When your tax practice or business suffers from inefficiencies and performance issues, do you know what to do? The answer to this question really has two parts.
The first part is to identify the problem, but problem identification is more difficult than most think. Problems are often masked, obscuring identification in two ways. First, symptoms are often mistaken for causes, so it’s easy to mistake a symptom of a problem for its cause. Second, managers and owners often lack objectivity in properly assessing the operations and interactions within their business.
The second part is to identify the proper tool to apply to the problem. Since each unique problem requires a unique tool rather than discuss specific tools, I will propose a method of identifying the proper tool.
Problems fall into two categories: symptoms (or signs) and causes. If confronted with an aroma that is pungent and disagreeable, your choice is to spray the air with a deodorizer or seek the cause of the odor. To merely spray the air addresses only the symptom, not the cause. The same is true with your firm. If you only address the symptom of a problem, the underlying cause can grow and metastasize, affecting all aspects of your business. Without properly identifying the underlying cause, you cannot know the proper tools to employ.
Assuming you are adroit at differentiating between symptoms and causes, you must also have perspective. In my many years as both a business advisor and owner, I witnessed many a business suffering from systemic problems perpetuated by an inability of decision makers to objectively and accurately assess their business. They could not see their business for what it was; they only saw it as they wanted it to be. From deep in the trenches, the view is narrowed and cast with the hue of assumptive facts. These facts may have been true at one time, but since they are based on factors lying beyond the edges of the trench, they fail to adapt to changing realities. As a result, many owners and managers are unable to see the forest through the trees.
This lack of perspective not only applies to the environment within which the business must compete; it also extends to how employees execute their tasks. Too often, employees are viewed based on their roles and duties instead of their actual capabilities, capacities and achievements. Bottom line? Businesses issue directives without regard to the availability of actual employee resources.
Now that you know what the problem is, how do you fix it? I cannot tell you the proper tool to correct a problem, but I can offer a strategy to find that tool. The strategy is to employ an employee-centric approach to problem resolution. This approach brings together all employees engaged in the aspect of your business burdened by the identified problem.
These employees are in the best position to assess the corrective tools that will address the problem effectively and efficiently. They are perfectly situated to see where the rubber meets the road. To ignore their input would be to forfeit their invaluable knowledge.
To successfully involve your employees in the curative process requires a collaborative approach, but collaborative environments cannot be created by decree; they are ecosystems that must be cultivated and nurtured. A business operated as dictatorial hierarchy should expect employee input to mirror the company line, not reflect true employee opinions and beliefs. The goal is to create an environment in which employees will say what they believe, not what they think their superiors want to hear.
While there are different strategies to a collaborative environment, one is unmanagement, the topic of one of my earlier articles. A quick Google search will provide a number of other articles on developing collaborative workplaces.
How a firm or business addresses its problems should be its number one concern. If not, the business may continue to exist, but it will not realize its full potential. It all starts with correctly identifying the problem at hand. Once the problem is identified, the selection of corrective measures must be undertaken. To maximize the effectiveness of any corrective measures, it is best to include all persons involved in the affected process. This increases the probability that the tools employed will be appropriate, as well as efficiency and effectiveness of their application. The goal is to gain the benefit of employee insight and instill employee ownership in problem resolution.