As many readers would be aware, for many years, I have conducted reviews of practices. These reviews provide insights into improvements that can be made in how the firm is organised and managed. These insights are not rocket science but only come from years of work with a variety of firms and personal experience of the successes and failures.

Sharing - the lost opportunity

Many firms are their own little island. The tend to do things the way they’ve always done them - habits get created. It becomes comfortable but unfortunately it is also an opportunity lost. There may be better ways out there that they’re not accessing. 
 
Undertaking a practice review is just one option that can be considered. It probably provides the most in depth analysis of any of the options. When I undertake these reviews I conduct in depth interviews and analyse systems, processes, technology, team structure and reporting frameworks with recommendations for improvement.

While this is an effective way to improve the firm, it’s not the only option. 

Some firms have organised themselves into their own informal groups and hold regular get togethers to share ideas, financial results and workshop issues. Training costs can also be shared so that costs of speakers etc are lower for each individual firm. Generally these groups run on a cost sharing basis to keep costs low. 

Others have tried coaching clubs which provide a forum to share ideas. These can be expensive and involve travel costs and time away from the office. The agenda is generally determined by the facilitator. The result has tended to be mixed. Some firms like the discipline from this formal structure while others find that the discussion is often not relevant to them. 
 
Some groups are more effective than others. Added Value’s TAP and SFG groups are quite member driven with Added Value’s Thea Foster, chairing the meetings. Agendas are set from the input of the group members. Some are focussed on specific issues such as IT, Audit or SMSF. (www.addedvalue.com.au)
 
About two years ago we took a different approach and launched our Online Collaboration Networks to enable firms to share ideas from their own office at a low cost. We create a virtual meeting room online with webcams. With six to eight firms in a group and each firm geographically separated we’re able to provide a forum for firms to interact. Meetings are every two months for 90 minutes. We have found the formula that works best is for each participant to be prepared to ask a question to the rest of the group. With six to eight questions each meeting it ensures that the sessions are relevant to all firms present. If you’re interested, consider participating in a meeting for free to give it a try. Click here for more details.
 
So there are a variety of ways you can consider to learn from others to improve your firm.

The next step of course is to apply that knowledge! In this time poor world, this can be a major challenge with unrelenting deadline pressure. Of course you need to ensure that you have sufficient space capacity in the firm to enable you to embark on any practice improvement initiatives. The other factor is accountability. Without a framework to ensure people will be kept accountable more often than not, new initiatives die on the vine. Part of my role with firms as the external chairman/adviser, is to be that annoying squeaky wheel to hold people accountable to keep focus on these important internal improvements. Perhaps this is also worth considering. 
 
So in your next partner’s/director’s meeting consider whether you are accessing the collective knowledge of other firms so you can learn how their experience can help improve your firm.

David Smith & Mark Holton are experienced practitioners who have been assisting firms for many years. If you’d like to know how we can help your firm contact us at info@smithink.com.

David Smith Smithink

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