How LEAN Helped Pull Us Together
By: Vince Ellison
Three years ago this month, I was part of something epic, something that doesn’t come around very often in a person’s career—a peer merger. This merger melded three entities in seven markets together and overnight, the organization doubled in size when it became BerganKDV.
That type of growth comes with its own set of rewards and challenges. The merger propelled us onto many of the Top 100 lists compiled by various professional services organizations across the nation and gave us depth in services across our markets that we had not previously enjoyed. The merger also challenged us much like an awkward seventh grader feels at her first dance. It is great to be at the party but also feels strange to be surrounded by people we don’t know and in an environment that no longer feels as comfortable as it once did. And as human nature took over, some of our first reactions were to “close ranks” and hang out at the dance with the people we already knew and were comfortable with rather than trying to meet anyone new.
About a year into the merger, we were finding that we had not made as large of strides as we would have liked in melding our operations together. Different offices were continuing to use different systems and software, many were sticking to what was comfortable. To address this challenge, we started a LEAN Six Sigma initiative as a pilot project with the staff who work on tax preparation for our business clients across the firm.
Many great operational improvements came from that project but even more importantly, the LEAN process helped us tremendously with how we worked together as a team to better focus on the client’s experience with us. Here are three things that stand out to me:
- LEAN helped us to stop playing what I would call “old tapes.” Everyone has their way of doing things, and every office settles into a routine. LEAN helped break the cycle of “we do it this way because that’s how we have always done it” and gave us tools we needed to walk through a process step by step to figure out where we could streamline how we were doing things, which ultimately freed us up to have more time focusing externally on consistently delivering great client service.
- LEAN helped us to grow in our relationships with one another internally. When you double in size overnight, there are a lot of new faces. During our time in the LEAN process, we were able to bring people physically together from different markets, face to face for larger blocks of time, to work on solving issues and listening to one another to better understand the “why” behind how things were being done in each office. It didn’t take long for the team to realize we had a lot in common and has helped alleviate some communication barriers.
- LEAN helped us to become more comfortable with failing forward. As a professional services firm, a majority of our staff spend their days in very technical areas of work and are therefore very focused on being extremely precise. They operate most comfortably in a world of accuracy and stability. This leads to a tendency of not wanting to move forward until everything is perfectly thought through and analyzed. LEAN helped us to become more comfortable with failing forward, meaning that we understood the need to move in a forward direction before everything was completely figured out.
Most of the research I have studied about peer mergers say that it typically takes about three years to fully integrate and I would agree that this has been the case for BerganKDV. While at times, it has been challenging for us to find our footing, each day we are willing to continue to fail forward is a step in the right direction. In the past year, we have focused our energy around becoming One Firm. What this means for us is breaking down traditional internal barriers to better align our teams to turn their attention externally to our clients.
I am pleased to say that the LEAN process has positively contributed to helping us move toward One Firm, and there is more to come with other initiatives being implemented each year. At the end of the day, LEAN has helped us not only improve our systems and processes, it has helped us grow as an organization to better serve our clients and communities.
With many years of experience in the professional services industry, Vince has developed an extensive skill set in communication, leadership and coaching. Vince received a B.A. in speech communication and a M.S. in industrial relations from Iowa State University, and has a MBA from the University of Iowa. To learn more about BerganKDV or to visit more with Vince about LEAN and other initiatives, start here.