Episode 41: How to start your next deep and narrow production team
“All around the world, obviously, there are businesses ~ accounting firms and bookkeeping firms that are no different in adding people.. ‘Hey look, you start next week, you can report to me.’ What happens is, you'll win a few more fees, you'll win a few more clients, and then you'll think, ‘Oh yeah, well I'll just, I'll hire someone else. They can start in a couple of weeks and then you'll say to that person, you can just report to me.’ And so that goes on and on. This was my experience before I knew it. “
In this episode of The Wize Guys Podcast, Jamie Johns together with Wize Mentors, Kristy Fairbairn, and Michael Ferris shared how a deep and narrow team can scale your accounting business.
Find out some of the Wize strategies with great emphasis and weight placed on having a team structure in place today!
0:35 - The importance of having a deep and narrow team to scale your business
1:11 - What are the different roles that make up the deep and narrow team structure?
2:41 - The impact of traffic flow on production and communication in your firm
4:48 - Finders, minders, and grinders
5:55 - WizeTalent: how to hire your next team member
6:50 - When to restructure your firm (change management tips)
10:17 - Wize’s No-bypass Policy
15:26 - Don’t micromanage, microtrain your people!
15:44 - How to deal with early adopters, middle adopters, and late adopters type of clients
19:25 - How Mick started implementing the deep and narrow team structure to his staff
20:41 - Top 3 characteristics to consider when looking for candidates
22:15 - How a great team structure will benefit your firm’s production and outputs
25:15 - How you can take action today
#wizementoring #team #people
“I always say teamwork makes the dream work.” - Jamie Johns
“You cannot grow without spare capacity.” - Jamie Johns
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Episode 41: How to start your next deep and narrow production team
Kristy Fairbairn: Alright, so we will jump in and today's topic of part of our trio is recruit.
So recruitment, looking at your team structure and how to get that freedom for more travel while still ensuring that you are fulfilling for your clients. To scale your business, you must have a deep and narrow team. That's a really important part of the Wize way of getting a business that runs without you and allows you that freedom and ensures that the work is delivered.
So we're gonna hear a bit more about this process with Jamie. So the different roles make up a deep and narrow team.
Jamie Johns: Yep. Thanks, Kristy. Yeah, happy to share my wisdom, and what I learned from Ed.
Kristy Fairbairn: Thanks, Jamie.
So I guess firstly, hearing the term deep and narrow and the different roles. Can you briefly explain to us the roles that make up the deep and narrow team structure?
Jamie Johns: Yeah, well maybe I'll copy Ed's lead here. Ed always mentions context and everyone probably remembers that. But just to give you the context first, guys.
All around the world, obviously, there are businesses ~ accounting firms and bookkeeping firms that are no different in adding people. If we're sort of not know and don't know how to manage a team, we are just going to sort of add people organically. The easy, easiest way to do that is just to add someone and say, ‘Hey look, you start next week, you can report to me.’ What happens is, you'll win a few more fees, you'll win a few more clients, and then you'll think, ‘Oh yeah, well I'll just, I'll hire someone else. They can start in a couple of weeks and then you'll say to that person, you can just report to me.’ And so that goes on and on. This was my experience before I knew it.
I think at one point I had like 10 people a few years ago now, but they were all just reporting to me. And so the opposite, the deeper and narrow team is shallow and wide. So if you pitch yourself as the owner or the partner if you like, and you just keep hiring, you end up having all these people just reporting to you, you can imagine what the traffic's like. Most of that traffic's, what we call production traffic and for those who aren't familiar, it's good if you can jump into the WizeVault and have a look at what we call the Wize traffic quadrant. But in a firm or practice, there are two types of traffic.
One type of traffic is just getting the work done, it's the production traffic. And to get the work done, obviously, you need to hire people. Initially, you do the work, you do the production traffic yourself, and then the issue is, as you're not aware. I wasn't aware of how to structure a team to get the most out of people and how to utilize complementary skills. The other traffic is communication traffic ~ the traffic with your clients. The WizeVault's got some really, really good videos and some templates explaining what communication traffic is.
So in that context, if you can sort of go back to what the worst scenario is, as I just explained, the worst scenario is you just keep hiring people and you just keep getting them to report to you. The communication lines get overwhelming. Not only that, what I haven't mentioned is that most of us as firm owners when we start have all the clients reporting to us as well. So, I just started from the home office by myself years ago. What I found was not only did I have all the clients coming to me but clients just added. I also had all the team members coming to me and years ago at one point ended up in the hospital just from the stress. I thought, ‘No, there's gotta be a better way.’
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah. It's a lot to be the one that funnels it all through.
Jamie Johns: Yeah. And isn't it crazy? Like when I started my firm, I never had any training on how to manage people or how to structure teams and all that sort of thing. And then, when I met Ed, he really started laying down the foundations for how to structure your team and then how to scale your firm as well. I always say there are three barriers to growth that I learned from a book by Vern Harnish.
One is leadership ~ knowing the how. If you, if you're going on a journey, you've gotta know how to get there. So you've gotta have the know-how. The other one is logistics, and the other one is marketing and sales. But the second one is with logistics, that's logistics with people or how you structure people. So it's so important to have deep and narrow teams.
We'll go into it, with everyone on the benefits of that on why it just really leverages off of people. I think the biggest thing to say, Kristy is, you get leverage out of your senior people and then all the way down. At a really high level or a sort of a helicopter level, as we say, you've got three different groups of people ~ finders, minders, and grinders. You and your finders are people of really quite good interpersonal skills, that is a people person. They love dealing with people and clients. And then you've got your minders who you know are quite technical ~ very well organized and happy to oversee the production of work and not necessarily speak to clients. So straight away you can see the complementary skills. That we're no different from a sports team where the strengths of one person complement the weaknesses of the other and vice versa. Then the last one, you've got your grinders which are the people who just love getting the work done, getting the work done as fast as they can, but not necessarily a hundred percent right. They may get sort of follow the 80-20 rule. They might be able to get sort of 70-80% of it right. And then let the minder fine-tune that. So that's at a high level ~ the finders, minders, and grinders.
You really should structure your team, team around that, and hire on that basis as well. So we do a lot of that work in the WizeTalent of really trying to filter down if someone's a finder, find finder, and if someone's a minder, and the grinder as well. So you can't just throw bodies at the problem like Ed used to say. So you've gotta be very strategic in your hiring. As it is a book called ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, and he talks about finding the right person. Putting them in the right seat, on the right bus, and heading them in the right direction. That's a really good analogy of what you've gotta do in your practice.
Kristy Fairbairn: Absolutely. I think too, even with existing teams, Jamie, when you analyze, when you start looking into the Wize way and deepen narrow structure, looking at the qualities of your team members and not trying to put a square peg in a round hole or on the wrong bus because it's not there.
Jamie Johns: That's right. That's a great point.
A lot of the work that we do with the one-to-one mentoring is, we often do, or we always do, a deep dive analysis of each team member and we make sure we try as best we can to get them in the right seat. Then part of that process is change management as well. So, you've gotta be very careful when you do restructure. There are big firms and small firms, so you've gotta know how to do change management and what that process is without getting people's know how to join or getting them upset. But once they're in that seat and people are working, these teams work really, really well. Most importantly, they give the owner leverage. They give the owner leverage. The reason it gives people leverage is just because of the reporting lines.
If you haven't had a look already yesterday, I posted in the Wize Mentoring Tribe, a diagram that actually one of my senior client managers found. So I thought, ‘Oh geez, they're living what we're teaching.’ Have a look in the WizeTribe, there's a post there, I just literally did yesterday on the benefit of deeper narrow teams. But essentially in that post, it showed that when you have one, you know you have three people. There are three lines of communication. When you have 4, 5, or 6, the lines of communication expand exponentially. It's just crazy. Again, it’s important to have these deep and narrow teams.
If we start from the bottom, for example, we've got the intermediate bookkeeper, least immediate, and accountants. As a rule of thumb, they should have a buddy, I call it. A buddy system in court, whatever you like. But in that particular team, they should have a buddy and that should be the person who is a bit more experienced than them. So often you'll say, ‘Look, your buddy and if you have any questions, go to your buddy and schedule a time during the day and it might be one to two o'clock, whatever.’ So you gotta make sure that you control people's calendars so that you are allowed time for learning and training. That’s for the intermediate person.
With their day-to-day queries, they can go to someone who's more senior than them, but on their team. That's the diagram that Kristy's got up there. Then likewise, as the Pareto Principle works out the 80-20 rule, that person will be able to answer 80% of their questions. It's never an exact science, so we don't wanna get sort of bogged down in perfection, but that person will always be able to answer a really good percentage of their questions if you structure the team right.
Then the next one is like the senior person, the senior account, and the senior bookkeeper, if they've got a question right, they go to the senior production. So if you almost sort of think of this reverse, if you had like the senior client manager at the top and all those people on a flat line all going, that's the wrong way to do it. This is the right way to do it, and the senior production manager will probably answer 95% of the production team's questions. So if you think about it, ‘Who are we protecting here at this stage?’ The senior client manager or even the assistant client manager, they haven't had a question yet, right? So that's like hours and hours and hours of time that we predict the senior client manager and the assistant client manager from.
So that's where we're getting leverage in everything in an accounting firm or in a team. It's particularly leverage for the senior client manager because the senior client manager's productivity should be set at around 50 to 60%. The reason it's set at 60 or 50%
Kristy Fairbairn: So, I think yeah, is if you get a senior production manager being less productive on the tools, if they're bogged down with simple tasks that could have gone up to the senior accountant or bookkeeper, you're clogging up the time of your senior client manager. So you really wanna, it's like filtering things through, isn't it, Mick? Where you're just buffering off a diamond. It starts off really rough and raw down the bottom with your inter. And by the time it gets to the senior client manager, it just needs a little polish and delivery to the client.
Jamie Johns: Yeah.
Michael Ferris: Exactly.
Jamie Johns: The idea guys, is to make sure that you have a deep and narrow team structure and that the reporting lines are up and down. So it's really good that you control the reporting lines. As the leader, you have to set the reporting lines. The other thing to mention to everyone is the No-bypass policy. So maybe one of the other mentors, Kristy can explain the No-bypass policy and why it's so important.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah. Mick, I'd love to get how you worked that in your practice.
Michael Ferris: How did I do it? It's a good question actually. It's making me reflect on how I did do it. But following Jamie's advice, first of all, I started dripping on the senior people in the team just to start getting their buy-in around the deep and narrow team structure. That's very important because ultimately, it's like a movement within the team, but you need the key people to influence everybody to show particularly the production team that this is the way to go. We're all on the same bus here.
In terms of the No-bypass policy, the way I like to think about it is if you don't use it, that's how the client managers get dragged back into production work. So if you can imagine the line sits just above the senior production manager there. The point is that the client managers can't go straight down to the production team and ask them to do a piece of production work. And equally, the production team shouldn't come straight back up to the client managers with any of their queries. If you fall into the trap of taking on a query from one of the production teams. As soon as you entertain that, you've instantly taken ownership of that job again, and all of a sudden it's back on your plate. That's a very fast way to get choked, particularly if you've got a full team with four or five production people. The No-bypass policy, you just gotta be really consistent with it. You need to educate the team, make sure they all understand it, make sure you've got it documented, it's circulated, everybody's read it, and they understand it. Then just be very, very vigilant and enforce it at all times.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah, absolutely. I am a little bit newer to the No-bypass policy. I've been implementing it for a good few months now. But I sort of look at it, I have it printed out on my wall because I am still a bit notorious for stepping back in and just getting things done at times, especially when deadlines and using it sort of as that filtering. ‘Who should this really go to? What type of communication traffic is it? Is it communication or production? Who's responsible and making sure that I use that on a regular basis to keep the work moving through?’
Jamie Johns: In a practical sense too, once you start doing it, it can be really hard for people to break habits. So what I mean by that is you might have a graduate account or a junior bookkeeper and they might come to you as the owner of the firm or the practice principal, whatever, they might continually come to you. You have to continually remind them once you've had your meeting about putting your teams together and everyone knows what their role is just be aware that it can take 5, 6, or 7 times until they know who their direct report is. This is another way to pitch it, is just direct line reporting in a deeper narrow team.
I remember years ago, one of the accountants, I think came to me 5 times with a query and I would say, ‘Oh look, just reminding you who's your direct report now? Or who's your manager now?’ So it might just take a little while, Kristy for them to get the idea of who the new go-to person is if that makes sense. ‘Cause the old habits just die hard. As Mick outlined, you don't wanna, particularly when you put say a senior production manager in place or a senior client manager, It's really important. They honor the no bypass policy in two ways. And one doesn't instruct their team. So don't bypass them because if you bypass them, you just undermine their job, you undermine their accountability, and you undermine what they're actually hired to do. So you don't want to instruct what their team to do, because you'll just make chaos.
Then, there's just a lack of communication. You'll tell a senior account what to do and the client manager won't even know. So you cannot do that. You can always ask questions, I still don't do that to this day. 'll ask any team member to say, I'll just reach out to them randomly and say, ‘Have you got enough work on? how's everything going?’ You can always ask questions. So it's important to realize you can speak to the team under the client managers. That's not a problem. It's the same as the clients, once you put client managers in place, you can speak to the clients and ask questions. But you can't tell them what to do because then you just create chaos. So you can't bypass your client managers and tell the clients what to do as well. That's the other angle, Kristy.
Kristy Fairbairn: Absolutely, and I think that's why it's so important to remember, ‘What is the end goal here?’ It is to exit from the business potential and exit from that role. So the more you keep stepping back in, the longer the journey is going to be. You must allow your client manager to do their role fully, and your production team to do their role. As you said, Jamie, it's not that you can't speak to people, it's just you need to be mindful of what you speak to them about. You can still manage your relationships within your team and client base, but don't get stuck committing to things or agreeing to things that someone else then has to try and work out what we said.
Jamie Johns: The biggest thing is, what you can't say Kristy is, ‘Oh, it's quicker if I just do it myself.’ I'll just ring the client or I'll just speak to say, ‘Oh, it's just quicker if I do it myself.’ How many times have we heard Ed say that?
Kristy Fairbairn: It costs you so much more in the long run, doesn't it?
When you've got a team there and you're not utilizing them, you just pay them to be entertained by you. We don't need to pay us.
Jamie Johns: That's right. So don't micromanage, micro train if they don't know how to do something, just be intense with micro training, and then you won't have to micromanage. Just set them strategically, or just set them big-picture goals. That's the Fab Five tying it all in.
Kristy Fairbairn: What if the client sucks you back? You've made the handover to your senior client manager or assistant client manager, but that client just keeps on ringing you directly or emailing you and you can't block them. ‘How have you handled that, Jamie?’
Jamie Johns: What happens is just, to give you the context again ~ with anyone anywhere in the world, there are early adopters, there are middle adopters, and then there are late adopters. It always sort of works. There are a lot of statistics around this. There's the 80-20 rule. There's also the bell curve. If people Google the bell curve of learning, which just reflects that there are early adopters, and the great majority is often the middle adopters, that's why you get this bell curve of learning.
So, when you start this process, you'll have a group of clients, particularly when you're introducing a client manager. You'll have a group of clients who say, ‘Oh yeah, no worries.’ ‘Oh yeah, I'm happy to work with Mick.’ You'll get very little pushback. Then, straight away though, that group of clients will just start working. We'll just use Mick's example. So they'll just start working with Mick straight away and they won't really come back to yourself. And then, you'll have the sort of the middle adopters where yes, you're actually right. They will call you. They will email you. So every type of interaction that you can imagine, they'll come back to you. So the way to do that is particularly if you've done the handover meeting and you've done the introduction, that's where it starts off. You've gotta sort of gauge the clients. Another concept is some clients are crystal glass clients you make the slightest little change and they'll crack and they'll stress out. Other clients used to tell me a rubber cup clients. You can make a mistake. They'll bounce around and they'll be fine.
So just to give you the context, understand the nature of each client and we all know which clients are easygoing and ones that aren't. But the important point is like if once you've done the introduction and the handover is often, you'll get an email or a phone call. This used to happen to me all the time when I went through the process and I would just say, ‘Look, hey Mick, you met such and such the other day, and in the introduction.” I would say to Mick, ‘Can you draft an email Mick too, to their rep, to their question?’ I'll check your email and then you can send it and CC me. What would happen is, your client manager would then draft the email. You would check it, you would just fine-tune it. That's micro training. Then send it, and then the client says, ‘Oh, thanks,’ or ‘Thanks for what I needed to know, Mick,’ and, then away we go. As soon as the client would learn, you just have to be persistent. They might email you two or three more times again. As I said, some clients will be really quick and some will be a small percentage you'll take, they could take a year to get over to Mick. Another time that used to offer to happen to me is, clients would ring my phone. I wouldn't answer straight away, but what I would do is I would call them straight back. Then with technology these days, whether it's in the office or even with your iPhone, it's fantastic. You can just loop Mick into the call. So I would call the client back and I would just conference with the new client manager and then start talking to the client. Then I'd say, ‘Oh, what do you reckon? What do you think Mick?’ Then Mick would say, ‘Oh yeah, I reckon we could do it this way.’
Kristy Fairbairn: So I like that strategy, Jamie. I've done the email thing and I love seeing in our workflow timeline now clients are emailing the client manager direct. But I hadn't thought of conference calling in with the client manager too. When you're on a call with a client, I think that's a great suggestion.
Jamie Johns: They're just real practical ways. I just do them all the time. Sooner or later, most people just want service, Kristy. They just want an answer. They just want someone who's friendly, who can give them the professional advice they need, and they need it in a timely. As long as you stick to that system and believe in your client managers and micro-train them, be there 24/7 to support them in their role because your role as the leader is to make them successful. So you do whatever you can and make sure you don't bypass them. There are just a couple of practical techniques I shared that work. But as I said with the context, make sure you understand the client. Some clients are crystal glass, some are rubber. Remember, you've got early adopters, middle adopters, and late adopters. That's the key.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah. That's awesome. Thanks, Jamie.
Mick, back to you. How did you start implementing your deeper, narrow team structure to your current team members?
Michael Ferris: Quick truth but I couldn't conference call until Jamie shared with me how to get out of being a client manager with some clients. So I quickly learned how to do it now. I love it too.
Again, I really started at the top of the structure and got my assistant client manager, or the person I had earmarked for that role, and started with them. I guess even taking one step back from that though, I really had to understand the deep and narrow team structure and I need to understand each role. So read the position descriptions of each role in the WizeVault, just to get a good idea of what each role should actually be doing. So then you're really well-armed when you're having these discussions with the team. They're gonna bombard you with a few questions, ‘Well, how does this work? Who do I report to?’ All of that sort of stuff. So I guess if you wanted an action point or the best thing to do from here would be to understand the deeper narrow team ~ the roles and the characteristics of each role.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah. And what do you look for when you are looking for a new candidate, Mick?
Michael Ferris: Again, Jamie mentioned earlier, we hire for particular roles. So if I was looking for a client manager, I'd be looking for someone with enough experience, but also really high level of people skills. If I was looking for a grinder, I would be looking for someone who can get the job done as fast as possible and with the highest degree of accuracy possible. So, the senior production manager is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the grinders. It's okay for the grinders too. Be able to crank out the work really fast at 80-plus percent accuracy, but it doesn't have to be a 100% because the gatekeeper of quality is the senior production manager. Then the senior production manager is, I reckon it's the most important role in the team. As someone said in the last clinic, the senior production manager's role is to love the team. They've gotta be a good team player. They've gotta be able to relate to people and manage people. But also they've gotta be quite technical as well, or very technical. Arguably the most technical person on the team. I've talked about all the different roles there. I'd encourage you to go and read the resources in the WizeVault. Make sure you understand each one before you start dripping on your team to restructure them.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah, and I think one of the things that Thomas always speaks to in sessions that we've done is not to just go and hand someone a manager's title straight away. You understand or you are learning the Wize way and drip that on them and just see where you can shape people. Sometimes you might wanna do a little pivot with them and move them elsewhere. Just test it out with them and see where they're going. Then you can formalize their titles, but you know exactly where they're sitting on your bus. They don't necessarily need to know that from the beginning and feel that weight and pressure of the role and take you away from what you're developing.
So, Jamie, how does that structure benefit your production and impact the output of your firm when you've got your deep and narrow set?
Jamie Johns: The biggest benefit you can, Kristy is just having the right people doing the right work. It's really very closely related to any sports team. You have all your different positions on the field or in the game. You've just gotta put people in the position. Then get them to do the right work. That's sort of part of the other challenge as well because we're all sort of we're not all born superstars and good at everything.
So if you can get the grinders to grind and the managers to manage and the finders to find, that's where you'll get sort of like even Dr. Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about like teamwork as magic. You always have a better outcome of people working together with complementary skills. He calls it synergy. He actually says that's where the magic is. What it means is, that one person plus the other person doesn't equal two. It equals, three or five, just because of the complimentary skills. It's just the power of people working together and sharing ideas that we've seen in business. We've seen it in technology and across all areas of life and business. I always say teamwork makes the dream work. That's the power of the deeper and narrow teams, particularly if you structure it deep and narrow, and then also apply the No-bypass policy as well. It just works absolutely wonders.
I didn't have any teams when I started. These days I've got five teams. Each team is of varying sizes. The other important point to probably outline Kristy is the maximum size of a team. So even the management theory at Harvard, in the militaries across the world, their elite teams are 5 to 7 people. So once the teams get sort of bigger than roughly 5 to 7, it becomes unmanageable. So there are a lot of theories and research around the size of your team as well. As a rule of thumb, most teams can manage around a million dollars in fees. It's not an exact science. But that's the way to go and that's determined by the number of people on the team. So 5 to 7 is the rule of thumb. When you work it out, 5 to 7 people can sort of produce, depending on the country, the currency, and the level of pricing. It can sort of often float around a million dollars. But the rule is that not too many people on a team, but 5 to 7 is the sweet spot.
Kristy Fairbairn: I think too, in moving into that deeper narrow team, it's not so much about the number of clients that can be worked on. It is that full capacity to be working on clients working for the production team. You're not reliant on that flat structure. Do you get that?
Jamie Johns: Yeah. The other thing probably to touch on too is just again, and not for today's session, but to help manage these teams and to help with individual accountabilities. I think capacity planners, are among the top three tools I would use to manage my entire firm. Again, it gives individuals KPIs, it gives a team KPIs. So just everything is a little bit interrelated of course, but it's just important probably just to mention that too for people to have a look at that when they get time as well.
Kristy Fairbairn: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's such an important thing, particularly in the first foundation planning session for new WizeGrowth members, isn't it? We're always trying to make sure we get to the capacity planner at the end of the first three-hour intense firm so that where you are sitting and it sometimes it can be a splash of cold water in the face. It's like, ‘Ooh, don't need to hire more people and throw them at the problem. We've got plenty of people here. We just need to utilize them and be more efficient with them.’ And really see that clarity of where you need to put someone next and make those hiring decisions. It's an awesome resource.
Jamie Johns: Yes, that's right. Over the last few years, I've seen some teams with massive, too much capacity. They've just got too many people and they didn't even know it. I'd say it should be sort of the 10%. Then I'd say the other 90% would be most firms lack capacity. They just have all productivity the same. Everyone's too high and that's the reason they can't grow. You cannot grow without spare capacity. So all good topics.
Kristy Fairbarn: Fantastic. Well, thank you. Jamie and Mick for your insights today.