Managers and partners: Save time and money on file reviews by exercising ego control

In this six-minute read, I highlight the cost of the ‘ego trip’ and offer tips to improve the time and cost efficiency of file reviews.

As a former accounting firm founder, it was frustrating to learn that a well-managed firm realises 85 per cent of the standard time. This surely means that by the time the job lands up for partner review and sign off, the budget is all but fully expired. Not exactly the greatest of motivators to think that your [valuable] time is not going to be recovered.

Often the higher-level time (partner and manager) toward the back end of the job can run away with what little budget may remain. What do we call this time? It is review time. So, why call it the ego trip? Because to a large extent, that is what I think it is.

Consider this scenario…

The job has been finished and is now residing on the manager’s desk. The manager is, of course, not going to review the job straight away and so staff move onto their next job – either in or maybe out of office.

Now, it is time for the manager to perform their review. This is, of course, where the manager displays their higher level of professional expertise. The first page yields the first review point, and this is reported as review note 1, “You need to…”, or “Schedule 1 needs to…”. Now the creative juices are flowing, spurred by the frustration of staff who should know better. Soon we are onto the second page and then the third. As the file review comes toward its climax, the manager looks and sees that the fourth page is all but complete. “Can I possibly make it onto a fifth page? They really should have done better than this!”

Now, you may or may not recognise that scenario but trust me I know from the faces I see at seminars when I go into ‘sketch mode’ that this really happens. But wait there is more…

The staff are hauled off their current job and look aghast at the notes – “How could there possibly be so many review points?” the staff think. So, conscientiously the staff set to work on responding to the manager’s review points. Sarcasm is off the agenda but if the person’s brain could be hooked up to loudspeakers, there would need to be a censor on hand to bleep out all those dark inner thoughts.

Review points duly completed, the file is returned to the manager, who promises to clear the file very shortly. The next week, the staff find out there are just a couple more review points…

Now it is time for the partner to shine

Eventually, with pride and satisfaction, the file is sent onward and upward to the partner’s office. The partner smiles and mentions that the file had been expected and that it would be looked at shortly.

A few days later, time is found to review the file. Now we are at the highest level of the firm where expertise is at its peak. As the partner opens the file and starts the review, there is a real sense of excitement coupled with unbelief. “How could this have been overlooked?” the partner wonders.

Sometimes the review points reach to the foot of the page and on other occasions, a second page is required. At the conclusion, the partner senses that the review points reflect their superiority – the higher level of expertise that partners collect when entering the gates of partnerhood.

You think that is all far stretched? None of that happens in your office? Well done. But if it does what is the effect, and more important, what is the remedy?

So, what is the cost of the ego trip?

Managers display their superior expertise, then this is followed by the partners, each displaying their skills for all to see. There is a lot of ego in this area.The effect? Time and money. Probably a lot of it.

Time

How long does it take from the time a job is finished to the time it is completed (reviewed, client seen and billed)? I may only have anecdotal evidence that this takes too long, but I rarely see frowns when I mention this in my seminars. On the contrary, I usually see smiles that tell me that some things don’t change. 

Let’s take an example of a job that from the time it is started to the time it is completed and billed takes 40 days. I often suggest that the first part of doing the job sometimes occupies about 20 per cent of the time (in this case 8 days of solid time on) while reviewing the job

(manager and partner) and finally completing it can occupy as much of 80 per cent (in this case 32 days) of the time. Given that timeliness is key, time on job reviews is increasingly important and an area where job profitability can be improved.

Questions to consider:

• What is the average length of time (in days) from the time a job is finished to the time it is completed and billed for? Maybe select a cross selection of types of job.

• How many hours are charged to finish the job off?

• Calculate your finishing efficiency? Hours to complete x 100 = Finishing efficiency

Days x 7.5

* Insert your standard day in hours if different from 7.5

Money

While you could look at the time cost of the manager/partner review in total, I think that for the purposes of establishing the cost of the ego trip, it is important to look at the chargeable cost of the reviews that exceeds the budgeted cost. Partners should have a separate budget for review which is

separate from meetings with the client to discuss the financial statement.

The file review by both managers and partners is an essential aspect of professional practice but the accumulation of review points is evidence of work perceived to be incomplete by staff in the pursuance of their duty. The raising of a review note takes time, answering it takes time and reviewing the action to clear takes time.

Can this review time be reduced? I believe it can and in so doing the overall length of time to complete work will also be reduced. How? First of all, it is important to establish your recurring review points (RRPs). You may need to review 10 to 15 files to establish a firm-wide

account of RRPs. 

Your next step will be to consider adopting some of the tactic below to eliminating these review

points.

Training

Hold a training session with the staff and discuss the RRPs so they know why each review point is raised and what they need to do to ensure that these do not appear in future. In addition,  on conclusion of each job, ask staff to provide feedback regarding areas they have identified where their skills were found to be not as complete as they should have been. 

Next, reinforce this by 

• Including an RRP check list on each file

• Including your RRP checklist, together with any additional commentary, on your intranet

• Display a poster of these RRPs in a prominent place in the office 

The key then is to hold each staff person accountable for ensuring they do not see these RRPs on any of their jobs.

Now onto partner RRPs. The first ask is for partners to move on from being nit-pickers. Managers have the same qualification as partners or, at least, are qualified by experience. What are the partner RRPs? As with the staff RRPs, managers need to take steps to eliminate partner RRPs.

In turn, this should reduce the time taken to clear jobs and increase profitability. The need for partners and managers to showcase their expertise is then more focused on how the team can better serve the client.