The life of accounting firms has not been smooth for some time now: a drop in the profitability of projects, work overload, recruitment difficulties, etc. The challenges are multiplying to the point of being forced to turn down clients!
A firm and its problems
This article was written with a traditional firm with about twenty employees geared to accounting, legal and social assignments in mind. Like many of its pairs, it has been experiencing serious recruitment problems for several months. It advertises, calls on recruitment agencies and ... nothing happens!
Faced with these difficulties, this firm has decided to stop accepting new clients 'because it does not have the resources to carry out the assignments'. This is not to deny the recruitment difficulties experienced by the profession, of course, but the decision seems quite radical, doesn't it?
The analysis of how the production organizes quickly showed that better organization would enable it to continue accepting new clients, for it was simply managing its human resources as in the good old days when there was no shortage of candidates!
Poor allocation of scarce resources
One of the problems of this firm is the poor allocation of its scarce resources. Each member of staff takes charge (naturally within the limits of his or her skills) of all the projects entrusted to him or her.
A project manager thus carries out all the operations leading to the completion of the balance sheet: data entry, maintenance, revision, rolls, etc.
In so doing, he performs tasks for which he is overqualified, and which could easily be performed by less qualified staff. In other words, not only does such organization put a strain on the profitability of the project, but it also prevents the firm from accepting new clients because no one is available to take them on.
Why such an organization? There are several reasons in practice. First, there is the classic excuse: "we've always done it this way". Second, the firm's managers take it for granted that "the client prefers to have a single point of contact". Finally, the firm had never before experienced problems with profitability or recruitment. It had therefore never questioned its methods or its organization... But today, it's getting stuck!
"This issue of the optimal allocation of scarce resources is frequently encountered in the profession. To help firms address it, our planning and workload management solution segments assignments into homogeneous blocks of tasks. These blocks of tasks can then to be allocated according to the skills of the various people involved in a given assignment, thereby avoiding having to squander scarce resources.”
Adrien Sicard, CEO co-founder of Beeye
A problem that will get worse
Dans un cabinet, les collaborateurs confirmés, chefs de mission et, bien sûr, les associés, constituent des ressources rares, c'est-à-dire des intervenants capables d’assurer des tâches que peu de collaborateurs maitrisent.
Cette allocation non-optimale des ressources rares est loin d’être un cas isolé dans la profession. Mais ce phénomène est inéluctablement amené à s’amplifier dans les prochaines années. Sans revenir en détail sur le sujet, les cabinets vont en effet rapidement devoir développer de nouvelles missions. Or, tous les collaborateurs ne seront pas en mesure de réaliser ces nouvelles missions. Les cabinets vont donc devoir allouer les ressources rares là où elles sont indispensables.
Pour le dire autrement, il est contreproductif de confier des tâches « basiques » à un collaborateur capable de réaliser des tâches qu’il est le seul à pouvoir prendre en charge.
En organisation, c’est ce qu’on appelle le principe de subsidiarité. En quoi cela consiste ? Sur le papier, c’est simple : une personne ne doit réaliser une tâche que si un collaborateur de niveau inférieur n’est pas en mesure de la réaliser.
Au-delà des gains de temps pour les collaborateurs rares (et notamment pour les associés), cette organisation a la vertu de donner plus de responsabilité à chacun, quel que soit son niveau. Et cela permet de baisser le coût de production d’une mission dans la mesure où une partie en est gérée par des collaborateurs moins coûteux. Enfin, recruter des juniors, voire des apprentis, est beaucoup plus facile que recruter des ressources rares… qui le sont aussi sur le marché.
Les cabinets gagneraient ainsi nettement en performance s’ils allouaient mieux leurs ressources rares. Mais la mise en place d’une organisation par subsidiarité impose une prise en conscience, une remise à plat de l’organisation, un changement d’habitudes des uns et des autres… Tant que ces ressources n’étaient pas si rares que ça, tant que la rentabilité du cabinet était au rendez-vous, l’organisation actuelle convenait très bien. Mais aujourd'hui, l’allocation optimale des collaborateurs devient une problématique stratégique pour les cabinets, qui va rapidement s’imposer comme un facteur de performance déterminant dans les années à venir.
Senior associates, project managers and, of course, partners, are rare resources in a firm, i.e. people capable of carrying out tasks that few employees have mastered.
This non-optimal allocation of scarce resources is far from being an isolated case in the profession. But this phenomenon is bound to increase in the coming years. Without going into detail, firms will have to develop new assignments rapidly, but not all employees will be able to carry out these new assignments. Firms will therefore have to allocate scarce resources to where they are needed.
To put it another way, it is counterproductive to entrust "basic" tasks to an employee who is capable of carrying out tasks that only he or she can handle.
This is known as the principle of subsidiarity when it comes to organization. What does it mean? On paper, it's simple: a person should only carry out a task if a lower-level employee is not able to do it.
In addition to saving time for the rare associates (and in particular for the partners), this organization has the virtue of giving more responsibility to everyone, whatever their level. It also reduces the cost of producing an assignment, since part of it is managed by less expensive employees. Finally, recruiting junior staff, or even apprentices, is much easier than recruiting resources that are scarce in the firm as well as in in the market.
Firms would thus gain significantly in performance if they allocated their scarce resources better. Implementing an organization based on subsidiarity nonetheless requires awareness, a rethinking of organization, and a change in the habits of all concerned. As long as these resources were not so scarce and the firm was profitable, the usual organization was fine. But today, the optimal allocation of staff is becoming a strategic issue for firms, one that will rapidly emerge as a decisive factor in performance in the years to come.
"It is not easy to segment assignments by level of difficulty, and to allocate them to the different employees, without an appropriate tool. The profile of each employee is entered in Beeye. An assignment can therefore be easily divided into blocks of tasks that correspond to different levels. It is thus possible to allocate a particular part of the assignment to a particular employee according to his or her skills, available time and the deadlines for the project.”
Antoine Lemaitre, co-founding partner of Beeye
How to proceed in concrete terms
With the arrival of new assignments and their integration with traditional assignments, employees will have to specialize within the firm. Some will be involved in flow management (collecting from several platforms, checking and integrating data), others in revision, others yet in the preparation of reports (monthly cleaning of accounts, construction of dashboards and management monitoring indicators), and others still in the presentation of these indicators to company directors. The firm will have to create "profiles" of employees according to their skills.
Let's take an example: a firm with only one qualified employee (who is willing) to carry out management support assignments (outsourced CFO). This professional must be freed as much as possible from the tasks that his or her colleagues are able to perform: data entry, maintenance, revision, administrative support, etc. How the production of assignments is organized will therefore have to be rethought.
Such an approach is by no means insignificant in terms of the planning and work processes. Insofar as the assignment is segmented into several parts, several people are bound to be working on the same project. This naturally implies breaking down the work, but also reviewing the methods, specializing the staff, getting them to work together on the same assignment and planning the work of each person.
"The reorganization of the basic assignment and its integration with the new assignments means that the schedules have to be constructed differently. Today, many firms still rely on Excel. But Beeye offers much greater flexibility when it comes to assigning tasks and projects, managing unforeseen events, new missions, absences, staff turnover, etc. Beeye also enables you to share information in real time with the whole team. The time saved is easily measurable... and the impact on profitability almost immediate.”
Firms need to review the way they allocate their resources to projects. They must in fact:
- Review the way they allocate their resources to projects,
- Take stock of each person's skills (whether they are used today or not) and classify them according to their scarcity,
- Allocate the firm's rare skills where they are really needed - and therefore where they will be most valuable,
- Reorganize work, files and schedules within the firm so that blocks of tasks fit together without friction,
- Support employees in this new approach to their work in which they will participate in only part of the assignment.
When to start
No reason to wait to get down to work on the optimal allocation of resources: this rule can be applied today for the firm's existing assignments.
How do you go about it? The internal management modules of production software are rarely optimized. Excel quickly reaches its limits in this respect. Why not use an ad hoc software for these issues like Beeye? To find out more about the features of the tool:
If you have any questions about the organization of firms that could be the subject of a future article, do not hesitate to ask us at this address.
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