeaway: Talk to your staff about why things need changing before you jump in and do so.
Hanging onto the status quo is often the reason everyone works the way they do
There is another takeaway from this scenario. Did you notice I mentioned I had been thinking about making the change for years. For those of you that really know me you will know that I’m not shy normally about coming forward with changes. So for me to not have changed something I wanted to do for years is quite something. So why change now? Probably I’ve had time to think about things over the last few weeks. With being stuck at home during lockdown I’ve had the time to assess what I want to change and what I want to be different personally and in my business. But normally we end up being too busy to have the clarity and then the time to implement changes in our practice management systems and processes.
Key takeaway: You need to really understand the ‘why’ for a change in your processes or systems otherwise inertia will take over
Don’t sanction 2 different ways of doing things
Back to myself and my husband again. So there I was taking photos of my paperwork and filing the photographed paperwork on the floor. (Well, for the time-being anyway.) Up appears my husband and starts asking some pertinent questions about what I am doing. And when he gets the fact we’ve now turned into a paperless family he asked some very sensible questions such as:
- Where are we storing the scans?
- How secure is the storage?
And then, satisfied that I had done my due diligence and thought things through, he said the immortal words.
“Well, I wouldn’t be going paperless with my small amount of paperwork just yet.”
My first reaction on hearing this was,
And then a small voice in my head said,
Or more accurately,
“Why should we have two ways of working?”
So, like the good manager of the household finances, I asked him
“Why not? Why should he still keep his paperwork separate?”
At which point he answered:
“I’m not yet ready to take that step.”
And at that point, our conversation finished and he went back to sorting out the laundry and me my scanning.
That may have been a conversation my husband and I had. But these conversations are played out time and time again within small accountancy firms. Someone has an idea how the practice efficiency can be improved. And some of the firm’s staff take this on board and others just carry on doing what they have always done. But here is the thing, just like me giving up at the first sign of resistance with my husband and his paperwork, it is often the case with the practice owner. Someone doesn’t want to make the change so they often just get left to their own devices. After all, as the thinking often goes,
let’s not rock the boat shall we? We don’t want to upset so-and-so…
Then before you know it you have 6 different members of staff working 6 different ways and the efficiency of the practice has tanked.
Key takeaway: Don’t agree passively or proactively to 2 different ways of working