This is the second of three articles published by Business Fitness on reducing risk and improving efficiency through the standardisation of procedures and templates. To read the rest of these articles, head to the standardisation category.
Part 2: 10 simple steps for implementing effective procedures and templates (steps 1-5)
Step 1: Have someone to champion the project
The push for standardisation must come from the top – there must be a principal or partner to champion the process within the firm. Like with all projects that require a change in behaviour across the whole firm, a strong leader is required to ensure the success of the project.
If you are not a principal or partner, but you recognise the need in your firm for standardised and up-to-date procedures and templates, you should take it upon yourself to persuade your firm’s leader of the merits of using such tools. After all, it won’t just benefit you – it should also improve the bottom line (not to mention the saleability of the firm – an important consideration for every firm owner).
Step 2: Educate and involve all staff
As important as having a project champion is, your team members are nevertheless critical to the overall success of the project. All team members need to be involved at every step – and therefore need to be educated about why you are doing what you are planning to do.
Hold a meeting with all staff to identify any key processes that are repeated regularly throughout your firm. Then work as a team to refine these processes – are they as efficient as they can possibly be? Do they involve minimal risk? They key is documenting the agreed-upon processes – that is, creating your firm’s own documented procedures.
Identify any supporting or related standard templates as you go. These will be the tools your team needs to complete the different procedures from start to finish. If you have carried out this particular step thoroughly and comprehensively, your list of templates should include a variety of workpapers, checklists, letters (or emails), minutes of meetings and forms.
Step 3: Assign responsibility
Assign a team member or group of team members to handle the development and/or review of each kind of standard template. For example, a manager with job review responsibilities may be in charge of developing job workpapers. A member of your administration team may be responsible for developing the procedure relating to the sorting and scanning of incoming mail.
Ensure all team members understand the objectives of the project and what their responsibilities are.
You should make sure that any templates prepared are reviewed and signed off at the appropriate level (particularly for templates relating to client jobs) – there’s no point in starting your standardisation process with templates that are already incorrect or rely on out-of-date information or data.
*It is important to note here that step 2 can be dramatically simplified by relying on a reputable external provider for the particular templates you require. The level of effort required to create (not to mention maintain) your firm’s templates can be minimised if you elect to rely on a reputably external templates provider.*
Step 4: Centrally store all procedures and templates
Centrally store all of your (documented!) procedures and related templates in a place that all team members can easily access. Whilst you can designate a folder on your firm’s server for the purpose of housing these documents, top-performing firms tend to rely on an effective firm-wide intranet for this function.
Indeed, with 80% of firms (as of the 2011 edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Australian Accounting Profession) indicating that they have such an intranet in place, most firms are already well-equipped to store all of the procedures and templates they create pursuant to step 2.
Step 5: Delete (or archive) old procedures and templates
After providing a short period of notice to all team members (for example, one week) you should delete (or archive) all procedures and templates that are stored on all team members’ hard drives and on your network which – after completing steps 1 and 2 – no longer represent your firm’s current and approved procedures and templates.
This step is crucial. If team members are allowed to retain old, unapproved and out-of-date procedures and templates, your standardisation efforts will fail (as will your efforts to minimise risk and improve efficiency).
Staff members must have just one place to search when looking for a particular procedure or template. Not only will this help you control which procedures are followed and which templates are used, but it will make it easier and faster – more efficient! – for your staff, leading ultimately to improved job turn-around times.