Educate your staff that the firm is about to embark on a strict standardisation process. Hold a meeting with all staff to go through your key repetitive processes and work as a team to reach an efficient and documented procedure which links to any and all documents/templates needed to complete that job.
Assign a team leader and various team members with defined responsibilities for different types of templates or specific topics. Ensure each team member understands the objectives of the project and the steps involved. A good project team is vital to maintain up-to-date standard processes.
Collect and centrally store all procedures, workpapers, checklists, standard letters and other templates that are in use within the firm. Whilst you can designate a particular folder or mapped drive for storage of templates and precedents, it is far more efficient to use an electronic knowledge base and document management system like HowNow.
After providing one week’s notice to all staff, delete (or archive to removable media) all templates that are stored on workstation hard drives or on areas on the network outside of the agreed upon central storage area. This is imperative to maintaining a master Knowledge base – staff must only have one place to look.
Group the various templates by type and review all templates to decide which will be the master version for each type of template. In some cases you might decide to condense multiple checklists into one, or vice versa.
Delete (or archive) all non-master versions of your templates. You don’t want anyone using anything but the agreed upon ‘master version’ of each type of template, so only store the masters on the network where people can access them – get rid of the rest!
Ensure the master templates are in read-only or template format so that when team members open them, they open either a new document based on the template or a read-only version of the document that must be renamed in order for changes to be saved. This protects your master versions from inadvertent changes being made.
Regularly reinforce policy. Remind team members of the benefits of using the standardised documents and templates, and ensure they are happy with the retrieval method so they don’t feel the need to save their own copy of the master version onto their local drive or desktop. Any copies your staff make of your templates lose their ties with the master and any future updates to the document. Using a Document Management System that effectively manages your Knowledge base is the ideal method for ongoing template use.
Design the templates so that they can be completed on-screen, and encourage on-screen completion of checklists, forms and workpapers to maximize the efficiency of preparing, reviewing, electronically storing and later retrieving work.
Adopt the “It’s the fish that John West rejects” review policy. Reject work presented for review that is not based on the official standard workpapers and checklists.
Through our annual Good Bad Ugly survey of Australian accountants, we’ve found that those firms that effectively implement knowledge management systems enjoy benefits including:
- Increased value: the knowledge management system (or document management system) appears on the firm’s balance sheet, making the firm significantly more valuable and saleable
- Reduced training and induction costs: new team members can follow clearly defined processes and easy to use templates
- Improved quality and reduced review times: the standardisation of systems and procedures ensures a consistently high quality of work and typically reduces job review times by up to 75%
- Increased job satisfaction: team members can progress with confidence to doing higher level work sooner
Effective knowledge capture, storage, sharing and retrieval provides benefits to the firm, its staff, and most importantly, the firm’s clients. Firms that do not implement such a system are at a distinct disadvantage to firms that do. Ask yourself: how much knowledge will walk out your office door and not come back this year?