A key factor attributed to the slow rate of uptake of advisory services, particularly in smaller accounting firms, as been the perception that it’s very difficult to systemise advice. As a result, partners end up doing much of this ‘high-end’ work, meaning that capacity for additional advisory services is limited. So, what options does your firm have if you are to expand the value of advisory services to your firm.
Create more capacity
If you believe that only the senior, more experienced managers and partners within your firm can provide advice, then the only way you are going to solve this issue is by creating more capacity through leverage of the work you currently do.
For many firms, this can be partly achieved by creating more capacity at the compliance level through outsourcing. To some extent, the marketplace is also driving this change through increased efficiency and greater fee sensitivity of compliance work. Most firms simply don’t have a choice if they are to retain their compliance work, which is still the foundation of the service platform.
Interestingly enough, I often see that even when more capacity is created, managers and partners will often still continue to do what they have always done. IT’s extremely difficult to change behaviour, especially in an environment where productivity and time cost are still primary indicators of individual and firm performance.
Provide staff with more responsibility and authority
In most firms, staff will respond to properly delegated responsibility and authority, despite the feedback managers and partners give about the perceived lack of motivation of their younger staff in particular.
My experience is that younger staff are no different to their managers when it comes to motivation to change. When provided with strong, effective coaching, people will respond positively and embrace responsibility. When given clear guidelines in relation to behavioural and performance standards, staff will work towards achievement of those standards, if they feel that they have some control over their work.
Sure, training in both technical and soft skills is also necessary to develop your people. Rather than procrastinate because you are worried that your staff will simply take newly-learned skills to another firm, you should be proactive in providing a strong training environment and giving your people the opportunity to learn through experience and mistakes. After all, that’s the way managers and partners have learnt in the past. Sometimes we forget.
Systemise the advice services you provide
Finally, we come back to the key reason many partners and managers give for not delegating – ‘It’s not possible to delegate high level skills and capability.’ Of course, you can’t transplant years of knowledge and experience into your people in a short period of time.
However, it is certainly possible to systemise key elements of advisory services by focusing not on the advice given, but on the work that goes into preparation and delivery of the advice. It’s possible to systemise the following key tasks:
- Data collection and processing
- Production of financial and KPI reports
- Client meeting agendas, minutes and follow-up
- Production of business and management reports
- Specialist information provided consistently to clients
In fact, any advisory process which is provided consistently can be systemised. The challenge is that most partners of firms re providing advice in a reactive, rather than proactive way. They are responding to client queries and requests rather than going out to find what clients really need and then developing processes around the delivery of these services.
In the recent 2016 Good Bad Ugly National Benchmark report, the leader of one firm stated that:
A major challenge this firm is experiencing is the systemisation of advisory services. Reporting software is great, but it doesn’t go to the next step and provide the expert knowledge behind it. It is an identifier, or a conversation starter, but the big weakness in all these products is the lack of standard systems and processes behind them. The profession has not been taught how to execute non-compliance services.
The best place to start is to identify what services clients need on a consistent basis, then develop a service delivery platform around these services. Identify delivery experts in your firm and ensure that they have the time to focus on these services week in, week out.
The surest path to failure in delivering advice consistently is to continue to treat it as a reactive service offering. Treat advice in the same way you treat compliance in relation to workflow – develop systems, leverage responsibility and focus on efficient throughput of work.
The 2016 Good Bad Ugly National Benchmark report provides many great case studies of firms that have struggled, and succeeded, in their quest for a stronger advisory focus. I strongly recommend that you read this report. Click here for further information,
Dale Crosby | High Tech Soft Touch | email@example.com
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