Don’t have your workflow procedures documented? Well you should. It’s something that can reap big rewards for your firm for the rest of its active life and takes very little effort to implement.
What is a workflow system?
We’ve talked a couple of times before about workflow systems. We keep adding to the subject because we really do think it’s that important for your firm’s growth.
Essentially, a workflow system is a documented script that you and your employees follow for just about any bit of work done by your firm. This can be how you gather, ship, and receive tax info to and from your overseas accountants to how you send out thank-you letters to your clients.
These systems can be handwritten, done on a word processor, or you can purchase programs that allow your employees to call up a system with a couple of mouse-clicks.
The rule of thumb for a successful workflow is that a brand new hire fresh off the street could pick up the document and clearly understand what needed of them in order to get the work done.
The benefits of workflow systems
You don’t have to micromanage
When your workflow is documented you can count on your employees understanding what is expected of them. This frees you up to concentrate on building your firm rather than doing the day-by-day number-crunching. It might even give you enough free time to get away once in a while.
It frees up everyone’s time
Workflows don’t just free up the boss’ day, they also speed up the process for employees. They don’t have to ask for feedback about what they should be doing, and have an idea of how far along they should be in a given file after X amount of work done. This means everybody in your firm will have more time for wooing clients, working on value adds, or doing positive public relations stuff like charity work.
You can set alerts
This point dovetails with the first two. Workflow programs can be set to alert employees if there’s lag in a particular file’s processing. This means, again, that you don’t need to lose time micromanaging, yet no file gets left behind.
Encourages adherence to laws, regulations, and in-house rules
When employees follow a workflow system there’s little to no room for improvisation a.k.a. “bending the rules”. With some workflow computer programs it’s possible to set things up so the files literally can’t progress before they meet set regulations. No more worries about compliance.
Since both you and your employees help create and streamline your workflows you’re quickly going to iron out redundancies and identify places where files get bogged down. You’ll have a clear idea of how to solve the problem – more hands on deck, hiring a specialist, maybe purchasing an up-to-date software package, etc.
Additionally, you’ll be able to place the right employees in the right slots along the workflow’s timeline, and identify employees that perhaps need a bit more training or even replacement.
You can give your clients up-to-the-minute info
If a client calls you up wondering how far along their file is it’s no problem at all for you to call them up or check with your team and give them a clear picture of their files’ progression.
Increases employee happiness
Aside from knowing what is expected of them, employees now have a better method for asking for improvements. Instead of having to somehow prove that they need an extra hand or a computer program, they can now point at the workflow and show you how files get slowed down at such-and-such a point. They’ll have statistical evidence to back up their requests to the boss.
The reverse of this is that your employees aren’t going to have any fear of doing the wrong thing like maybe spending money they’re not sure should be spent or contacting clients with requests or news.
We mentioned above that these workflows can be applied to just about anything your firm does on a regular basis. You could, for example, set down guidelines for buying a new computer or piece of furniture.
Another cool feature of workflows is that they impress clients. They show that you’re a pro and in charge. What’s another name for a workflow when you’re meeting a client? An agenda.
So when you’re holding a meeting with a client pull out your agenda and let them see it. It will give your client a visual that states you’ve put effort into this meeting, ensuring that they receive your best efforts with no wasted time, and that you’ve geared this meeting specifically toward them.
It also gives weight to every single aspect of the meeting, including if you want to ask the client to fill out a satisfaction survey or if you’re going to ask them to recommend you to three other people.
Anything that your firm does, document it. Keep tweaking your workflow. And enjoy the benefits.