Document your processes! That is drilled into our heads over and over, but what is the right way? Do you document them but are still answering the never-ending cycle of questions all day and every day? As accountants, we believe that people have the same level of knowledge that we do, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t. This was never so apparent to me as when I was doing a task management build-out for a client and I was not able to follow her processes. She kept wondering, “Why is my team not following procedures?” The answer was that her procedures were not clear.
Clarity is key to well-documented processes
I had the same issue in my firm, so I had to find a different approach. There are things that we know about our clients that our team does not know. There are things about compliance that our team does not know. There is so much that they are having to figure out on their own, over and over again. Also, the way we talk is so different from how others absorb information. I had to really look at how anyone can follow processes to end the cycle of answering questions. I had to look at how people with no knowledge or experience could follow the process. I also had to think about if they knew how to do something, and how I could get them to follow the process to make sure things were not missed.
After many failed attempts at documenting processes through video, writing, and any other possible way I could think of, I finally figured out what worked from both sides. I continue to test this every day with my team. If there is a question about something, my response is always “update the process as appropriate.” These are living, breathing documents that are updated daily. While that might sound overwhelming, it is instilled in us to do so that they stay current and relevant to the business and client. Use a collaborative document, so it is easily accessible and changed if needed.
“How do I start?” Take an inventory of your processes.
I always get that question from other accountants. The best way I have found to get started is to use a simple Google or Excel sheet and braindump all the processes that need to be documented. While this might seem overwhelming, I also gave them a priority level, so I knew which ones were the most impactful. I also was able to delegate to my team the ones they needed to document, so I became the “quick” reviewer so I could give them feedback before they were tested. Notice I said tested. Every process in the firm has been tested by someone that doesn’t know how to do the thing. You might be thinking, “I only have me, so I can’t have someone else test them.” Test your own process by watching or reading it while you do it. I promise you will find things you used your brain for. I did this with every tax process, and I always found ways to tweak it.
Test and refine your process documentation.
After getting the process documented, I would format it in a checklist of “What to Do” so the process became the “How to Do.” This is solved if you know how to do the task then you can just follow the checklist to make sure everything that needs to be done is done. I cannot tell you how valuable this is. I had a monthly bookkeeping client that I would review multiple times because they were skipping things. That was because they were trying to remember what to do. They didn’t have to remember anymore, and I documented a checklist for review, so they knew exactly what I was looking for. I also use the review checklist for myself every month, so I am not having to remember, “Did they do this or that?” After building this out, I do not have to send this back anymore because it has a documented checklist of everything for that month’s end to do.
Also, breaking down processes so that they are easy to follow is key. I wrote a couple where my team gave me feedback that they were not going to follow the process. I had to take the criticism and ask why. They told me it was too long and hard to understand. I was writing in my voice. So, to solve that, I made a video of what I was doing, and they wrote the process. It was tested and passed. We do not have to be the one that writes all the processes if you have a team. Also, if you are by yourself, you can do these videos, and as soon as you hire someone, have them write the process by watching your videos. You then have a training library.
Process documentation will liberate your practice.
I can’t tell you enough about how instead of thinking documenting processes was a daunting task, it has given me the freedom and passion back into my business. It has helped me change my business and empower my team. Now when I have a team member that asks me a question, their automatic response is, “I know go document a process on that.” This goes for sales, marketing, and anything else that is involved in running my business. This way, I am not tied to my business and the answer to everything in my business.
In summary, processes should not be driving you nuts; they are a work in progress and take time to develop. It is always a work in progress, and if implemented correctly, it also empowers your team to make decisions and help you develop them. I promise it is so worth it, and once you see things that can come off your plate because of them, you will want to keep going.