Do your staff let you have a holiday from your accountancy firm? Are you constantly interrupted by the "little queries" that won't take a minute? The problem with this is that you never actually get the chance to switch off that you really need.
This week I was talking with a client who had arrived back from her week away from the office stressed. (She has given me full permission to blog about her experience.) Her stress levels came from not quite managing to recharge while she was away because she kept on having to deal with stuff that her staff kept asking her about.
This blog post explores how this can be a problem for many small accountancy owners and how YOU, rather than your team, are often the problem and the solution.
Why is it important to be able to properly go away from the business and recharge your batteries?
Like most things in the world of work, you can only be the best version of yourself if you take scheduled time to recharge your batteries. At the AMC, we talk about the need to get quality headspace, which is vital to you being able to scale up and grow your firm. But many small accountancy firm owners struggle to take time away from their business because they find that they keep getting dragged back into stuff, either by clients or their team.
Why it's not your employee's fault but your fault if you can't take proper time away from your accountancy practice?
I've heard so many times that "I can't trust my staff to do things properly when I am away". Ermmmm... who is running this practice you or them? If you can't trust them, then either you have the wrong people doing the wrong things OR you are not managing them and your practice correctly. If you can't leave your business for a week and be confident that it will still be in one piece on your return you don't have a scalable business.
In order to get a "firm foundation for growth" (phase 2 in scaling your practice) one of the non-negotiables is systemising your practice. I.e. where you and your employees know exactly how things should be done and in what order.
As well as the process maps for your workflows, your firm's systems need to include checklists. This could be a checklist to go through to check you have all the right information to start doing a set of year end stat accounts. Or it could be a checklist to work through to do payroll for a particular client.
It's important not to rely on the "collective memory" of your firm or any key individual for how things get done right in your firm. This stuff needs to be documented and reviewed regularly.
Even if your employees are good, are you demonstrating to them that it's OK to contact you when you are on holiday?
My client actually had a good team who were working together well, with a reasonable amount of systemisation in her practice. Her problems stemmed from her own behaviour. She was sending very mixed messages to her own staff about contacting her when she was away. She'd got into a habit of checking her email when she was away and responding to client and employee emails.
In addition to this, as and when she remembered something she would email her team about this. As a result her team took these two behaviours on her part, to mean "it was fine to ask her about the mundane to the major client stuff" whilst she was away. This meant she never quite switched off from work when she was on holiday AND got more and more stressed about the constant interruptions from her staff members.
5 point checklist to stop your team contacting you on holiday plan:
As you can imagine we had a long exploratory conversation about what she was going to do differently next time she took a week off. (Or even 2-3 weeks off next summer...)
Here is the checklist:
1) Set the expectation with your employees that you trust their decisions
By constantly hovering in the background even though my client was supposed to be on holiday, she actually was saying to her employees that she didn't trust their decisions and they needed to check everything with her. Therefore, before she goes away next time my client will tell her staff that she trusts their decisions and she gives them permission to go with their best decision. There will be no blame for mistakes on her return.
2) Tell your team exactly when they can contact you when you are away
My client drew up quite a short list of when she wanted to be contacted by her team. it involved instances of fire, death, ill health or a serious client complaint from one of their top 10 clients. Plus, they were not to email her (that's too easy), they needed to phone her. By making them phone her, this guaranteed that much of the small mundane stuff just wouldn't be seen to be important enough to phone her to bother her on holiday.
3) Set rules on emails so she just didn't see her emails when away
My client will set up rules on her email so that her number 2 automatically gets forwarded all her emails, and the replies to these get taken OUT of her inbox. That way when she comes back her inbox wouldn't be bulging. Nor will she be tempted to check her email whilst she is away and get drawn back into work.
4) Set expectations with clients about what will happen when you are away
It wasn't just her staff that were bombarding her with queries. it was her clients. Yes, she had an "out of office" on. However, by answering her clients' emails when she was away, this signalled to her clients that she was still "open for business". This will stop for her next holiday.
5) Have a holiday plan with your team
In the week before she goes away, my client will do a holiday plan with her team. This will have a few parts. One of which will be a brainstorm by her to make sure that she has got everything out of her head that needs to happen whilst she is away and who will be doing it. Plus a check-in with every team member to see if they have anything coming up that will need her input and how this can be managed differently.
To paraphrase a popular quote, "you get the practice you deserve". If you make yourself indispensable to your practice either consciously or sub-consciously then you will never be able to take a proper break from your practice. All you've then done is built another job for yourself. Is that what you set out to do when you started up your practice?