Back in early November I travelled over to Canada to run the Canadian Accounting Technology Conference (CATS). This is a Canadian version of Smithink 2020's popular Australian ATSA event. On the way over via the US, I was very fortunate to attend the Disney Leadership Excellence in Anaheim California.

On-Stage Off-Stage and Over-Managing

This system of customer service has always fascinated me. When a guest (not a client or customer) interacts with a Cast Member (not staff or team members) on stage the client experience is a primary motivator. Off stage the Cast Members arrive for work, dress, eat, take breaks and interact with others outside the view of the Guest. When they enter the Park (on stage) through discreet barriers they are immaculately trained, attired and ready to make the Guest experience the very best.

It actually reminded me of a good accounting firm. The clients arrive in a professional reception area, meet the reception team, get offered tea or coffee and their favourite biscuit and then move into the boardroom. This is the on stage experience. The off stage experience is the work area where the team prepare the information, eat, interact etc. out of client view to present a professional service to the client when on stage. We generally enter from doors (maybe not concealed) and then its action time.

During the training day the Disney team spoke about the concept of overmanaging. One presenter asked the 100 plus attendees what they thought over managing was. Literally to a person the response was micro management. To our surprise the presenter quoted the following "Disney's consistent business results are driven by over-managing certain things that most organisations under-manage or ignore and that is a key source to what differentiates us. We have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional"

He further went on to say that:

  • We tend to think about things differently than others and to a greater degree.
  • We pay extraordinary attention to details surrounding general business processes.
  • We strategically place emphasis that is both greater than and different from what is typical in corporate best practices.
  • We have prevailing evidence that suggests what we do works.

It is this attention to detail matched with through ongoing training that sets Disney apart. It is their point of differentiation. To emphasise this system of overmanaging we witnessed a video of the Blinking Elephant. At Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, they have an animal puppet show with a huge elephant that blinks in sequence. This is controlled by a puppeteer inside the elephant who cannot see if the eye lids are blinking correctly. The puppeteer has been thoroughly trained, however, all Cast Members present have been trained to notice if the blinking sequence is not normal and what to do and who to report it to. It is this attention to detail that sets good businesses aside from the competition. The blinking elephant becomes a metaphor for the actions of extraordinary leaders overmanaging every aspect of the business.

So how does this relate to an accounting firm? Our industry relies on an attention to detail. When they is overlooked errors occurs and the client experience is affected. Ongoing training and development in all areas of service delivery from compliance and accounts production to business advisory development and implementation is critical for a successful practice with happy and loyal clients who refer good quality business.

With much of the consulting work I do the successful firms invest time and resources in process improvement, attention to detail, training and development in both hard technical skills as well as soft client management skills and planning from developing a business advisory implementation plan to setting realistic KPI's and monitoring and celebrating success. They do not rest on past performance and are always looking to keep abreast of new delivery trends and improving systems to ensure their services are professionally presented and the client experience is first class - in essence over-managing.

So where is your firm now? Have you taken the first step forward to preparing your up and coming leaders and equity partners? Are you looking for guidance, systems and processes, templates and ideas from experts and experienced practitioners? Is on stage off stage and over-managing for your firm?

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Mark Holton Smithink