By Ben Muncaster, Director of Operations
If you want to grow a business (in a coherent, sustainable way), fundamental changes often need making to the way you operate on a day-to-day basis.
For a start, you’ll probably have to learn to delegate. You may also need to develop better structures, introduce team leaders or strengthen your processes.
This is where the support of an experienced business adviser, or outside observer, can really make a difference.
Unburdened by preconceived ideas about how things should be done in a certain way, they’re free to analyse the way you work without fear and can make recommendations based upon your goals, growth ambitions and customer strategy. This might include using best practices from other industries or sectors, or adopting new technology to save you time and money.
Sometimes a simple adjustment like introducing key performance indicators – allowing results to be shared and celebrated across every area of the business – can have a massive impact on morale, making your team feel more included and valued.
Since joining NA as Operations Manager in 2018, my role has been to look at how we can empower our team and improve the services we offer clients. Although I believe we’re making positive progress, there’s still a long way to go in our improvement journey.
It may come as a surprise to some people, but I actually don’t have any previous experience in the accounting industry. My background is in large-scale manufacturing and before joining NA I was employed as the Operations Manager at an engineering company, where continuous improvement was ingrained in the culture of the business.
Rather than think of this as a weakness, I like to believe it’s one of my biggest strengths. I’m of the opinion that because I’m not a number cruncher, and I don’t get bogged down in that level of detail, I can benefit from having a fresh view on everything we do.
Having studied for a Masters in the importance of strategy, I am conditioned to challenge everything and I recognise the importance of developing people and building positive cultures. I am also qualified in Lean Six Sigma – a disciplined, statistical-based, data-driven approach and continuous improvement methodology for eliminating defects in a product, process or service.
I’ve also successfully implemented ISO 9001:2015 standard which is crucial in identifying risks and opportunities within a business and stresses the importance of corrective and/or preventative actions to solve problems and create a process-driven approach to maintain quality levels. All of these are useful because they allow you to adopt different approaches to achieve specific goals.
The role of an Operations Manager is to make improvements which achieve certain pre-agreed targets – whether that’s to deliver cost savings, better working processes or some other outcome. So, in actual fact, my remit at NA is not much different to when I worked in engineering.
When it comes to analysing a business, and where it could be improved, there are a number of key areas to investigate.
Before adopting an ‘outside-in’ approach to improvement, you need to weigh up your goals and understand what you want to achieve.
For the transformation work I’ve carried out at NA, the following four areas have been reviewed:
Getting the right core infrastructure in place is always an essential building block and we’ve overhauled our systems by adopting new cloud-based software and replacing two outdated IT platforms. This has allowed us to be completely cloud based, making remote working easier and giving us a more mobile and reactive team. G Suite also provides countless possibilities in terms collaboration and software add-ons, which will have long-term benefits for our clients.
This is the next big area of development and we are currently in the process of defining our company ‘values’ to give us an identity which runs right throughout the business. These values will encompass everything from recruitment and existing team members to decision-making and future investments. By doing this, every existing employee and any new recruits will know exactly what is expected of them, which will help to ensure we achieve our vision.
The aim in 2019 is to look at this more closely so we’re working as efficiently as possible and so our clients receive accurate and timely information. We’ll also be looking at how we interact with clients - in terms of communication and relationships - so that we can be best in class. Eventually, we’d like to transition our existing teams into more client-facing roles because we feel this will help us achieve to our goals and create more job satisfaction for our team members.
Ultimately, we want to deliver excellence in terms of our overall client experience – and the work I’ve done so far has focused on how we can achieve that. Our objective is to create an environment where clients get the best information, have a great relationship with us and can access the strategic advice they need to grow their business. I believe maintaining good relationships lies at the heart of this.
Although you need to how a business operates to make changes which will be effective, you don’t actually need to know all the ins and outs.
I obviously know how NA operates and how we help clients but, because I have a removed overview of the processes we use and no delivery responsibilities, I find clients are far more honest with me. In my experience, this can help to drive positive change.
I’d like to think I’m an approachable person and the people I’ve spoken to so far have been very honest. Perhaps because I am somewhat detached from day-to-day operations. I believe this can help us receive better feedback, which is more constructive.
The world in which accountants operate is changing. My role is to spot opportunities and improve our use of technology, processes, failures, our people and our culture. Doing this is the only way we can grow and prosper - and help our clients to do likewise.
I’m sure plenty of other businesses are in exactly the same boat as us and I strongly believe almost all of them could become more efficient (and more profitable) if they reviewed how they work. Unfortunately, very few of them actually invest time and money into do this when, perhaps, they should.
At present, my focus is on making NA as good as we can possibly be. But in the long term, my knowledge and experience will also be available to clients who want to benefit from improved ways of working.
If this is something which might be of interest to you, please get in touch by email or call 0113 218 9552 for an informal discussion.