Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Let me start off by saying, I hate waste! The idea of getting the “biggest bang for my buck” or “killing two birds with one stone” has always appealed to me. Anytime you can use the same or fewer resources to get a greater result, that’s leverage right? Or is it efficiency? Most of the time, the terms leverage and efficiency are used interchangeably. However, when it comes to accounting firms, the distinction between the two terms can make the difference between just managing time and truly leveraging your firm’s talent.

Whenever I teach performance measurement and management advisory skills to accounting professionals, as excited as they are about expanding their skills to provide more value to the client, the one thing that seems to get in their way is capacity, or lack thereof. However, when asked what percentage of time practitioners are doing work that could or should be done by someone else, the answer is typically 50 percent to 70 percent. That is an astonishing number when you add it up across the firm.

Let’s be conservative and go with the idea that 50 percent of available time is marginalized by working below our full potential. Does that mean we are leaving 20 percent, 30 percent or more of resources on the warehouse floor? Manufacturers call it scrap or waste. Accounting firms call it poor leverage. Whatever you call it, the idea of “scrap time” is painful to everyone.  Now substitute the word “time” for “talent”. Ouch! To top it off, there are a number of studies that indicate one of the leading causes of stress and burnout in the workplace is not being engaged in challenging work;  a.k.a. marginalizing talent.

Managing partners see waste reflected as poor realization and write offs. Partners lament the impact of waste on their compensation. Managers see it as a necessary evil to their advancement to partner. Seniors see it as the reason they struggle to fill up their time sheet. Juniors see it as an impediment to their career development. And although clients may never see it, they feel it in their wallet.

Recently, a manager struggling with capacity issues, told me that he didn’t think he was ever going to achieve any leverage of his own since he was already part of “somebody else’s leverage model”. He went  on to say how frustrated he was that he was not getting to utilize his advisory skills; noting that his average realized rate was significantly higher when he was engaged in advisory work over traditional compliance work.

What is wrong with this picture?

I believe the traditional hierarchal perspective on achieving leverage in an accounting firm is based on flawed logic. Time cannot be leveraged because it is a finite resource. Therefore the best we can do is manage it. On the other hand, talent is an ever expanding resource that can be leveraged individually and across the firm.

The definition of leverage is a “mechanical” or power advantage used to influence outcomes. The definition of efficiency is the ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort; competency in performance. Herein lies the dilemma; Can you really leverage time? Or is it more accurate to say that we manage time so we can leverage talent? So my question to practitioners about how they spend their time, should really be focused on how they spend their talent.

If we have a person who is really good at business advisory services, why would we want to consume his entire day preparing tax returns? How much additional value would we gain by applying the right talents to the right job? We need to empower more people to try to build a business around their talent, rather than cranking out more work to fill the hours.

Think ahead to all of the opportunities coming up during tax season. What if we could turn every client meeting into an opportunity to showcase our real value as advisors rather than proving our skills at preparing their tax return. Your clients know you are good at preparing tax returns already, what they want to know is how you can help them make better business decisions going forward.  If you really want to leverage your talent, make a point of teaching your clients one new thing about their business every time you talk to them.  Now imagine your clients telling their friends about the informative discussion they had with their accountant over lunch and how they always walk away with great insights.

As accountants, we are the ones who equate time spent to value received, not the client. Our greatest point of leverage is when we are in front of our clients not back at the office filling up time sheets. .  If you really want to start managing your time and leveraging your talent, start surgically removing all the tasks on your to do list that marginalize the value of your talent. It’s not easy at first, but if you can cut out 10% a week for the next few weeks, in a month or two every minute you spend with a client will be the best way to leverage your talent.

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to: http://www.mentorplus.com/.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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