Tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Seriously. Write it down.
Pretend I’m an alien from outer space, and I’ve never made one before. I’ll wait…
If you are like the vast majority of humans, your instructions probably went something like this:
- Grab some bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
- Spread the peanut butter on the bread.
- Spread the jelly on the bread.
Now, if I were following those steps literally, some of my alien questions might be “where do I get bread, peanut butter, and jelly?” “How do I spread peanut butter and jelly on bread?” “These plastic containers do not taste very good.”
This seems so silly, doesn’t it? We inherently understand that you need to buy these items at the store, bring them home, open the containers, remove two slices of bread, use a butter knife to spread each condiment onto each separate slice of bread (or both condiments on one slice of bread…you monster), put the slices of bread together with condiments facing and then take a bite. We could even go more granular if we needed to.
So, why didn’t we include these additional instructions? We didn’t include them because we are all familiar, as humans who feed ourselves, of many of these steps without needing an explanation.
But an alien from outer space is not a human.
Your client is not an accountant.
Your staff is not in your brain.
You need to approach your internal and external workflows as if you were an alien trying to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
- Start with the assumption that your staff cannot read your mind and your clients don’t understand accounting AT ALL.
- Handwrite your main steps for each task (this is one of the few times I’m going to recommend using a pen and paper, but a blank Google Doc will suffice).
- Then look to fill in the spaces in between. Ask yourself, “What is missing? What is lost in translation?”
- Walk away from your list and then come back and try to follow your instructions as literally as possible with live client data.
- Review, revise and test again. Leave no room for doubt.
- Try giving these steps to a willing friend or family member and ask them if they could perform the task without (much) help.
- After implementation, ask for feedback and keep communication lines open and clear.
- Repeat for any and all processes you intend to pass on to staff or clients.
Developing an easy-to-replicate workflow will not only benefit your business by creating consistency and efficiency, it also becomes a value-add to your clients and eliminates most of the guesswork from the office. Best of all, now your firm will be able to scale!