Today is all about finding the quickest path to making your firm more efficient and profitable.
Learning The Wrong Lessons
My first overseas contractor experience was a disaster.
I was nervous about sending complicated work overseas, so the first assignments were simple.
My contractor was a CA from India and very qualified, and the job started off well.
However, small, then larger issues popped up a few months into the work.
I reached out to the contractor to discuss my experience.
They replied they were getting busier and started outsourcing work to their brother, who was in high school.
I was shocked and quickly ended our engagement.
Instead of looking at the situation objectively, I doubled down on a few bogus assumptions.
- I couldn’t trust overseas contractors
- Overseas work quality would never match N. American standards
- Communication was always going to be an issue.
I hyperfocused on what the contractor had done and took no ownership of what went wrong regarding the instructions, process or engagement communication.
Looking back, I realize that I had learned the wrong lesson.
Since then, I’ve hired and worked with dozens of overseas team members.
The lessons that I should have learned were:
- Communicate what success looks like for the assignment.
- Identify the tech, team and technique required for delivery.
- Engaging a contractor is not a ticket to zero work for you.
- Follow up when the work is completed, whether it was completed well or not.
- Don’t lump literally millions of contractors into the same bucket.
Learning the wrong lesson can cut you off from important opportunities and strategies from your firm.
Investing in a process to learn the right lessons is crucial.
Being Open To Feedback
Feedback is underrated.
I used to accept most feedback with ‘a grain of salt.’
I used to disqualify a lot of feedback because I thought:
- “Well, that person doesn’t understand how much work goes into this.”
- “That person doesn’t have the right context to offer an opinion.”
- “Why would I listen to them? They’re not an expert.”
My thoughts were valid, but if I am building or doing something for someone else, their feedback is the most important thing.
I know there are compliance rules that we have to play within, but for everything else, we have to weigh user experience heavily.
Our intentions, plans, and execution mean nothing if we don’t get it right for them. Hard stop.
Success at scale depends on how seriously we get and incorporate feedback.
If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:
Giving feedback leads to micro-alignments to help team members follow the plan.
Getting feedback leads to macro-improvements that alter trajectory and profitability.
There are four key things to keep in mind when getting feedback:
The best time to figure out what is and isn’t working is immediately after an engagement or project ends.
Real feedback is fueled by emotion. Unfiltered feedback is best. At times, emotional responses are general and attacking, so a framework to channel that emotion is needed.
Getting feedback at a later date usually leads to either guarded, diluted or calculated responses.
Having an expected cadence to offer feedback demonstrates to your team that you give a damn about what they think.
Linking feedback sessions together lets you see if you’re improving.
Sporadic feedback is like reporting profit at random with no context – Great! Profit margins are at 13% – Wait… is that good?!
3. Depth of questions
We usually barely scrape the surface when diving into where we can improve. Partly because our ego may resist it but also because we don’t have a framework.
I created an After Action Review (AAR) template as a framework – See the downloadable template below.
I like the name AAR – If you want to kill a project before it starts, use a title like “Feedback Form” or “Review Form.”
4. Implementation strategy
The fastest way to get crappy feedback is to ask for it and not do anything about it.
Once things are implemented, let the individual and team know that you’ve executed on their feedback.
Getting good internal team feedback doesn’t start with a polished survey but with a supportive environment where people know they can give feedback.
If the feedback you get is not quite actionable (requires massive investment, the time of year is too busy), let the respondent know what is happening with what they’ve suggested.
After Action Review Template
Your review should follow the structure of your engagement. We tend to use generic formats that are too broad when asking what’s not working.
Getting specific feedback will be hard if you don’t have a detailed process map or task list of your engagement.
Here’s a general process map of tasks and their owners.
And your AAR should mirror that process map.
Then, take the general AAR framework and apply it to each task or step in the process:
The General AAR Framework
- What was supposed to happen?
- What actually happened?
- Why was there a difference?
- What can we learn?
By applying the questions to each task, you move from a 35,000-foot, process-wide discussion to a task level one.
Any process is only as efficient as the least efficient task in the process.
Drill down further by getting into (1) Time, (2) Tech and (3) Technique
Q: When was the deadline? → Was the deadline met?
I am against tracking time, but I support tracking tasks against deadlines. If one task’s deadline gets missed consistently, that is one indication that the task needs attention.
Q: What info format was received? → what info format is required?
Much of what we do is synthesizing information from one source into another. Information formats and usability are crucial for efficiency and accuracy.
This question exposes potential issues due to:
- Manual data entry → error and accuracy issues
- Incomplete automations → extra time manipulating data in spreadsheets
- Missing apps → too much focus on moving data instead of interpreting data.
Q: Is there an SOP (standard operating procedure) for this step? → Was the SOP followed?
Making a process as efficient as possible is difficult without good documentation. SOPs and process docs require the preparer to stop and think about how we complete something.
Any SOP with a ‘date revised’ older than 12 months needs to be revisited. I know that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it‘ but given the industry’s rapid tech development, 12 months can be a long time.
The AAR doesn’t directly address individual employees. It forces us to look at the entire process before going after the easy targets, the employees.
If your AAR doesn’t reveal process or system issues, then it is time to look at employee training and monitoring.
Grind the process before grinding the employee.
Here is the basic template – no name or email required.
Move the gsheet to your own Drive or down the file as an xlsx.
Modify the template to match your workflows, and duplicate the tabs so you can track progress.
There is a dichotomy we have to balance in our firms when it comes to improvements:
Partners and owners hold all of the decision-making power and little information.
Front-line team members hold the information but none of the decision-making power.
The AAR gets the information into the hands of the decision-makers. Win.
When you take action on the feedback and information, you give decision-making power to the front line. Win – Win.
The fastest way to lose an A player is not listening to and acting on their suggestion.
I didn’t get into client feedback in this newsletter, so tune in next week.
Build The Firm You Want.