What do you think it would be like to grow an accountancy firm from 30 to 200 people strong over 4 offices and with 18 partners? And how could you still retain the feel and culture of the family firm you were 20 years ago?
Nathan Keeley from Carpenter Box, West Sussex, joins me on this podcast. During our conversation Nathan shares in quite intimate detail a number of the things they've done (and things they're doing) to ensure that they've got a real sense of collaboration within the team and with their clients too.
Yes, they’ve been using technology, but they've also looked at every role in every department in order to build KPIs that suit each individual and each department in it's own merit.
I think you'll find a huge amount of value in what Nathan has shared in this podcast. And I hope you'll join me at HumaniseTheNumbers.online
And please, if you get the opportunity to give me your feedback, it'd be great to hear from you.
"Happy teams, happy clients, happy futures, is our tagline.
You start with, having a happy team, then by consequence of that have happy clients.
And then if those two groups are happy, the happy futures part is the easy one."
Connect with Nathan
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TRANSCRIPT - unedited
[00:00:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:00] Welcome to the humanized, the numbers podcast, series leaders, managers, and owners of ambitious accounting firms, sharing insights, successes, and issues that will challenge you and connect you and your firm to the ways and means of transforming your firms.
[00:00:20] Nathan Keeley: [00:00:20] Results. Happy teams, happy clients, happy futures is our sort of tagline.
[00:00:25] And it's like, you start with having a happy team there. Then you then, you know, by, by consequence of that, to an extent, have happy clients. And then everybody's happy if those two groups are happy, then they're happy. Futures part is the easy one. Right? Um,
[00:00:39] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:39] as you grow your firm's fees, And the number of clients you work with and the number of team members you have, how will you retain that sense of collaboration between your team and that deep sense of client focus as well?
[00:00:50] Client collaboration, if you will. Well, Nathan Keeley from carpenter box on this podcast, interview shares in quite a bit of intimate detail, what they do and how they do it [00:01:00] to ensure that deep sense of collaboration. Let's go to that discussion there today. I'm joined by Nathan Keeley from carpenter box.
[00:01:10] Welcome Nathan, and thank you very much for taking time out on this discussion, um, to begin with Nathan, would you put some things into perspective for us and just give us a little bit of a background on competent box and your role in history within the firm
[00:01:21] Nathan Keeley: [00:01:21] please? Yeah. So, um, carpeted box, uh, uh, was formed in sort of 1923.
[00:01:27] So coming up for our hundredth year anniversary. Wow. Um, the firm's sort of grown pretty significantly since I've, um, I joined the firm in 2001. And when we sort of had sort of 30 staff, we're now sort of pushing the 200 Mark. Um, offices in four locations. So the, the main one in, in worthy, um, have an office in, in Gatwick.
[00:01:48] Um, we have an office in Brighton and just recently in October opened an office in Chichester. So sort of four offices covering the gap with diamond, really around sort of Sussex as our [00:02:00] sort of place we've always belonged. Yes. Um, and over time, I suppose, the firm's grown into, um, you know, comfortably sort of mid, mid tier, I suppose we will position ourselves now where we have, um, a dedicated audit department audit advisory group, dedicated tax group, um, and a business services group, or the three mains or fee earning.
[00:02:21] Um, departments, we then have a practice support group, which covers marketing, finance, you know, reception and various other non fee aiding elements. Um, and, and it's sort of grown from that point. And I joined as a, as a trainee back back in 2001. All right. And this sort of developed through that finished my exams, uh, at the firm and, uh, sort of now sort of partner and obviously services group.
[00:02:45] Um, and within that, I head up our, uh, cloud and digital offering as well as our outsourced, uh, finance offering. Um, as well as being a, you know, a normal sort of hate to say traditional, um, you know, partner looking [00:03:00] after, uh, you know, a portfolio with a varied number of clients from, you know, mostly business services, but there's elements of tax advisory in there is elements of audit in there.
[00:03:09] So, so why, why do you hate to say that? I just, I, you know, uh, I think, um, I, I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of accountancy as a. As a profession. So, um, over the years, um, you know, the technology, um, has helped probably keep me in the profession, you know, for the good and the bad really. Um, so I sort of have, hence why probably the, the hats I wear, um, uh, more of a, you know, more of an interest rather than, um, just following the normal, sorta traditional route of a portfolio, various sort of, part of the GT's and not much more from that.
[00:03:43] So, um, various debates over the value of chargeable input compared to traditional accounts and that sort of stuff is always challenging. Um, and, and, and I would probably say, um, there'd be one of the more challenging partners to the rest of the partner group in terms of looking at [00:04:00] new ways of doing things and trying to implement change, right.
[00:04:04] Rather than, you know, COVID ox has been successful. It's grown from sort of 30 to 200 staff that it has now. And obviously through that, there's been a lot of growing pains and that's been quite challenging, quite challenging few years, but, but you know, all good. Um, from that element and, and, you know, some of the stuff we've brought in has been quite exciting, you know, the onsets or cloud, you know, a number of years ago, you know, free agent was probably the first iteration, you know, Mo more so sort of Xero and QuickBooks and other, other sort of solutions have come in and, and sort of, you know, ballooning that in to say, let's what are we doing from a, you know, working papers perspective, moving those to the cloud, you know, or on boarding, you know, uh, the, the KPI sort of solutions and business advisory piece and stuff has been, um, you know, I wouldn't necessarily even say accountancy driven, it's more technology and change driven.
[00:04:54] So tell me that's what the interest is really. So clearly
[00:04:57] Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:57] from continuing your voice in terms of the [00:05:00] enthusiasm for that, what, what, what is it about the, the tech that's actually resulted in you staying in the profession within carpenter, but what, what, what is it about that that's, um, you know, giving you the zeal and the virtue of what you know, doing,
[00:05:13] Nathan Keeley: [00:05:13] uh, just the one word collaboration will be the one word that would sum it all up to be honest, because it's, it's been, it started from a, um, when I was still a trainee where you had a number of, um, contractors as they've sort of IFF five related sort of businesses, where we were driven by them having to send in information to us on a monthly, quarterly basis.
[00:05:34] And that's how our relationship was. And, you know, wouldn't it be great if we could have a, uh, something where we could collaborate more. So clients have a better awareness of, of tax liabilities, upcoming deadlines, all of these sorts of things, rather than the traditional model of, you know, year end, A couple of months later, you get the book, you know, the books come in, you do the accounts, you have a meeting, you know, the client has two or three months to find the tax bill, which they might have an awareness of or not.
[00:05:59] Can't really advise [00:06:00] them properly on that basis because they may have made a decision through the year that either was, was maybe it was right. Maybe it was wrong. It was quite difficult to unravel what's the tax implication, all of those elements. Um, and I think, you know, I'd probably put myself as quite a sociable creature.
[00:06:14] So, um, the collaboration from a client point of view has been great, you know, and all of the other, you know, the software companies, stuff, the collaboration with them has been really good as well. Um, I think also when you work more in sort of this technology space, that the profession is more open and collaborative by, by nature.
[00:06:32] So the individuals that do that are more collaborative and open by nature, whereas traditionally accountants are, you know, aren't as open and collaborative as maybe it may be, it could be, you know, um, the general view is there's enough food to go around for everybody. It's just, you know, um, Yeah. Things like this, to be honest.
[00:06:50] Right. You know, just having, yeah. Having a chat and stuff is all about it all comes from that as the sort of starting point really
[00:06:57] Paul Shrimpling: [00:06:57] well. It's interesting that you say it's about having a chat. [00:07:00] Um, you know, w what you just described there is, it sounds as though you've used the text so that you can have better information available to your clients in a faster way.
[00:07:10] So it's better info, faster info, and therefore you can advise better is what I think what you've said. Um, which ultimately is your last comments about having a chat, which is arguably, um, the hardest thing to actually put a price to an, a value to an, uh, you know, uh, a proposal around Nathan is the technology helped in that area,
[00:07:31] Nathan Keeley: [00:07:31] uh, on the proposal sort of part.
[00:07:33] Yeah. Yeah, I think it's been a bit of a, uh, is that value silencing thing, you know, it's, it's a bit of a cycle. Yeah. So I think where, where it sort of previously was is, is you bill, um, or you would invoice a client on a transactional basis or you'll deliver a piece of work and an invoice after that, then there was a, you know, a sort of clamor for, um, rapid rolled up into a, into an amount divided by 12 and, and, and build the clients, you know, [00:08:00] that, and, and that's great from a cashflow point of view, great, from a client point of view and managing their own sort of out, out, you know, uh, money's going out.
[00:08:09] But I think what's happened more recently is, is there's an element of that still, but it's capturing the additional value that you deliver. So exceptional billing is, is becoming a bit of a challenge because there's a perception over clients value what you do, but to the value, the extra that you do. I think if, if, if that's the way of, of describing it, so you might set up with a client on a, on a certain basis and then.
[00:08:32] You actually find out that, look, I'm talking to them more often. I need to, I'm doing some, a lot more special work because you're talking to the more, you know, there's more things that they're open to you about, you know, um, down to even to say, look, I need some insurance or I need something else that isn't traditionally accountancy related that we're sort of able to help with.
[00:08:50] You know, how do you recognize the value of that? It's been sort of the challenge. And I think, again, it's sort of evolving again, further than that, in that, you know, core compliance services, a [00:09:00] bit like a Netflix subscription is really easy to sort of, you can price more easily. It's a finite thing. Um, and people are used to spending their money in that way, you know?
[00:09:10] Yeah. Sky subscriptions, mobile phone subscriptions. That's how, yeah. The welders evolved, but yeah, but it's a bit like that, the extra value and yeah, like you take the same examples in your skies and example, you pay it all as a subscription, but if you want to watch a new movie, you pay extra for that. And I think it's this, that, um, You know, it almost like the profession seems to cap, you know, will, it will catch up with the likes of sky as a constant sort of example.
[00:09:35] You know, they get it, they get it right. You know, that they tied you in for that monthly subscription. But if you want the bells and whistles and the nice shiny stuff, you pay extra for that. Yeah.
[00:09:43] Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:43] Yeah. If you want to watch the, you know, the world heavyweight championship match, then a
[00:09:47] Nathan Keeley: [00:09:47] boxing match in days.
[00:09:48] And I think it's just, you know, yeah. It's taking a lead with this sort of from, you know, greater use of technology. All of these things from different sectors of the economy are now filtering their way into the [00:10:00] profession and probably out of the profession to the other way, you know? Um, so it's been quite a it's fast moving and stuff, which is again, makes it, makes it interesting to be honest.
[00:10:09] But again, you know, in a, as you get to a larger firm where it's not just one person making a decision, there's there's, we have 18 partners now. So there's 18 people having a view. There might be an audit partner. There might be a tax advisory partner, a tax compliance partner, you know, lots and lots of different they're coming at it from a different perspective.
[00:10:28] You know where it is,
[00:10:28] Paul Shrimpling: [00:10:28] which can be healthy, can't it, but it can be healthy, but it also can slow decision-making down and maybe
[00:10:35] Nathan Keeley: [00:10:35] correct. Correct. Right. So, so there's 18 opinions. You need to gather in a, in a, in a partnership because we have the view of, you know, one person, one vote, you know, irrelevant of how long you've been doing it for.
[00:10:45] Um, and of course an audit partner will view it differently to a business services partner, for instance. So, um, they, they weren't really been on account particular often. It would be transactional advisory is certainly all transactional, you know? So it's like, you know, business services tends to sort of sit in [00:11:00] the middle of that.
[00:11:00] So you have, you know, um, and, and w w we recognize that and, and how we are sort of, you know, the growing pains of structuring the business to say, you know, when I was first apart and there was five or six of us, it's, uh, it's, uh, You know, quite an informal sort of conversation. Now there's 18 people trying to do a zoom call at the moment is quite challenging with, with differing opinions.
[00:11:20] So yeah, I guess what
[00:11:22] Paul Shrimpling: [00:11:22] you just described there, poses the question. Do you feel as though that the th the humanity of the firm, I love the fact you talk collaboration, so collaboration with colleagues, collaboration, with clients, collaboration, with tech providers, and so on, who has created a more. Human relationship, you know, arguably valuable relationship with clients, even though maybe we're challenged about actually turning that value into, um, fees, if you will, especially around the, the equivalent to the world championship boxing match, as opposed to the, you know, the Netflix subscription core compliance piece.
[00:11:55] Um, but just wonder is as you go from a 30 person firm to a 200 [00:12:00] person firm, does it get there's more humans involved, but does the firm get more human or less human? And
[00:12:04] Nathan Keeley: [00:12:04] do you, how do you tackle it? Yeah, I think it's like, I would say differently human would be the right, the good political answer
[00:12:11] Paul Shrimpling: [00:12:11] there.
[00:12:11] Nathan trim politics there.
[00:12:13] Nathan Keeley: [00:12:13] Yeah. Speaking, speaking, candidly, it's been, it's been a challenge, right. You know, a 30 person firm is very family orientated. You know, you, you know, the example of, you know, school closes for the day and, and your son or daughter comes in and sits next to you at the desk and you just carry on working, you know, a firm with 200 people.
[00:12:29] It's a different environment and it's probably fair to say, you know, it's peaks and troughs of growth. And of course, uh, and a number of the sort of more longer serve clients that, Oh, sorry, staff that remember the 30 person firm found it quite more challenging than others. Sure. Growing to a 200 person firm.
[00:12:48] And, um, for us what's really been important and it's been a challenge. I think we've done reasonably reasonably well at, um, is, is moving this or family feel to still keep the family feel, you [00:13:00] know, basically a worthy thing, you know, accountancy farm and keep that culture and, and feel, um, but obviously grow, um, and be, you know, have a wider reach and deliver clients a wider service.
[00:13:13] So. W what's allowed us to do is each of those, so business services, for instance, we've looked at it and said, well, as we've grown, you know, business services is too wide. So we have then almost like a, we call it a commercial team. We'll deal with the smaller end sort of one Oh five client. Um, in terms of the disclosure requirements, we then have a corporate team that, that deals with one Oh two and larger clients.
[00:13:35] So, um, the skillset slightly different, and it's enabled us to say, well, we'll recruit differently for those departments. We use different tools. So electronic work paper wise, we, we, we sort of like, like the idea of silver fend for our corporate team and, and CMA Workpapers for our commercial team. What we will have is is that, that you can't, you really Xero Workpapers is quite challenging on a, on a larger client.
[00:13:58] And silver fin is, is, is [00:14:00] overkill for a smaller client. So yeah, growing with this, it's allowing people to it's allowing that, you know, efficiencies and processes still to be in place. And, and what we're finding is that the recruitment we're now making is slightly different. Yeah. Um, COVID post its challenges for the trainee element to say, yes, that's the one part of the business where it's really, really hard to have a brand new trainee and, and them to then to upskill themselves as they
[00:14:26] Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, and, and you end up sort of thinking, wow, trainee intake wasn't as good as previous years. And it's not that they're not as good. It's just, we have to train somebody through teams and stuff is just not, um, you know, w where does, I think you have this promise land of, like, everybody can be virtual, it can be, you can all work from home.
[00:14:43] And I think that absolutely to an extent. Um, so, so for me, I've been to the office for an hour this year so far, and I'm enjoying it to be honest. So it has a lot of pluses. Um, yeah. You know, uh, but I think from a trade point of view, and I think from the mental wellbeing point of view, it's a lot [00:15:00] more challenging in a, because you look at it and think know.
[00:15:04] The us sort of talked about that in the fourth industrial revolution and stuff. It's about people and it's you, you know, it's humans, we like the social interaction and, and, and being able to actually, you know, see the whites of someone's eyes too, to an extent, and, and, uh, and that that's becoming more and more important.
[00:15:22] And I think we do various things have, you know, um, created it, you know, we have a mentor system, so somebody outside of their reporting team or their department, we all have a regular catch up with the person we have, you know, each trainee will have a mentor within the department and somebody else outside of that, if it's.
[00:15:41] If they have a particular challenge that relates to the department, they need to have the freedom to speak about it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot more around the corporate social responsibility, our sort of carbon footprint and what I've used of all of that and, and, you know, mental wellbeing, you know, the training we've provided, you know, we've had, um, done quite lot with mind [00:16:00] in terms of having sort of, you know, mental health ambassadors and, and it sounds, um, quite sort of glorious title and just a question of, you know, something we've got to tick a box for, but I think it's genuinely finding the people that, that have a genuine interest in this.
[00:16:15] Are those people. Yeah, absolutely. And it's just, you know, yeah. It's just dealing with the challenges that are different, different, you know, because of the last year different because we're growing different, we're in four locations different to say we had, we had three offices before, but they were all within, you know, two are opposite each other in the road and one was like a two minute walk away.
[00:16:35] So. And then to now we've, now we've only got one more office, but, but you know, they're all an hour away from each other. So it's a different yeah. Different pieces. Yeah. Different. And we've always delivering, not, not try to report on each of those offices. It's all about we're one firm and one, one sort of team let's say, so we don't report on location.
[00:16:54] We report on individual. Um, even now to be honest, and I think the gap that coffee has got sort of [00:17:00] 45 people in it and we, we just don't necessarily report on that. Um, so yeah, so
[00:17:08] Paul Shrimpling: [00:17:08] let's go into that. So you're reporting on the performance of individual people and not on the office performance at all.
[00:17:13] Correct. And presumably departments as well, is
[00:17:17] Nathan Keeley: [00:17:17] that, or is that department? Absolutely. So we have our, um, set up budget. We just finished our budgeting process in terms of, you know, what our inputs going to be, what our recruitment is going to look like for the next year. What head count do we need? What the input ratios are, the chargeable time, all of this sort of stuff is done.
[00:17:31] Yeah. Um, from first, then it filters down to department and then down to individual to say, as a trainee, we expect X and all trainees are treated the same. Yeah. Um, fundamentally because their roles are, they're all the same. And that as you progress through the firm, you have different, um, different requirements and different KPIs.
[00:17:50] Um, I think for me, it's a bit more challenging because as we, as we move on it's about driving value. Um, and traditionally an accounts you're able will drive [00:18:00] that by your hourly charge out rate and your, your input. Whereas, you know, my sort of argument is, well, if we can bring in a new, new process, new bit of technology or a new system that that means everybody can do their job 2% more efficiently, that doesn't tangibly get recorded very easily, but somebody needs to needs to drive and deliver that.
[00:18:17] So the challenge for me, specifically around the drive to more and more chargeable time when I'm actually sort of wanting to do less chargeable time is, is a really, really culturally difficult thing because. You know, in a small group, that's easy, but when there's 18, 18 of us sitting around there going somebody is doing a thousand of the chargeable hours and I'm doing half of that.
[00:18:39] Yeah. I might bring it in for me. Correct. In DJ. So, but these are all challenges that you either make a choice, don't you do? I do. I do a thousand hours and they have no challenges or do I continue to do 500 and have the challenges, you know, and that's just a personal, you know, you know, my opinion will be a challenge is good.
[00:19:00] [00:19:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:19:00] there's, there's, there's a profession wide issue here though. Nathan isn't there a firm, you know, you've, you've talked about, um, your technology has changed and will continue to change the way every aspect of the profession works. Uh, the, the nap, one of the natural consequences of that is, as you've talked about is as more collaboration with the client, but another natural consequences that.
[00:19:20] It takes less time to do a piece of technical accountancy, your tax work because the technology is helping. So the actual, the chargeable time element is if it's going down, but we, you know, the value to the client remains the same. What happens to the price? Is it well? Okay, well recover. Well, yeah, but it's going to be great.
[00:19:38] Isn't it? Because our recovery rates are going to go well, but if you're assessed against chargeable time, the number of hours you're doing a good, okay. So there's some, there's a mismatch isn't there in terms of where the, the future of the profession is going to where the profession is going.
[00:19:49] Nathan Keeley: [00:19:49] Yeah. And I think it's quite difficult.
[00:19:51] And I think we're, we, we, as a firm is still, is still that sort of crossroads. I think it would be fair to say, because you have a mixture of ages, we'd have a different view, [00:20:00] you know, uh, let's say an older partner would want to drive value, whereas, uh, a younger partner it's about growth and it's about strategy and it's about building something for the future.
[00:20:11] So I think even that is, but that, that, that's a good thing. To say, if you will, you know, you've all got to have a different opinion, you've your opinions got to be heard. Right. So, um, just, uh, you know, as a firm, the strategy should encompass all of that. And again, that's quite a challenge. So we'll have, you know, quarterly board meetings, at least that probably last eight to 10 hours, you know, it's quite a challenging environment, but I think that's a good, that's a good place to be, to be honest.
[00:20:36] Um, I would agree, know everybody has an opinion to be on this, so they've always needs to be heard really. You know, I
[00:20:43] Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:43] mean, I, I experienced going into, you know, well over the decades, a lot of firms and the firms that appear, and I think there's a direct correlation here. The one, the firms that are good. At Marshall and constructive conflict around the leadership team are the ones that [00:21:00] perform better.
[00:21:00] And the ones that actually are a poor at marshaling that, and almost encouraging that constructive conflict, Nathan are the ones that stutter installer lethal now. And that's a sweeping generalization, but I think it's a reasonable conclusion based on my experiences. And you, you, you, you, you supporting
[00:21:18] Nathan Keeley: [00:21:18] that, I guess.
[00:21:19] And I suppose you, you have the earth, the point there, if everybody agrees, you're, you're gonna make bad decisions. If there's one person that everybody listens to and whatever they say is what you do the same is happen. And you think you might, you might accept that you might miss an opportunity. Oh, it might take you longer to get there.
[00:21:36] But getting there as a collective is a much more important thing. I think for everybody's again, it comes back to mental wellbeing, happiness, you know, future the firm and stuff like this. And it's yeah. Dealing with those things and being able to be honest, as honest as you want to be without feeling that.
[00:21:52] Yeah, it is very, very challenging. To be honest, if I can just cruise
[00:21:57] Paul Shrimpling: [00:21:57] you on that. So there's, it's [00:22:00] clear from this discussion that you welcome and you embrace the change and the conflict, but there's, you know, there's eight,
[00:22:07] Nathan Keeley: [00:22:07] it's a conflict, but yeah, it wouldn't say welcome the conflict, but accept that.
[00:22:11] It's a, it's something that you need to deal with, I think is
[00:22:15] Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:15] it's healthy though, isn't it? Yeah.
[00:22:17] Nathan Keeley: [00:22:17] If it's done in the right way, it can be healthy. I think it can also be unhealthy if, if it's not dealt with in the right way. Um, because then you just, you just get to the point where if, if the conflicts have become too personal, it just, it, it it's a challenge.
[00:22:32] Um, uh,
[00:22:34] Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:34] but as, as in any family, you know, I'm just picking up on your comment earlier about, you know, we want to retain that culture and feel about a family business. Well, every family has conflict too, and it's, um, it's if it works well it's because it's managed with that inherent. Respect for each individual.
[00:22:52] It's not personal to use your, your, your, your word. Um, it's focused on the issues at hand and the change that we want. And hopefully [00:23:00] with some, some focus on the, you know, the vision and future strategy of the business, as well as, you know, managing the day-to-day. Hmm. Um, so culture and feel a 200 person firm, uh, obviously lots more clients as well.
[00:23:16] Um, accountability becomes more of a challenge. The more people are involved. Um, how, how, how does that get managed or worked within the firm? Because clearly if you, if you got that, yep. Firm-wide department wide people wide, you don't set expectations. Well, expectations are one thing, accountability, something else.
[00:23:34] How, how does that work within the firm?
[00:23:36] Nathan Keeley: [00:23:36] Yeah. So where's the challenge to say again with, uh, with, with wanting to have a family feel your you're naturally, can it be, do you, you sort of the saying it's more of a carrot than a stick, um, Sort of a place, which I think is important. Um, but it's just about, you know, the danger of that could be, if you become too careful or too stick you, you, um, you end up with, with about outcome.
[00:24:00] [00:24:00] So I'm trying to sort of politically think how best to, to sort of there's a word it, cause it could be quite sort of, well, can I, well, let me, can I
[00:24:07] Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:07] chip in here? Cause you've just lit an a, you've just lit a fuse for me by saying those two phrases. So more carrot, less sticky equals a good family environment.
[00:24:15] Maybe it does. Maybe it does, but from a, um, uh, what we're talking about is that the strategy for building an enthusiastic team for motivating our people, please forgive this brief interruption. The next section of the recording has some interference, but we think the content is too valuable to edit out.
[00:24:34] We hope you agree. Back to the discussion now. And, um, there's, there's actually three types of motivation according to all the researchers and the psychologist. Yes. As the carrot, the incentive reward piece. Yes. There's the stick. If you don't do this, you're out on your ear. That's the harsh end, I guess.
[00:24:51] But there's another form of motivation, which is intrinsic, you know, it's, self-generated because you've got the right person in the right job, doing something, they actually [00:25:00] thinks great working with people that thinks great working in a firmer thinks great working with customers that thinks great making the difference.
[00:25:06] That's intrinsic. It's nuts. Now the carrot, no stick because it's from within. And, um, uh, you know, that's why I'm like, Ooh, is it really a choice between carrot
[00:25:14] Nathan Keeley: [00:25:14] and stick? Yeah. And I suppose to give us sort of a, probably a like live example of, of, of maybe. You know, 18 months ago probably was, was the starting point was to, to look at it and think we had sort of resource pressures everywhere.
[00:25:33] somebody would, would have a client relationship within a department and they would do, you know, that team would do everything for them. When you sit back and realize to say, look, you know, what, what is that person's particular skillset? And when we, when we sort of split in initially sort of the corporate and commercial teams together, make this, it was looking at which of those individuals had had a particular skillset that lends itself more to one or the other.
[00:25:56] And what that sort of led is, is we had, you know, as you [00:26:00] do sort of resource pressures at varying levels, and we were finding that that what was happening from a, you know, from a larger firm point of view, you take management accounts. As an example, each partner would have clients that need that as a requirement, and each partner would deliver a different output to the client.
[00:26:16] Um, and what we were sort of, uh, have done more recently is to say, well, look, you know, surely we should, we need the management accountants, do management accounts and a bookkeeper to do bookkeeping is the two, two easiest examples. Whereas what was happening is trainees would do a bit of bookkeeping. You know, you're a bit of, not quite Jack of all trades, but you're very varied skillset, which then can mean you become more rounded possibly.
[00:26:38] Um, but it could also mean you don't become as highly skilled as you could be in a certain area. So I suppose there's a bit of a trade off trade often. Yeah. And we sort of created this sort of what we call the, the off team, which I'm trying to find a better name for it, but I'm yet to yet to find one, which is the outsource finance function is what the, all things you can imagine, why, you know, from the [00:27:00] smile, why you needed, I need a better name than that.
[00:27:01] So any ideas would be welcome. Um, but it's, it's to look to say, you know, some of these clients need bookkeeping, right? So we need a bookkeeper to do that because. You've then got the, the things of, you know, charge at rates for a trainee are probably equal to what we would have an experienced bookkeeper charged out at, or you look at what the market will bear for for bookkeeping versus what we, what we need to encompass all of the training costs and everything else for trainees charge out rate just was, were problematic.
[00:27:30] So I'm starting to build a team of bookkeepers to do the bookkeeping. Um, and then looking at sort of saying, well, you know, the skill set for a management accountant in an ideal world. I want somebody that's got industry experience to understand, because if you've only ever been in practice, you know that in, you'll see this sometimes from sort of HMRC and stuff, sometimes in that if somebody has only ever been HMRC, they don't have much, uh, you know, so much, they don't have as good an awareness of what it is to run a business as you would like them to.
[00:27:59] Um, and it's [00:28:00] no different to say you've got an accountant that's always worked in practice. They don't, they don't really appreciate the. The differences between working in industry, right. In terms of running a business. Um, so obviously our recruitment policy then changes as a consequence. So rather than, um, you know, what we want, uh, uh, an ACA or an ACA trainee to go through the system.
[00:28:20] Yeah. We, you know, what I actually want is an accountant that's SEMA or is, has got business experience to do the management accounts because they understand what a KPI is. They understand the business need, um, rather than going your gross profit is a certain number. It's that? Well, actually what we want to look at is you've got staffing pressure, you know, how much, um, how much input can a kind of an individual do.
[00:28:41] And at which point, you know, using your turnover and your margins to dictate your recruitment policy, or as a restaurant, you know, when should I close? When should I open, you know, when there's people spending the most money. Yeah. You know, and what am I making the most margins on? So what you associated with management accounts?
[00:28:55] Of course, absolutely. Take a, take a restaurant. It's like, I need to sell more coffees because the margin [00:29:00] is ridiculous. Right? You say, or I know that, you know, Tuesdays are a day to close because it's quiet, you know, and I'd open on a, on open the other six days and it's, it's things like that. And that's what a business owner would value rather than showing here's what your profit is for the last month.
[00:29:16] Paul Shrimpling: [00:29:16] you taken the firm down this specialists route, then
[00:29:18] Nathan Keeley: [00:29:18] nice service. We'd like to call it. So we have. Right. Um, yeah. So over the last year, 18 months have created, uh, the outsource finance function service line. And it's now sort of grown to a team of sort of 14, 14 people at the moment, mixing from bookkeepers to management accountants to.
[00:29:36] To sort of Judy or fear in us from a management accountant perspective, you know, even to look at the capabilities of, of formalized, you know, um, outsource credit control, you know, a lot of other things and linking that in quite nicely with the, the, the cloud and digital team in terms of, you know, systems reviews, implementations of software, all of this sort of stuff becomes, that's quite a skill set that, [00:30:00] you know, you, you can't really do that and everything else, because, you know, you might better set up a zero in and create a bank feed, but, but can you actually scope and, and properly do an implementation or, or do a, a full systems review?
[00:30:13] So yeah, the team we have delivering that we have, you know, even that is split into say somebody that would deliver the projects and the systems implementation systems reviews, and somebody that deals with the support queries. Yeah. And zero access bank feeds not working, you know, can you create your report?
[00:30:30] Those sorts of elements and different skillset, you know, support needs to be process driven, whereas. Uh, projects is all based on personality, on all base, but significantly based on personality to say you, you, you go into a meeting where you don't know a little bit like today, didn't know what we were going to talk about.
[00:30:47] We just go into a meeting and just start talking right when I start talking. But if you go into a meeting, Peggy, not accountancy, but I can talk. Right. Um, but uh, [00:31:00] it, to me, it's like, it's the best type of meeting. I go into a meeting when I don't know what the client wants. I don't know what the client's going to ask me.
[00:31:06] And I don't know how you would answer it. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that's a different skill set to, um, but that's probably where the w you know, arguably not being cynical with the profession, but it's where the training and the exams and the profession could be better. Yes. It would be. They train you how to be an accountable.
[00:31:21] They don't train you how to be a business advisor. That's the fundamental. So my view
[00:31:26] Paul Shrimpling: [00:31:26] is, is that they don't change it to hold a decent conversation. It's as simple as that, isn't it, you know, it's the right questions in the right
[00:31:33] Nathan Keeley: [00:31:33] order. Yeah. And I, I would probably say, you know, yeah. And I, I would look back and say accounts as he hasn't told me this, you know, playing hockey as a sport or going to university in the middle of Wales for three years has helped me.
[00:31:44] There's nothing else to do other than talk to people. Right. Because what else is there to do in the middle of Wales? Right. Um, and various things, you know, if your life is your life experiences, that that create that. And, um, I think sometimes we, we, we, we, you know, the professionals too much [00:32:00] focused on the exams and of course, but
[00:32:03] Paul Shrimpling: [00:32:03] Nathan aren't, you contributing that by actually driving the firm down this specialist or is he got specialist teams and within those teams, you've got specialists within the team.
[00:32:10] So you're not actually growing broader rounded people. Are you actually Crow barring them into a particular, um,
[00:32:16] Nathan Keeley: [00:32:16] especially again, I suppose when you start processes like that, you tend to look internally at, um, at what you have available or, or, and that tends to be the, the mistake people will make is to say, well, you know, um, somebody over here has got capacity.
[00:32:31] Let's give that, let's give them that project. Yeah. And just on talking to another accountancy firm, actually, that they were sort of saying, look, if somebody isn't knocking on your door saying, I want to do this, there isn't the right person internally. Right. And it's quite a harsh statement to make. And maybe, maybe that's right.
[00:32:47] Maybe that's wrong. Um, but to an extent it's like, if you, if you want a particular skill set and you in somebody isn't shoving those signs, or you can hand pick them, or they're asking you to and saying, look, I have an interest and a passion in this. You [00:33:00] just don't try that route because you can end up, you know, getting the wrong person, which can slow things down and you just go and recruit the right person that you need.
[00:33:08] The example where we were first embracing that sort of cloud digital space. It was really hard because we would, I wouldn't say we were necessarily sort of leading the way, but we were, we were pretty early adopters of all of that. Um, it's really hard then to say, Oh, I want to deliver something that the profession can't quite deliver on mass yet.
[00:33:26] So then it was, it was quite hard then to recruit the right person I needed. So I ended up hiring them from Australia. Right. So totally different. Right. So, um, came over from Australia on a six month visa and he's now done a five-year visa. So he's pretty key and integral and it's yeah, it's qualified accountant.
[00:33:44] Absolutely. But, but because of the nature of, you know, the, the, the adoption of cloud and digital solutions in Australia, New Zealand is faster than here. I basically picked somebody that's maybe three, five years ahead of, of, of the UK. So, um, served a [00:34:00] purpose and very much off piece, you know, hiring effectively somebody that, you know, th th there's there's a lot of stuff around.
[00:34:06] You've got to get through the visa, got to get through the application. There's quite a long process for all of us, which you've now done, which now then facilitates us to look at others in, in the same way. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. See, there's
[00:34:16] Paul Shrimpling: [00:34:16] something interesting that Nathan, about this, um, w what you want to do is you want to, uh, and this is an overused phrase, but you want to hire a square peg for a square hole.
[00:34:27] Don't you. But, uh, but I I'm, um, I'm conflicted here because it's, um, you know, I've, I know you've got your kids, I've got, I've got four, four kids and with the kids, I've gone, look, they've all gone swimming. Uh, but only one of the four actually, you know, took to it seriously and got to national level and proceeded.
[00:34:46] But the, the, the, the three were good swimmers, but they just never fell in love with it. Um, but then, uh, uh, the three of them, three of the others were exposed to music. Now, two of them have embraced that fully and have built careers around it. The other ones not really bothered about the music, but we've [00:35:00] exposed them to that as well.
[00:35:00] And then, um, I exposed him to playing rugby and then he found his passion in life, you know, and I'm just talking about outside pursuits with the kids, but, um, we keep, you know, he didn't necessarily, Dominic definitely didn't look like you an obvious rugby player. Cause he was just skinny as a rat and, you know, you know, bought, um, East turned into, um, Oh, well he does something he loves and he's pretty good at it because, um, uh, It's that do we really is the specialist way really?
[00:35:32] The, the only way, or do we have to actually have some reins on that and encourage people not wait for them to knock on the door as this other accounting firm was saying, but actually, you know, have you got some way of assessing whether they've got a particular, their personality is suited to a particular way of working?
[00:35:50] W what do you do to assess your team in such a way that we are being as human and caring and family oriented as we can, because then we've got them in the
[00:35:58] Nathan Keeley: [00:35:58] right place. I suppose, [00:36:00] for the, for the new hires, it's become easier as time has gone on in terms of the, um, which we use a bit of psychometric testing and stuff like this.
[00:36:07] And, you know, um, I I'm, I have no idea
[00:36:17] I just know that they're really pleased with it, so that's all I need to make. Brilliant. Brilliant. Yeah. And I think we do group interviews and stuff like that, to an extent to see how people. You know, behave in that environment. So you've got the sort of, you know, how do you socially, you know, deal with things like that.
[00:36:31] We also, you know, then filter that down to the one-to-one environment as well. And they've got gone through a whole evolved over time, I suppose. Yeah. As we now have a, you know, a more formal sort of HR team and stuff, whereas before it was, you know, like, as you grow, you, you don't have a need for a full-time HR person.
[00:36:47] Now we have, you know, we have to, you know, it's about one per a hundred, something like that as a, as a sort of number seems to that seems to work. But I mean, for me, it's a little bit like being open. So we would, [00:37:00] you know, we would look around and think, well, yeah, and what do I need for this role? You know, it might be that this individual has those skill sets.
[00:37:05] And I think there's a, there's a potential that we'll almost try and hand pick them, um, rather than sort of leaving it open to the masses saying, look, we're looking for a person in there. In a, in a certain team, you know, someone with a particular attitude or a particular skill, you need to come over here for a while.
[00:37:22] Yeah. Yeah. Opening it out, I think is quite dangerous because you might get somebody that's unhappy in their current role and just wants to change. Right. Not that they want to do what the role you want them to do. Um, and I th you know, in looking at it, you think people have different skillsets. The apprenticeship scheme is really going to help with that, that, that people need to do so comments in various teams and departments, and you might be talking about it in the partners meeting recently, there's one particular trainee that, that came and did sort of work experience came back to business services, did a little bit of stint in audit and, and she's done some she's now in tax and doing a CTA exams and loving it, and she's doing really well.
[00:37:58] So yeah. [00:38:00] You know, I guess I think it's just, yeah,
[00:38:05] Paul Shrimpling: [00:38:05] Yeah. It has been brave, but also I think that the process. It's a bit like, you know, me and the kids go try this swimming, try hockey, try rugby, try it, you know, band. And, um, and you seconding them into a particular and then, and then they'll grow into that. I guess it gets more challenging. Doesn't it?
[00:38:21] As you get further up the food chain and affirm. Yeah,
[00:38:24] Nathan Keeley: [00:38:24] yeah. Until, and I think, you know, you take that example. I mean, I, I, I sort of played hockey for me from a young age because it was the only sport that I was any good at number one. And all my friends were good at every other sport. So it's like, I need to do something for me.
[00:38:36] Right. Or something that I was okay at. And they all played sort of County league football and stuff like this. And I can't kick, uh, you know, it's, it's just, uh, you, you do what you need, you know what you do to be honest, find your thing then. Yeah. And I think it's like, you know, you want somebody that wants to do the role you want them to do.
[00:38:53] Right. And then that, you know, we sort of, uh,
[00:38:55] Paul Shrimpling: [00:38:55] sometimes they don't know, do the Nathan sometimes they don't.
[00:38:58] Nathan Keeley: [00:38:58] No, no, no, indeed. [00:39:00] That's the hard part. Isn't it? Yeah. And I think that again is when you're lower down and starting out, you don't really know what you don't know. Um, I think when you get further, the further on you get you, you would expect them to have an understand part of why you promote them to an extent.
[00:39:13] Um, but I think, you know, we, we, we sort of revisited our, um, you know, mission statement or whatever. So it's like, you know, um, happy teams, happy clients, happy futures is our sort of tagline. Let's call it. And it's almost, you know, you start off at the, at the first one and it sort of does help, significantly help deliver the, um, you will have a happy team.
[00:39:35] Yeah. Brilliant. Yeah. And it's like, you start with having a happy team. They, then you then, you know, by, by consequence of that, to an extent, have happy clients. And then everybody's happy if those two groups are happy, then they're happy futures part is the yes, it's going to come, isn't it? Yeah. Come as a consequence.
[00:39:51] And that then sort of all, we tried to sort of filter that through to whatever the department strategy is. That's always, uh, we're looking at, for instance, Uh, probably [00:40:00] driven sort of from my sort of, you know, service line, let's say really the outsource finance function and the cloud and the digital team, you know, that the person that leads the cloud team will do less chargeable time than somebody who's in, in, in, uh, in the, in the audit team.
[00:40:14] But it's recognizing that, that, that traditionally that would be a negative because you need to do a charge, a percentage of X to deliver input of Y yes. Um, so the KPIs are becoming different, so that's becoming a, you know, almost like, you know, I would sort of question to say, well, what do you want your KPI to be?
[00:40:31] And we'll talk around, we'll talk around that, you know, rather than me telling you what your KPI is and you're going well, I don't really, you know, yeah. Set your own KPIs and then we tweak them upwards, right. Is probably the right answer. Well, maybe it
[00:40:44] Paul Shrimpling: [00:40:44] is. But I think if, if the, if the, if the goal is to, um, let's have the right KPIs for that role and we'll work it out together, But that, that, that makes sense.
[00:40:55] Doesn't it. So I can't tell you how many firms would go into and they're tracking and measuring certain KPIs that are [00:41:00] actually contributing in no way, shape or form to the decision-making or the action and the
[00:41:04] Nathan Keeley: [00:41:04] future success of the firm. Exactly. You could take the example. So we, we, um, brought on a new new associates, a new sort of junior, uh, Fiona into this sort of outsource finance function team coming with an industry.
[00:41:15] You know, he was with us for a few years, qualified with us, went into industry, um, to a client, actually the client sort of sold and he's now come back. So has, uh, has, uh, not unique, but it has a different skill set to a lot of others. And our view is we don't really want him to have a client portfolio because that's devaluing his or diluting his skillset.
[00:41:36] His skillset is the delivery of the management, you know, that sort of stuff. So managing the client, you know, so. Yeah. You know, you then got somebody that, that, that is junior Fiona's, it's like, you've got to build a portfolio. You need to grow, you then become a, you know, et cetera, et cetera for him, we don't really the target isn't really for him to have a portfolio.
[00:41:53] So you pitch him against the other, let's say 10, 12 associates. He would perform badly using [00:42:00] traditional KPIs. Yeah. So, so yeah, his perspective, it's like, you need to have a different KPI and it might be, you know, how many formal sets of management accounts do we do as a, as a, as a firm. And we want to see that go up, you know, the use of standardized, um, software solutions and standardized products, you know, and other, other sort of, um, you know, how much sort of content we put out there in terms of logs and what are we doing?
[00:42:27] You know, there's a whole different set of KPIs, which, which to be honest, because again, quite a new role when you do something different, they've been driven and set by him and, and we've had conversations about them. Good. And you've got somebody that can see. Yeah. So I think, go and finish the sentence. I was just gonna say he, then, you know, you then got a shared journey because, you know, he's almost signing up to the vision, signing up to the KPIs that you've all agreeing and it's all transparent and, and, and you just all go off and try and achieve them.
[00:42:54] That's, that's a really good place to be, rather than him having to, you've got to have a portfolio [00:43:00] of X. Well, how, how is he going to that's that's the wrong message to be honest and it's bad, wrong behavior.
[00:43:06] Paul Shrimpling: [00:43:06] Yeah. Well, and if you've got the wrong KPIs, it will result in the wrong behavior. If it doesn't suit that particular role or that particular department or that particular job.
[00:43:14] But I just wonder if, um, you know, you can look at some traditional firms where they might, they might have one or two people with different style KPIs, but ultimately that restricts and limits them from. Progressing within the firm because ultimately the people on the top table, I haven't followed that route.
[00:43:32] And therefore, why, w why will they, will they ever get there? But it's whether it's accepted at the top table, that there are different routes to be in around
[00:43:40] Nathan Keeley: [00:43:40] this table, I think. But, but then, you know, that, that then it's relating the KPIs that are different to the people that you need to, to the traditional KPIs.
[00:43:48] Right. So it might be that, you know, what does it is? This is what's quite challenging. You know, let's say we've got, we want to see an increase number of, of, of, of management accounts done by the right team and an [00:44:00] increased use of standardized solutions. Well, that tangibly means that we freed up resource from, from, uh, from another department to do the right type of work.
[00:44:07] So that's the hard part is you need to then tangible, put a tangible value to a non-tangible KPI to then explain that to those people that, that only understand tangible KPIs. Right? So it's quite a challenging. And I watched you might be, he might be happy if that he's got some KPIs he can try and deliver you then got to translate that into everybody else's KPIs.
[00:44:27] So you've almost got almost like an, you can promote the score. Yeah. It's just
[00:44:32] Paul Shrimpling: [00:44:32] been able to compare and contrast different numbers. Isn't it? And it's, that is tough, but actually it's in the best interest of the individual and the long-term interest of the firm as well.
[00:44:41] Nathan Keeley: [00:44:41] This with me is that we, we, we, um, we went down the route of looking at client portal and staff and found that, that, that the, um, our practice management software had one, but it didn't really do as much as we wanted it to do.
[00:44:53] So we've we've yeah. We've ventured down the route of building our own. Right. And that's taken a huge amount of time and [00:45:00] a huge amount of, you know, uh, opportunity costs. But what it's meant is our, our postage and paper bill was literally falling through the floor. Um, we have put something like 75,000 documents on it that have been approved, you know, ridiculous amounts, you know, I think.
[00:45:16] Probably 95% of our tax returns all get approved through it, probably about 90% of our accounts get approved by, you know, coset documents and everything else can get done through it. Um, so that that's led to huge efficiencies, but, but you've then got a tangibly because you would look at my hours and that let's say that takes, you know, I don't know, a hundred hours, 200 hours a year, and I've got to tangibly put a value to that because cause cause if you look at it on the cold numbers, I'm putting less value into the, into the pot than others.
[00:45:48] So it's things that's just a, you know, a specific example where the firm benefits and the individuals that have those high, you know, chargeable hours and larger portfolios, they benefit, um, because of [00:46:00] somebody else not doing th those those hours it's quite quite nuanced. Right. And then it's quite a challenge.
[00:46:08] Paul Shrimpling: [00:46:08] Um, There was, uh, there was, uh, I was watching something yesterday, which relates to this and it's, um, there's this guy talking about, you know, if you remember the, the, the time, uh, the time management grid, you know, urgent and important, it's forever. We've all been looking at this. Um, is it, uh, urgent and important or important and all of that mix up, so there's a bit mistake and it's how significant, so, you know, is it, so if there's, um, so you might invest for example, in the portal, which is it's, uh, it's significant.
[00:46:42] So it's actually going to have an impact for a long time, a long time. And so, you know, the, the amount of time invested might be let's call it, you know, 150 hours of your time, for example, and then it stops, but that 150 hours is going to pay out for the next five years. And it's, and that [00:47:00] significance piece gets lost in KPIs often.
[00:47:01] Um, I just, I'm just building a bridge with swimming. I was watching this, I thought, well, that's really quite powerful, but I don't
[00:47:06] Nathan Keeley: [00:47:06] yet know how to deal with that one. I suppose. It's a good example to say we did. We did the first version of the portal for instance, and it's been good and successful, and everybody sort of sees the value, albeit intangible, where we're just about to launch the portal too.
[00:47:22] Um, just in terms of context, that was a thousand development hours, uh, of, of, of internal organic. There's no cost, there's no external cost of any of this. So we have in-house development, um, capabilities and a whole load of my time again. And that's been met with not much, um, not much pushback, right? We've obviously asked every single employee, what would they like portal portal to as we're calling it, what would they like it to do?
[00:47:47] And we tried to build that into the roadmap and look at every single person's view to say, it'd be lovely if it did this, it'd be good if it did that, you know? Um, and you know, hopefully 1st of April would be the wide-scale whole farm [00:48:00] launch of it and it should. In a better user experience, better mobile and experience, you know, more capabilities of, of building other things.
[00:48:07] A whole load of time and effort has gone into that, that people won't either understand or necessarily see as going on. Um, but you know, it's a bit of a challenge to say that that's been quite a lot of fatigue a year in the making where you see no benefit at all. So you've got to make an investment decision and then obviously the benefit of the next.
[00:48:26] Yeah. So hopefully all of the change in the, the, the, the debates and the conversations that have happened, you know, once the second portal was launched and people start to see the benefit, having those conversations again in the future will be, will be significantly easier because there's something somebody can see or touch or, or value.
[00:48:43] Paul Shrimpling: [00:48:43] presumably though, Nathan, there's going to be on the journey. Looking back, you'll have had these, and then certainly they'll happen in the future where you make a decision, you pursue a path that you think is going to pay off, but it doesn't pay off at all. And it's all spent cost. No, no ROI. It's a, it was an error.
[00:49:00] [00:49:00] Um, yeah. Albeit, there's always
[00:49:02] Nathan Keeley: [00:49:02] learning from those experiences. Isn't it? That that comes to the fact of like, you should, you know, there should be a balance. So it shouldn't be, uh, I think it's a good idea. And I just go off and do it that they will either be it. Hence why there's a smaller subgroup that we'll look at that.
[00:49:15] And we'll be the checks and balances on you, because what it embodies is let's say that is the scenario. You try to change it.
[00:49:30] I'm putting my neck on the line here. And if this doesn't work, so you then continually plow the same. Yes. You go on the same journey, even though, you know, the end result won't be wherever you. Right. So it's yeah. So you might quite important as well. Yeah. You might
[00:49:42] Paul Shrimpling: [00:49:42] sponsor an innovation that goes into the, um, you know, the sub group.
[00:49:45] They, they go, yeah, let's run with it. Then it goes up to 18 partners and they sign it off. It's no longer sit in entirely at your door. It's actually, everyone's bought
[00:49:53] Nathan Keeley: [00:49:53] this and if it doesn't work, we're all responsible. Aren't we? Right. And I think that process does take longer and can be frustrating, but.
[00:50:00] [00:49:59] It's that sort of risk management piece of saying, you know, you're, you're protecting the individual from making a bad, making a mistake right. Or choosing the wrong journey or the wrong path or whatever. So, yeah. You know, cause we, we could have spent a thousand hours building something that's not fit for purpose.
[00:50:14] That's a difficult conversation. Um,
[00:50:18] Paul Shrimpling: [00:50:18] I'm sure you haven't by the sounds of it. Um, what, Nathan, that's been a very wide ranging and very stimulating, um, uh, discussion. What, what, what stood out for me is, um, this, uh, anyone who wants to talk KPIs has got my full attention everyday, all day. Um, and the fact that we talked about, you know, uh, KPIs have to, uh, a be fit for purpose, what does that mean?
[00:50:40] Well, they've got to suit that person, that role, that department. And, and not necessarily be influenced by the way it's always been done in other departments. I just think that's such a clear message that's clearly working and doesn't come without its challenges, as you say.
[00:50:56] Nathan Keeley: [00:50:56] Well, certainly it's probably fair to say we're at the early points of this to [00:51:00] say, you know, um, and it's, it's inevitable that we need to go that route because we, you know, as you say, as the partner group gets bigger, you know, the different levels of equity change and there's all these sorts of pressures that you have.
[00:51:10] And it's like, well, somebody would look at their own performance and say, well, I'm doing better in all of these KPIs in terms of their own journey. Whereas actually it's relative to the KPIs we set for each individual. So you might be doing great, but so is everyone else, right? Or you might be doing great in your benchmark in yourself about somebody that you do better at a KPI out that they don't have all of these sorts of things happen.
[00:51:30] And, and, and, you know, KPIs, you've only are only worth having if, if, if they're almost like, you know, everybody's agreeing to them and, and, and you're on a journey to achieve them and they shouldn't be something that. You know, I mean, sometimes we, in the past, we might've gone to work just double your you're good at winning fees.
[00:51:46] Let's double your portfolio growth. It's like, well, is that reasonable to achieve? And it shouldn't be something that you don't sit back and go, I'll take that because it's easy. It should be a challenge by nature. Um, but it's also, but then again, you've got to have the tools to better deliver [00:52:00] the KPIs as well is the other factor.
[00:52:03] Paul Shrimpling: [00:52:03] Absolutely. Right. And so, yes, we've got the right people, the right KPIs, the right tools. But also, and I think you've hinted at this or at, well, not hindered that you're stating blatantly that you've got to be willing to have the challenging, difficult conversations to actually, um, get agreement and buy it.
[00:52:18] And then, then it's, then it's really human. We're all responsible. And, um, and if we made a mistake, we made a mistake, put our hands up and move on. Um, but actually if you've got the right process in place, the right KPIs in place, the right people in the right place, then it'll work, which sounds like I'm stating the blatantly obvious there, but you know, the bigger the business, sometimes that gets lost in the mix.
[00:52:38] Nathan Keeley: [00:52:38] Yeah. And I suppose what, I would probably be fair to say we're not there yet. Um, because again, you know, you have, everybody starts off with here. This is how many hours we need to do. And everybody tries for a discount or not, or whatever is whatever role they do is this. And I think, you know, that the conversations are being had, and there's been a key part of this year's budget setting process in terms of all the partners don't have the same chargeable hours, you know, [00:53:00] some, some have significantly more, some have, you know, some have less, you know, cause it's correct.
[00:53:08] Well, the managing partner gets discounts. He's a managing partner. And it's because that's because every accountant knows what a managing partner's role is. But when you're, when you're looking at something that's different or something that's new, nobody really knows what. It's quite a challenge. Yeah.
[00:53:21] You almost need to say set the vision. Yeah. You need to set the vision and say what your deliverable is going to be, and you need to be your KPIs, or I'm going to assess you about how, how, how far we are down that journey. Yeah. And that's that,
[00:53:32] Paul Shrimpling: [00:53:32] that, that healthy blend of output KPIs, the result that you want and the input, predictive activity, KPIs that are going to, you're going to be measured against week in, week out, month
[00:53:42] Nathan Keeley: [00:53:42] in month or quarter in quarter.
[00:53:43] Yeah. Yeah. And I supposed to be all this, you, you start with what a success look like and work backwards, right? Yes. Because your strategy downwards or whatever, whatever the expert, you know, whatever somebody might do, but marvelous,
[00:53:53] Paul Shrimpling: [00:53:53] but that's been brilliant. So w we've covered a, a chunk of ground. I'm just wondering, you know, I've, I've sort of turned the [00:54:00] spotlight and ask a few questions on the firm.
[00:54:01] Uh, Nathan, what if everything we've covered today? What, what, what is it that's made you think a little bit about, Oh, well, we need to do a little bit more in that area or a little bit less
[00:54:08] Nathan Keeley: [00:54:08] in that. Um, I'll probably be biased and say not, not to say, cause I think we're considering all of this stuff anyway, and we spend a lot of time.
[00:54:16] You know, on, on strategy, on all of this sort of stuff. Anyway, I think we, you know, as a firm, we're in a good place and I want to say over the last few years, we've spent more time than we have before. Um, partly because, you know, we, we, we, you know, four offices, 18 partners, 200, you know, the needs, you know, significant time.
[00:54:34] And, and what a takeaway would be is, you know, the amount of times you see that somebody hasn't spent enough time on strategy. Yeah. Um, it's almost like that's the, that's the first mistake to make. Right? You're, you're better off spending too much time on strategy. And at least you've got one rather than not spending enough time on it.
[00:54:51] And you, you, you know, we have specific strategy days. Absolutely. But, but then what happens is it's about agreeing to that and then we'll have [00:55:00] various other things that happened during the year. Just checking ourselves, how are we doing against our strategy? Do we, you know, even down two years ago, do we want to stay as a, as a, you know, five partner.
[00:55:13] But it provincial fail or do we want to grow, how many offices do we want? All of this sort of stuff. So, because that's significant, if you've got one person that, or elements that want to stay as five and other elements that want five offices and the, that there's, that that's going to cause issues. So it's, yeah.
[00:55:30] I don't think you could spend enough time on it. It's probably what I'm saying. As long as I can hear that, it can't, you know, you can't spend too much time, but it's just, you know, making sure you give some sufficient time to it is probably the right
[00:55:42] Paul Shrimpling: [00:55:42] and by the sounds of it, Nathan, regular repeating time to it as well.
[00:55:47] It's not a one-off exercise, is it?
[00:55:48] Nathan Keeley: [00:55:48] No. So it's almost like, you know, regular, we have quarterly KPI board meetings. It's like, and that's about w one, what are the KPIs that we've set ourselves, but also how are we, um, we've, we've created a, what we [00:56:00] call the SMTs senior management team of, uh, it's a group of, of, of partners probably at the moment because we just started it more of those more experienced ones.
[00:56:08] Yeah, but it's to say, well, how are we doing? You know, how are we doing against our strategy? What operational stuff do we need to consider or change or tweak. And, um, so it's almost like the, the, the full partner group sets the strategy, the SMT then would meet to see how are we doing on that journey? And if we need to do something different or go less, slightly left or slightly, right.
[00:56:26] That, that might then go back to the next meeting, right. To just do an adjustment. Um, and, and I think, you know, we're all learning at this sort of stuff. It's it's yeah, definitely good challenges, to be honest. Uh, some of the
[00:56:39] Paul Shrimpling: [00:56:39] stuff I've just to wrap up, um, um, um, researching at the moment is, you know, w what's the definition of the health of a business and, and, and, and, and there's all sorts of, um, uh, Uh, insights in and around that, but clearly what comes back repeatedly is that, um, they know where they're going.
[00:56:56] They know what they stand for. They know what behavioral values that they want [00:57:00] to, you know, hold everyone to account on, as well as the KPIs, I want to hold to a cap, there's this, there is a real humanity to the piece, you know, values and purpose shines through. And, um, and then they're not afraid of the, the, the difficult conversations, which from this conversation is clear.
[00:57:16] You guys are
[00:57:18] Nathan Keeley: [00:57:18] competent are to the extent where I think we've just recently done a client survey and an internal survey to work out, you know, a net promoter score is a bit of a good or bad, right. But, um, yeah, if it's used properly, it can be a useful thing. So it's like, well, let's, you know, if you've done the staff survey, I think we had maybe 85% of people fill it in client survey as well.
[00:57:38] We scored, scored highly on both, but it's, it's looking around. And net promoter score isn't around net promoter score. Isn't around, you know, uh, there, it almost, you take out the best and the worst, it's the thing, it's the bit in the middle. Right. And it's just understanding what does that mean? W what does, what action,
[00:57:59] Paul Shrimpling: [00:57:59] what decisions [00:58:00] and what actions is it going to
[00:58:00] Nathan Keeley: [00:58:00] drive?
[00:58:01] Isn't it. Yeah. And is there any particular areas? So we use quite helpful to say, get honest feedback from a client, and there's so many particular things that we're not doing well at as a firm, or is it triggered by department, by a person by, by whatever. And then from the staff point of view, it's a bit, a little bit like what we could, you know, cause COVID as men, you know, that the amount we spent on business development, entertaining traveling is massively reduced.
[00:58:23] We had a, quite a significant trading budget that we haven't used up. So it's like, well, what more can we do? We've allocated a budget to something that we haven't necessarily spent. All of it. Has that had a negative impact on our NPS score and how people are feeling, you know, and it's challenging from a mental wellbeing and everything else.
[00:58:38] Point of view. So have you reached any conclusions on that, Nathan?
[00:58:41] Paul Shrimpling: [00:58:41] Um,
[00:58:42] Nathan Keeley: [00:58:42] no, I think it's just as an example, but yeah, no, but previously the government announced a, a thousand pound per, you know, benefit or grant per person that had been furloughed. So we had a meeting, I thought, wouldn't it be nice if we allocate some of that for, for mental wellbeing and, and training for the staff, the government then say, well, we've changed our mind.
[00:59:00] [00:58:59] We're not going to do that now. So we've already allocated it to, to be, to be used somewhere else. So I think, you know, things like that are quite important and I agree, um, you know, making sure that yeah, have we got it right? Probably not in totality, but you know, more right than wrong, I think. Yeah, certainly.
[00:59:18] Paul Shrimpling: [00:59:18] And certainly sounds like you're heading in the right direction as well. Yeah, brilliant. Nathan, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate you taking time out and investing in being so open and candid. It's been enlightening. Thank you very, very much. Indeed.
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Traditional partner vs. challenging partner
Keeping the culture
More chargable time vs. less chargable time
Specialised teams and team members
Square peg for a square hole?
A happy team and its consequences
Choosing the right KPIs
Urgent, important, significant
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