In the middle of April, after the last tax return (or extension) is filed, many tax partners at CPA firms across the United States shake their head and sigh, “There must be a better way!” In many cases new ideas to improve the tax preparation processes come to mind. Some of these processes eventually get documented. A few improvements are actually implemented.
To reach implementation, the recommendations must be taught to team members who are responsible for actually performing those functions. Two steps that lead to execution of these improvements are learning and teaching. In this case a tax partner learned a process improvement based on integrating prior experiences with recent knowledge gained from “opportunity season”. But this process for improvement is incomplete. This type of improvement occurs upon injecting top-down knowledge into the firm. But, what opportunities emerge when a third step contributes to this process?
By adding listening to this process, the firm now benefits from communication up and down the organization. By using good questioning skills and then listening, every professional who interacts with clients can learn about additional service needs to help the client and communicate them up the organization. Because CPAs clearly have clients’ attention during “opportunity season”, this is the ideal time for progressive firms to boost cross-selling activities.
Next, the partner overseeing the client relationship has to listen to frontline professionals in order to learn about the cross-selling opportunity or process improvements that result from client interactions. The cycle is complete when the CPA in a leadership position listens to the input from the frontline, learns an improvement to benefit the firm, and teaches other firm professionals so that new knowledge is adopted as a best practice.
Many business consultants and professors who teach executive training programs mirror this process. They privately confess that they learn from their executive students more information than they teach. They acquire knowledge from the frontlines, add previous experience, teach the new information to an eager audience, then repeat the process. For progressive accounting firms to get maximum benefit, the key steps are:
• Frontline team members listen and learn from client interactions in order to share information with leaders.
• Leaders learn these lessons, add prior experiences and incorporate the knowledge into best practices.
• Leaders broadly teach these newly developed best practices so that the firm can effectively introduce new tactics for better performance.
Answers and opportunities appear up and down the organization. All members throughout the firm must actively listen, learn and teach for performance improvement, productivity gains and ultimately, income growth.
By Glenn Hunter
Director of Member Development, The APA/ Enterprise Worldwide