You Only Get Out What You Put In

At this year’s Rainmaker Companies SuperConference in Indianapolis, I had the privilege of leading the Friday morning Fun Run. At 6:30 on a warm, but thankfully overcast morning, 5 of us set off on a new course. Unfamiliar with the terrain and the pace of the group, I quickly assessed everyone’s comfort level, activated my Garmin, and off we went. During our run we spoke about the races we have completed and some of the ones we would like to conquer. We spoke about our favorite course length – 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon – and what PR (personal record) we strive to achieve. The one thing we all had in common, regardless of course length or goal, was the importance of the training process.

As I flew home later that afternoon, I continued to think about how similar the due diligence of choosing a training program for a race is to the due diligence of choosing a process management platform for an accounting firm. Whether you are training for a marathon or putting together your audit methodology, the adage holds true:  You only get out what you put in.

As my feet hit the pavement for my next run once I returned home, I started to compile a mental list of how training for any endurance event is like deciding the best platform for your firm’s business processes:

  1. You Need To Walk Before You Can Run: There is a tried and true reason well over 5 million people have used the Couch to 5K app – if you start out too fast or with too much mileage, you will most likely injure yourself or burn out. Rather than sprint right out of the gate, you need to map out your best course to get you to your race goal. That should involve assessing your current physical state, the time you have available to train and your desired race results. Once you have that information, you can then start your training process. The same hold true for developing your firm’s internal processes. If you start throwing a new process management solution at your staff, you will most likely get resistance. However. if you take the time to understand what your staff is currently doing, learn where the pain points are and figure out what the best course of action looks like, you will be better suited in choosing the appropriate process management solution for your firm, while also obtaining buy-in from your staff.
  2. There Are Many Different Types of Runners Out There: When you start looking for a training program you will notice there are so many to choose from ranging from Novice to Intermediate to Expert. Within those groupings you will also find many variations based upon speed, mileage and the amount of times per week one has available to run. Initially, this can be an overwhelming amount of information. However, once you take the time to parse through it all, it becomes much more manageable. Eventually after putting in your due diligence you will find the right fit for your schedule, capability and goals. The same thought process goes into finding the right process management platform. You need to parse through the many options that are currently available, weed out the ones that do not align with your firm’s needs/goals and eventually, with time and effort, wind up with the software that will allow your process to shine through.
  3. You Need To Maximize Your Unique Abilities: Every runner, regardless of how long he or she has been running, has strengths and weaknesses. Some can conquer any hill, but can’t sprint to save his life. Some can run the fastest 5K you have ever witnessed, but will peter out toward the end of a half-marathon. To find the race that suits you, you need to figure out what your balance is. This may take some trial and error and tweaking of your training plan over the course of weeks, months and even years, especially as you grow as a runner and get better acquainted with the racing environment. This is very similar to how a firm develops its own business processes. All the strengths of the staff come together to highlight how your firm is unique. To fully realize the potential behind this you will need to continue to tweak your process over time. Once you find the right process management platform, the work does not end. Your firm will need to continually assess the process, figure out what is working and what is missing. Your process will mature along with your staff as they become more adept at managing and understanding how your chosen platform can be tailored and customized to meet your firm’s unique capabilities.
  4. Off-the-Shelf Will Only Get You So Far: Yes, when you first start out, following a training program to the tee is the best way to get to your result – finishing the race. However, over time as you not only develop as a runner, but the demands of life and age ebb and flow, just taking a training program from the internet will no longer suffice. The time will come for you to customize that program to meet your current needs, your ability and your timeframe. Accounting firms are not much different. When you first start to venture into workflow and process management an off-the-shelf option is the easiest solution, however as your firm grows, the time will come to switch to a more customizable option to best capture your expertise and fill the needs of your clients.

Once again, at the end of the day, whether you’re off to finish you first 10K or your 10th audit season, the adage remains the same, “You only get out what you put in.”  Make sure whatever it is that you are putting in captures the essence of who you or your firm is and where you want to end up at the finish line.