How do you reorganise a team of 50 accounts production people so that they become more focused, build knowledge and skill in a faster, better way and feel a greater sense of 'connectedness' across the firm?
In this podcast discussion with Jason Appel of BKL, a large North London firm, Jason shares insights on the culture of their firm, how they've reorganised this large team of 50 into sets of pods and the positive impact the reorganisation has created across the firm.
You’ll also hear Jason and me chewing over the current dilemmas and considerations for accountancy firms around returning to the office.I hope you enjoy the podcast.
"[Asking questions without thinking of solutions] - I think people tend to do that when it's very busy, very stressful.
"People inundate their line managers or supervisors or seniors with problems - this isn't working, that isn't working and without saying "Oh, hang on - why isn't it working? What do I need? How can I solve it?
"Which is the solution because the person themselves can always solve it much better than I can "
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TRANSCRIPT - unedited
[00:00:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Humanise 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 results.
So what one aspect of that drives you nuts the most?
Problems not solutions I think is probably the key is probably, and I think people tend to do that when it's very busy, very stressful. Just people innovate their line managers or supervisors or seniors with this, isn't working, this isn't working and without going, oh, hang on. Why isn't it working?
What do I need? How can I solve it? Which is, which is which the person can always solve it much better than I can.
How do you reorganize a team of 50 accounts, production people so that they become more focused, build knowledge and skill in a faster, better way and feel a greater sense of [00:01:00] connectedness across the.
Well, this podcast discussion with Jason Apelle of BKL a large north London firm, Jason shares insights on the culture of their firm and how they've reorganized this large team of 50 into a set of pods and how that's impacted positively across the firm. Let's go to that discussion with Jason now.
James Appel: [00:01:23] Hi, Paul.
I'm well I'm Jason FL. I'm a partner at BKL accountancy practice based in north London, we have a firm of 140 or people, 15 partners. I've been with BKL since 2002 qualified here. I did have a brief sojourn to another practice for six months, which was unsuccessful. And they, they obviously begged me to come back.
So I came back, I came back after, after six months that outing, which was, which was very interesting in itself and just highlighted different ways that different firms work [00:02:00] and things. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. I became a partner in 2015 moved away from audit as rapidly as I could. I look after the accounts team compliance function within the, which we're known as the advanced business services team 50 people in the team as well as having a portfolio of clients, mostly in and around property development, shouldn't accommodation which I, who I enjoy looking after.
Yeah. And in my in my free time, I have a I live in, I live about 15 minutes from the office, which is a fantastic place to be because. I'm not a big fan of commuting. I have a wife and three children. One was nearly not a child anymore. 17. I'm going to be starting to learn to drive. And my daughter and two boys, 14 and 10, who Very much color to my life in the evenings and weekends
Paul Shrimpling: [00:02:47] indeed.
So I find it interesting that our parents has in my spare time, but they've got children. I'm not sure that correlates.
Very good. So to begin with, let's just look at [00:03:00] that. So. From BKLN at what point in your, your time from 2002 did that, that, that take place and what prompted it?
James Appel: [00:03:08] So a qualified into it has an a five. And I was really interested in at the time, a corporate fight in corporate finance and I was within a team and that very much focused on audit and accounts.
We didn't really have an offering for someone else to work within the corporate finance team. Here. We do have a corporate finance partner, but it wasn't much work outside of what was available. So I went and left to another firm who hired in 2007 in the summer there who hire three people at the same time to bolster their very much flourishing corporate finance department.
I think we all arrived on the day that the bottom fell out of the corporate finance market. Right. And we sat there for three, four months with literally nothing to do before I then started reviewing audit files. The, the, the atmosphere at the plate at, at, at the firm was very different to where, what I was used to.
It wasn't as warm. It wasn't as friendly. It wasn't as accommodating. And [00:04:00] I just, I realized that I wasn't going to get another job in corporate finance for easily soon anyway, so I'm going to carry on doing what yeah. Well, it was what I'd been doing. I should do it at a place that I enjoyed and felt comfortable with.
So I spoke again with her, with a managing partner and we had a discussion about coming back in here. It wasn't a difficult decision in the end. All right. What for you, or
Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:19] for them,
James Appel: [00:04:20] for both the hope, apparently the email went out to everyone's amusement that the prodigal son was sentenced and I have no idea that was nothing to do with me.
I think it was a bit of a joke. Yeah, everyone's critical about it. But so I did work in corporate. For a, for a while when I came back, which was brilliant experience actually. But I soon had to choose and it, it became clear that. Move more towards sort of, sort of client relationships in business advisory, which is where I've ended up.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:48] interesting. You said that there's people move for a different role or career enhancement, but actually the cultural environment in which you work has a more profound impact [00:05:00] on the quality of your work experience than, than, than maybe the the work you're doing and therefore is more yeah.
James Appel: [00:05:06] People subscribed to that. Yeah. A hundred percent people who work here and have been here a long time, I've always said, it's the people here that have kept them here for a very long time. And even when people have left they always speak very highly and kindly of the environment and atmosphere we've tried to create here.
And that's to do with the senior partners who are still here, that, you know, when I joined and that hopefully it's filtered down to us who are the, you know, the partners taking the firm forward in the future.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:05:32] So, so when you're in say board meetings, how, how big a part is this? Like let's, let's nurture it and care for the cultural environment that we've created in the firm.
How does that show up in those meetings?
James Appel: [00:05:45] So certainly I'm part of the executive team now as well. And that's very much a focus of, of of what we want. We want to attract and develop and retain talented people in the best way of doing that is to make sure the environment is right for people to work here as well.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:06:00] Wholeheartedly agree with that. So what sort of things actually happen then to nurture that, that human environment that is caring and culturally used the, you used the word warm, which I think is
James Appel: [00:06:11] really neat. Yeah. I think it's about talking to people and making sure there's as much contact and communication between people and Teams open door policies, making sure people are heard, making sure people feel like they're heard, and even when they are hired, then they can feel like the suggestions and and things that we're talking about do have an impact on the decisions that are they're made.
For instance, with our values that we've just said, Our new values that we've released this year. We invited the whole firms get involved in trying to create those, or really so as well as having yeah, and build on what the executive and the partners felt were the values as well, to make sure that we brought everybody's views into that.
And I think that was really, really valuable for everybody. Right. Everybody involved.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:06:52] So, so the executive team worked out what values you wanted and yeah. Forgive my language here, but [00:07:00] then inflicted them on the team or persuaded the team to buy into that. How did you learn that in the
James Appel: [00:07:05] process? So we had, we had the executive team, had a meeting to discuss what we thought were the right values were.
And then before we released any of that to the, to the business as a whole, we went through a whole process of the team creating what they thought the values were and the most important things to them. And we incorporated those into the, into the final final values that we. And for the whole business.
So we hope that every, how many are the Jason?
Paul Shrimpling: [00:07:28] Five. Five. And, and can you read them off without looking at your paper? It's too late?
James Appel: [00:07:35] What was it? All right. So see, this is fun. Once we've got things, big, bright, say pride, do the right thing, enjoy it. And.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:07:47] Which are on your website, which I thought was, I thought was really neat.
So you got the five, but yeah. Yeah, it's, it's it, it, it's awkward if, when you're on camera, as well as being know, having a conversation So [00:08:00] why, why do you think well, no, I'll ask a better question. Look, lots of firms and lots of businesses for that matter. Think that this, yeah, let's establish a, a set of values and stick them on the website and put a post up in the office is, is a bit in that corporate BS place.
If it can be relatively brutal, but without swearing how are you managing. That this or that it's not just a, you know, corporate strategy, you know, pandering to what the, you know, big businesses do. And it sort of looks the right thing. What, you know, w w what's different with with the BK.
James Appel: [00:08:36] So we would say we've taken those values and we have then used them to help formulate our strategy going forward as well.
Right now, you're going to say, well, you can all very well have a strategy, but you know, how do you try to make sure that we incorporate all that. Into the strategic objectives which we are which we are trying to involve everybody in delivering. So it's not just the, you know, the executive or the [00:09:00] partners who have to deliver those strategic objectives.
It's for the whole team too. So trying to involve everybody in the decisions that are made and the and the actions that we take to deliver those key talking about them. It's not just the person. Having them there on a wall, in a poster with strap lines everywhere. It's the key talking about them and making sure with decisions that we make, that we refer back to the values and the objectives to make sure that we're keeping in line with those which we can keep challenging ourselves with as we move forward.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:29] Yeah. Yeah. It's a, there's two. So values drive decisions and therefore actions
James Appel: [00:09:33] across. Yeah. Which is important. Recruitment. If we're bringing in senior people, whoever we bring in and we've learned as well from things in the past where if people don't quite fit into the values of the business that you're working in, that it just doesn't work.
If you, if you truly believe in the values that you've set forward, you need people to come in and who believe in that? Otherwise it, the match just, it won't last. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:56] Yeah. Yeah. So, so how, how do you, how do you what sort of questions do you ask in [00:10:00] interviews then that established whether they got a
James Appel: [00:10:01] values match?
I suppose I have to say, I think even with interviews, it's really, really difficult. It's hard. I think some of the things where where it's rather than the interviews to find out where they fit, it's where you can easily see that they don't. And we thought, we thought we could try and make it work where it hasn't.
But I think we've listened. We, we speak to other partners at other practices and other people, and you can see the dark kind of direct. Of travel with, with accountancy firms at the moment, which is a lot about the people and technology. And you can, you can see if people were bought into the investment in the future and not just the investment in themselves that that should I think historically some some practices in the past, it's been very much about the, the, the, you know, the top people in the partners.
And that's, I don't think that works anymore until you have to reinvest. There's so much to get out of the people in the business that you have to
Paul Shrimpling: [00:10:51] be seen. So why don't you think it works anymore?
James Appel: [00:10:55] I think what we see now, sometimes you see lots of practices [00:11:00] that have very senior people in it, and there hasn't been much reinvestment in their practice and they have nowhere to go.
They're only, they're only answer is an exit somewhere, and sometimes that's not wholly fruitful for the people that are working. And we're really focused on trying to create a practice that is there for the people coming through to take four.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:11:19] So it sounds as though you have building continuity that that's, you've got to focus on continuity in the long-term, which is what you'd assume if you've got a half decent strategy.
But what, what does the firm do? Which demonstrates that it takes the investment in people skills, the relationships. As important as the technical skills and the technology, lots of firms are investing heavily in technology and the technical skills associated with that and the technical skills associated with audit and so on.
But it's, isn't it, the investment in the relationship skills, if you will, that actually did differentiate and determines the future success of the firm. I'm just wondering what BKL [00:12:00] are doing in that space to show that actually, we're not just talking about people development, the relationship skill development that stuff's actually yeah.
James Appel: [00:12:09] It's interesting too, because we have to think back a while. Cause the last 18 months have been a bit, a little bit of a strange period of time, but we we, we put on, we were putting on lots of, lots of workshops with role-playing companies putting all of the staff into positions and difficult, difficult conversations.
How do you deal with clients? How'd you how'd you build relationships with clients? We're using things such as the, the, the gap portal to try and help. When you go into a meeting, how do you set out the story of what you want to get out of the meeting, what the client wants to get out of the meeting?
It's not just about delivering a set of figures. It's about talking to the client about what they, what they really need and what it really means. So we're trying to instill those skills into our staff members, as well as the technical skills.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:12:50] So role play based workshops around challenging conversations with
James Appel: [00:12:54] clients.
Yeah. That's really interesting actually, because historically, you know, we've kind of done some [00:13:00] of these role playing things where you put people in a really awkward situation and they don't no one likes acting in front of a hundred people. Sure. So the way, the company that we've used actually role-played themselves.
And then you get to pull apart the things that they're doing, and that we've found that really, really beneficial. Actually it takes the awkwardness out of the the situation and you can really learn from them, someone having it up a bit and making it a little bit more exaggerated than it really is.
But you see how situation may play itself out.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:27] Oh, right. So actually not your team in the role. The actual, the organization use in the role play and then you're analyzing and picking the problems. Yeah. Does it, does it result though, in your team? Then dropping into role plays or do then they have to then use what they've the knowledge they've learned as opposed to the skill, because that's a knowledge acquisition process.
Isn't it? I
James Appel: [00:13:51] just encourage people to do the role plays in front of everybody, but maybe in smaller groups as well. So it's not quite as intimate.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:58] It is. And then you [00:14:00] go on, let's put, let's do it on camera as well. That could be was intimidating,
James Appel: [00:14:02] but let's break down exactly. How would you felt
Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:07] that that was, that was my my first role college was into a sales role in a recruitment company as it happens.
And literally the first Friday of the first week went into this training session. Oh, this will be good. And it was. On camera and it wasn't God, it was atrocious. I still have nightmares about it now. Although it did work in terms of, you know, enhancing skill that that's that that's brilliant.
So when I
James Appel: [00:14:31] say again, Jason closing, closing the
Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:33] sale. Well, yes. There's a, I think we've moved on a little bit, although that's still part of the part of the piece When when I go on the BKL website at the moment, the the headline on the home page is relationships that shaped success.
And I would just start, that's a, it's a really interesting statement and it would all it, if you'd expand on that and just let us know how that actually shows up across BKR.
[00:15:00] James Appel: [00:14:59] So I think we're always looking to try and. Our own internal relationships better than the way we deal with things better.
The sort of, as I say, the technology that we use and the the way we deal with each other and hopefully that feeds into the way that we do with our clients as well. Again creating the right conversations or trying to create the right time for the conversations in order so that you can really help your clients rather than just deliver some things.
At the end of nine months, hopefully before nine months after the end of the year, which are completely retrospective. So them, it's the whole idea of being more consultative, more advisory and less about just delivering numbers, I think.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:15:40] Yeah. Well, we're definitely on the same hymn sheet with that, but a very few firms succeed at doing that.
James Appel: [00:15:45] Jason and it's, I, I, I think it is a struggle in accountancy firms because accountants are typically people who like to get their head down and deal with it. Yeah. So the challenge is to find people who are willing or able to, to get [00:16:00] in front of people and teach the skills in order to, in order to do that.
So one of our that's one of our main focuses at the moment, or one of my main focuses in the team is to really encourage the picking up the phone rather than hiding behind emails sent pick up the pick up. Tell the client what's happening. And if there's a delay to something, pick up the phone, tell the client what's happening.
Those, those customer service touch points are what really make a difference between I think will make a huge difference between just a firm that delivers figures and someone who's really trying to have a relationship with their clients. So that's one of my, my main focuses at the minute.
Is it so
Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:36] work? So what are you doing then to what? And let's ask about that question. What have you done? That's actually worked best at encouraging your team of 50 to pick up the phone first, an email second.
James Appel: [00:16:49] Yeah. So it's, it's at the moment it's still a lot about conversations and encouragement in order to do so internal conversation, internal conversations like that.
I think that if you allow people to [00:17:00] show for themselves that these things can be. Rather than enforcing it, then that's always the best way of, of these things happening. So at the moment, we're still at the stage of encouraging people to pick up the phone at at least these certain points and see that word for themselves.
Right. We talk about technology and we talk about being able to track whether people do actually pick up the phone and do that. So we are, we are looking at systems such as carbon, which is an account of what, you know, work plan management system, which you can. Really try and monitor whether this is really happening.
I mean, not quite yet there yet with the ability to monitor and the stove aligned very much on, on, on, you know, on it.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:17:40] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I just I, I talk on stage whenever I get the chance is about hand to install the habits that will support the future success. Yeah. And because we're all predisposed the way our brains are wired.
When you look at the neuroscience deal with the fall said
[00:18:00] James Appel: [00:17:59] last year, say again, you do what the file did last year, because that's what we do.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:18:04] So there's that. So that's, that's the tool. So one of the, one of the parts of the science of habit is, is if you've got the right tool, it can on your change, the tool, it can start influencing the installation of a new habit.
The and the file last year's file is, is one of those tools find it interesting that one of the firms we work with have as when you metaphorically opened the file, the actual process for getting going that that's the opportunity to influence that. So actually the first page, which is the, you know, the job briefing.
When starting, if you can go right, do this first, do this second, do this third. And all of a sudden that acts as the trigger for the behavior change and the installation of a decent new habits revolves around the installation of the trigger that prompts the behavior. Yeah. So we can encourage the behavior, but unless we change the [00:19:00] triggers yep.
They'll all revert back to doing what they've always done. Well, not all of them, because of course your team of 50 you're encouraging them all. Yeah. Probably five of them are actually all over it. Yeah, that's right. Maybe more. I don't know. And there's five of them were absolutely, there's no way I'm doing that.
I might tell you I am, but I'm not going to because the, you know, there's that standard deviation curve around chain. So I just wonder what, what have you done and that's sorry, the carbon. Presents an opportunity to influence the trigger that then drives or prompts cues, the next behavior. Yeah. And
James Appel: [00:19:32] I've spoken to a couple of, of, of people who have tried influencing change by itself.
You know, going back cause where you have to actually report on things that aren't happening and all so that you can try and make them happen. And then after a while that report gets lower and fewer and fewer through until everybody's actually doing it, you have no need for the report anymore. Which is, yeah, I think where we're going to try and where we're trying to say.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:19:53] I, and actually, if you think of. How do you, and I know you, coach rugby as I have [00:20:00] is how do you change the behavior of the team by changing the scoring system? Okay. And so, ah, cause this is actually changing the scoring system. Can it influence people's cause that in itself acts as a trigger.
James Appel: [00:20:13] So we've talked to him, you've got a little bit of competition and little bit of comparison. Absolutely. And those types of things are always very good to encourage people to. Small more small changes in
Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:22] differences. Absolutely. As long as they're not seen as a stick to beat people with that's the, yeah, that's right.
That's the new ones, isn't it like w w we've got to, got to work on so that installing habits is change the tools that prompt different triggers, including a scoreboard. Yep. That can then drive the drive the habit.
James Appel: [00:20:39] So we get, we're getting there with the ability to be able to monitor things like that.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:42] And it's interesting. I was with Alyssa and I was with yesterday. They're just installing a CRM system spending an absolute arm and a leg installing the CRM system to ensure that everyone takes as seriously, the relationship management as they do the actual get the work done. Yeah. So we
James Appel: [00:20:59] had to get food yesterday [00:21:00] about how, how we monitoring our client care.
Lots of you never want to get to the point where, you know, the client's got such a big issue that they leave. Why do they leave? And when they do. You may not know the real reason, so we need to monitor those things all the way along. And we are installing a new CRM system in order to record client conversations and discussions in order to try and monitor it.
Right. And also maybe finding ways to have that annual conversation with finding the best way possible to say, how did we do it really? I mean, have we got time and find the plants you want to talk to us about it so we can pick up on what we can make things better. But yes, we need the, the, the ability to.
Monitor and note down those conversations. I am using a CRM system, which will again, we're
Paul Shrimpling: [00:21:44] looking at as well. Yeah. Right. Okay. Have you, have you got anywhere with sort of establishing clear expectations or goals for the number of touch points per client? Jason, are you doing anything with that? I
James Appel: [00:21:55] No. So I don't think I've established the exact number of touch points in my head. I've, I've [00:22:00] kind of got a feeling about where I'd like to get like it, to get saved at home. How that manifests itself. Yeah. In the, in the final iteration, I'm not sure, but it's right. As far as finding reasons, you need to find the reasons to touch the client.
And those needs, you know, so you're not just phoning up. And so for the sake of
Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:16] and the client feels as though you're wasting the time. If you just do that, there's gotta be some relevance and value in that conversation.
James Appel: [00:22:21] Yeah. And I think there's been a habit over the last few years of, you know, all information or information going to clients is going by email.
A bit marketing, whether it's a bit of tax legislation, legislations that's changed. And it's very easy to do, and then you can do it and feel like, or, you know, take a breath. Everybody knows about it now, which I'm not sure is exactly the case. So it's again, stepping in who should we be calling about this?
Make sure we, you such the right clients to make sure we are filling the clients in with the right information. But those are, those are good points. There's a good story. Speak to the client and pick up the phone. And that's where you get this continuous customer relationship. I had it, I've been talking about this in [00:23:00] lots of our conversations here for the last couple of months.
I had a really good car mechanic experience. Right. So I think historically I haven't had very many good car mechanic experiences that you want to send you car in. And then at some point someone will phone you up and give the, you know, the big suck in the ghost or, you know, hanging on. I mean, it's not quite as easy as I thought, so.
It's going to, we're going to need it for, and it's going to cost us this much more. But the mechanic actually phoned me, you know, the day before they're picking up my car, they phoned me to say, they've got my car. They phoned me to say, they've done an assessment of it, exactly what needed to be done when they were going to call me again to tell me if there are any problems.
And then when it finished to say that it was all done and I had maybe five phone calls over the period of two weeks, it sounds like a lot. But each with her, you know, less than 30 seconds or a minute, but I knew exactly what was going on. There was no blood. Yeah. I knew exactly what the process was. I knew exactly what the outcome was going to be all the way through it.
We recently took on a new client where there was about six. We received all the account's information. We had a meeting [00:24:00] six weeks later, which is a very, very reasonable amount of time in order to turn around the number of accounts and files that we did. And we said to the, you know, the guys at the end, How was that new to you?
How was it? And they said, well, you know what, you turned it around very quickly, but we didn't know anything that was going on from that point that you started to the point that you finished. Yeah. So what would have been good even at the end of each week or at the end of every two weeks? Just to phone us up and say, No, everything's fine.
I'm going to be sending you some queries on this, them as well. Or do you want them all in one go at the end? And at least then we would have, there would have been no black hole. We had known exactly where we are, but there was no issue with what had been done really, but just increasing that correspondence, that's sort of made the whole thing even better.
So I learned from very close together, both of those experiences. So that's kind of where we want to. So you
Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:51] switched towards using that story a lot with your team then at the moment? Yes. Brilliant, brilliant. So what something in there which stands out for [00:25:00] me and it's yes, it's the touch points, but what you mechanic seems to have done very well was actually map out the pathway.
Yeah, that's right. Future points of contact so that it wasn't a surprise when that's the another call came in. And it's that. And it's what's and, and I've come across this with at, you know, how do you ensure you keep really good people in your firm? Are you, they don't, they don't go off to another corporate finance firms that's or wherever they go.
Well, if you can map out 18 months, 24 months or beyond, which is approximately forecasting where they're going on, the pathway they're on the chances are you'll increase the level of certainty that the stay with you. Yep. And if you do the same with clients, therefore it follows doesn't it, that you'll also increase the certainty and confidence of them staying with you because they can see what's about to happen.
James Appel: [00:25:50] absolutely agree. You know, when you receive the records, a phone call to say, we plan to start on this date. It might not be as soon as you, like, if you want it done sooner, let us know, [00:26:00] and we can try and arrange something. Otherwise these that they. Next big contact on the thing. Absolutely agree.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:26:06] Yeah.
And it's so it's, I, I just think that the magic in that word pathway, you know, how clear is the pathway for every client prospect onboarding longstanding client doesn't matter. And if you haven't got clarity around that pathway, which is where CRM is, can make and help, you know, internally communicate that so that when someone's on a phone that can tell you right, the next date is yeah.
And it's creating a language. So it may be that you investigate this state and if you haven't already, and then you can tell me if you have, but it's what language habits do you install? And, and one of the strongest in terms of leading and managing change is like the next step is, yeah. So we want to be able to hear across your whole team of 50 is the next step is when they're on a phone to a client, we deal with what we've got to deal with.
And then the next step is yep. And then all of a sudden you're embedding that pathway culture.
James Appel: [00:26:57] Isn't exactly for us as well, you know? [00:27:00] And for all accounts, the firms that we've used or most accounts for that you see. So it's the getting to the end of the job and realizing you've, there's been the scope creep in there.
Because you just get on with the work, you have your head down and you get on with the work and you deliver at the end. But if, if there's a touch point in the middle where you can say, well, no, actually what we agreed was, and this isn't quite right. Then again, you don't have to have the discussion later on.
You can deal with it. You know, while the process is going ahead It's just, it's just good for client
Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:27] relationships all the way through, but it is undefeated. Either reduces the scope creep or you get paid for escape creepy there's those financial wins as well. Isn't it? Yeah. So, so leading and managing a team of 50 people and Jason, what, what what one aspect of that drives you nuts?
James Appel: [00:27:44] Problems, not solutions I think is probably the key is probably, I think people tend to do that when it's very busy, very stressful. You know, they, their line managers or supervisors or seniors with this, isn't working, this isn't working and without going, oh, hang on. Why isn't it working? What do I [00:28:00] need?
How can I solve it? Which is, which is which the person can always solve it much better than I can because they, they will know the intricacies of it. So let's just step back and think about it. So that's the frustrating part. We've done a lot of work with the team over the last 18 months. So we used to have just one big account.
See where resources were shared across everybody. And it was, it was very, a bit, bit of a struggle to sometimes keep everybody happy and, and resourced in the right place. And we've broken the team down into a number of smaller players. So allowing like the pod manager to have responsibility for a group of people from, you know, accounts, production all the way through to bookkeeping and VAT which allows their resourcing requirements to be much more visible for them.
It's more transparent, more transparent for them, and they can have much more focus on the people within their pod to enable them to train them up and give them the right sort of experience, much more focused. One of the challenges was to You know, train the junior members of staff in the right way and changing [00:29:00] across seniors and supervisors.
They didn't feel they were getting that really focused experience. So this is proving to be really valuable for the, for the junior members. Who've got one person to give them feedback. They can then follow on on the feedback and enables also the managers to manage their their team in a much more focused way.
Yeah. So they are able to deal a lot more on a granular basis with their problems and issues as they come up, which has really helped actually. Right. It doesn't mean we still don't get problems and she's keeping current, we asked them more and more to, if you can focus on what's going on in your team that's really helped.
But as I say, the frustration is, is problems, not solutions most of the time.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:29:37] Yeah. So how many people in the past. Jason
James Appel: [00:29:41] and five or six, I think in each one, maybe a bit more, maybe some, a bit bigger than others, I think six or seven points. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:29:47] Right. Okay. And, and, and how do you deter, I'm curious now in terms of client portfolios, do they, it's a client portfolio driven
James Appel: [00:29:56] part.
So we've quietly we've, we've got a financial service pod, [00:30:00] fin pod
Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:03] financial services,
James Appel: [00:30:04] your Finn, Finn fit. They call themselves. Then pod, we've got prop pod, which is more property focused. Right. We have a we have a pod that deals with smaller businesses, which are more FRS, 1 0 5 kind of businesses and consultancies.
Which just kind of manage that within the airport. We have a couple of pods that report into one or two partners, which really helps them so different reasons for different pods, but hopefully all satisfying a need for, for each of them better than they were. Cool.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:34] And how long have they been running?
Probably about a year now. Right. Okay. Okay. And have you got any sense in terms of I get the fact that the more focused, yes, it's clear and obvious and more transparent in terms of what's going on. You've got better. What issues are you having? Well, I'm getting there, but I'm just, just see whether the actual performance in terms of the output per person is improved in any way, whether the hard numbers have [00:31:00] improved because you've shifted from this, you know, morass of 50 to a
James Appel: [00:31:03] series of parts.
So I think. It's quite difficult to say. I'm not sure we, and it's a, you know, it's a, it's a failing that we have are able to wholly report on that, to be honest with you. Right. I think it certainly helped whilst we were all at home last year and enabled this pods to work and focus on, on what they were doing and what their challenges were whilst not being in the office.
And that really, really helped. What we're trying to do is get away from, and I think this will get away from the time sheet. Get away eventually it's like, this is like the holy grail. So if each pod can understand what their costs are, which should we have. Yeah. And we know what their turnover is, which we're trying to get to, then you should understand if each pod is profitable or not.
And that's, that's, that's where we're trying to move too slowly, but we is the ultimate aim. So at that point, I can tell you whether whether they're they're working in a truly like, okay. Yeah. And that's where we can also bring in some [00:32:00] more. You know, comparisons and challenges and competition, just to see who's working most efficient.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:32:06] Well, one of the numbers that we look for when we're working with firms is fees per full-time equivalent. Okay. And so if you look at that you can look at the fifth. People 18 months ago and looking at, you know, Q2 figures. So, you know what the, the, the cost of all your people are. So that's relatively easy, but you can also, if you can clearly identify the fees associated with the 15 and then you can then do it to the prompts and it's, it's actually a relatively simple.
Of just giving you an overview number, doesn't necessarily signpost the actions you need to take in order to improve the numbers, but it gives you a starting point for that conversation. And also if you have got the positive, they also create some interesting conflict conversations because some parts are going to have a different FTA, but then the others, partly because of the nature of the work, but it might be partly because we've got better pricing processes for the That client is weaker than [00:33:00] we had before.
And so it really helps signposting some of those things. And it's a good overview. But this problem is not the solution. If you come across what's it called? There's a, there's a brilliant book called turn your ship around. Does that mean anything to you? Okay. I'll send you if you, if you read Jason now, if you go.
Yes, I do report. I'll send you a copy. All right. It's a one it's only a little thin book, but it's about the. Worst performing submarine in the us Navy. Right. And the book starts with this this guy gets promoted to captain and so he got to his senior office goes on and you've been promoted to captain.
You had ah, great. And you've been giving the worst submarine, worst performing submarine in the U S Navy staff who wants that job then. But within six months it becomes the best performing submarine in the U S. Right. And it's like, wow, what's that all about? And he he, he, he breaks loads of rules.
Right? So within the, you know, cause it's command and control, isn't it? In the, in the, in the, in the [00:34:00] forces. Yeah. He moved from command and control to a place of what he calls intent. So, so it's one thing to pursue solutions, but actually what language pattern do you put in place? And he puts a language pattern in, even when they're under the most stressful situations, are you, you know, there's war games going on and what have you people have, and he creates this.
I intend to. Yep. And so this language habit shows up all over the ship, all levels I intend to and then can see the decision making of the manager is yeah, that's, that's Bob on crack on. And if it's not, then the can intervene as there's a brilliant, brilliant insight. I'll send you a copy. It's really interesting reading its own.
Right. But it's that I intend to actually the language pattern facilitates that problems to solutions. You started this, the podcast today talking about cultural differences between the, from you had a holiday Inn and the coming back to the serious work. It's that culture is is made up by all those little [00:35:00] habits that take place.
One of the most important habits to manage is the language patterns, which has been booked. Thank you for today, Jason. Cause it's a long time since I was visited, visited the importance of language patterns. It's, it's just phrases that show up, you know, every day across the firm. So, you know, you can get your team to, I intend to,
James Appel: [00:35:20] okay.
It's 11, Samson's had their little, few problems last year. Of course I was always very taken in by their exactly what you're saying. That, that, that the, the words and phrases that, yeah. In order to achieve their goals, we're very, very much on those keeping using the same phrases all the time. Very deliberate, very deliberate.
It's it's a million, you know, you don't say you're going to be champions, but you use these, you know, this, this, these systems, these words, and if we can add all these things, The result will be. Yeah. You know, and it was always things like, you know, the things that people don't see, if you can do that work and everything else will fall out if it was.
Yeah. But yeah, they've had I think they've deviated a little bit from all of that, [00:36:00] but
Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:01] yeah. Yeah. W you know, that, that they have had some challenges, but anyway, again, next season will be very interesting when they're back in the premiership. Yeah.
James Appel: [00:36:08] And that's, I agree with all of that, it's saying the right things, but you have to, it's not just saying them.
You have to, you have to do them yourself. Any. You have to live what you're saying. So now
Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:17] you took about leading by example, as I said, which is very much part of, it sounds that it's part of your culture, for sure. Yes. But yes. Pods, what issues have you had in and around shifting from one style of working and organizing to the new one?
What, where are the
James Appel: [00:36:32] challenges been? Yeah, so I think the main challenges have been resourcing. I think people were more used to sharing. And I think people who got into a kind of now we're going to cause the silos. Frame of mind where this is mine. And even if they're working on something that isn't as urgent as another part is working on this, this is my resource.
So it breaking down that more recently when workers. Well, we've been much busier and that's become much more apparent than
Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:56] so yeah. Is this a case of, you've got one pod that's really busy and one [00:37:00] pod that isn't. And so we've got to take some work from there and put it over there so we can get, keep the turnaround.
James Appel: [00:37:03] And we used to have, you know, resource new things across the whole team because it was all one team, but now the resource meetings that read in silos, right. So we've had to bring all that back together and just remind ourselves that we are ultimately one team and not just a series of little teams.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:19] And these are. Yes, these a house. I just, yes. Yeah, these are Kayla's clients. They're not the pond's clients. So how, how has the T what have you done in order to facilitate that? What, what, what actual actions have you taken to ensure that they start to see themselves again as one team, even though they are working here.
James Appel: [00:37:36] Yeah. Constant reminders, I think more recently it got quite pressurized in the last few weeks for like a couple of teams in pods in particular. And it's, it's in our weekly sort of managers catch ups and meetings and returning much more to the resourcing side of things where we were trying to deal over the last couple of sort of months more with a strategy of the team, but then going back to the fundamentals.
Or [00:38:00] resourcing, which is the core to how we have to get things done. And we just have to remind ourselves sometimes. Yeah, yeah,
Paul Shrimpling: [00:38:05] yeah. But again, cause I was in this workshop yesterday with these 21 accountants, it was interesting to hear how vital that almost over communication is. It's not just communicating message.
It's over-communicated almost till your horse and you just keep it, whether it be on values, whether it be. Pods. And we're a bigger team. It's, you know, one of the core messages is interesting. This sounds like what Saracens are doing is they over-communicate, you know, a few language pieces that underpin the culture of the the
James Appel: [00:38:35] team.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, listen, we don't want to sound like I'm someone being interviewed at the end of a sports match and they just reel off the, you know, the standard phrases, but, you know, we are trying to filter them down as much as we can, but on the whole, I think they've been a real success and I think the.
It has empowered a couple of managers within, within the group. And they feel, you know, have much more responsibility now to look after their team [00:39:00] than they ever felt before. And I think it's, it's been been a success so far, obviously will still have its challenges and I'll speak to one of my colleagues is been in the counseling.
1989 and he'll tell me he's been there, seen it, done it, and he's seen all this done and it's, then it's changed back to that. And it's just so he's convinced we'll move to something else in five years time, but at the moment we're on the right path. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:39:21] And so that, so that piece is that, is that you, do you take credit for that initiative or does it come from elsewhere in the firm?
Where does, where was the source of this.
James Appel: [00:39:30] I think it's a discussion between myself and our managing partner Libra. Right. Just constantly talking about how things we can do things better. Right. I think between us and the executives, we came up with this this way of dealing with things. And did
Paul Shrimpling: [00:39:43] you did you go right?
We're going from 50 to this whole big set of pods or did you just try one pod to prototype the system? How did, how did you actually, it.
James Appel: [00:39:53] No. So we we, we had quite a big lead into it to try and work out who would go where, but there was a a [00:40:00] tipping point where we said, everybody's now working with impulse.
It did take time for that and the work tools start to filter into the right place. And we still haven't moved all of the bookkeeping and VAT work into those pods. Exactly, but that that'll take a bit more time, right. But yeah, it was a, it was a kickoff. This is your team. This is your responsibility.
You can now have full use of these people. So, no, we didn't, we didn't do one part at a time for this and other projects we're working on at the moment are we are using pods too. So with carbon, for instance, we're using one pod to work and prototype it brilliant month before we lead into it. Yeah, but
Paul Shrimpling: [00:40:39] you know what?
The firm we were with yesterday, the high growth firms I was talking about earlier they they've done the same and they use, they use a pot to prototype, test something before rolling it out to there's another, another advantage to that. So we speak
James Appel: [00:40:51] we've had over the last, when Duncan started or an it director or comment where he calls himself CIO [00:41:00] the we've we've had so many projects in the past that we've started it projects.
Haven't worked as successfully as we did, like we would have liked. But he's brought a completely revolutionary approach to these things. And for him, it's just what you do, because this is how you implement big tech projects, but it's making sure it's ready to go when it's ready to go. And you know with much more confidence when we roll things out, now that things are going to work rather than in the past where things maybe have worked 70% people get really annoyed and then you'd roll it back a bit.
And then maybe it doesn't work. Yeah, he's been a huge help for this.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:41:35] So what, what, what do you think is the key elements? One, two or three elements that ensure that it works the way you have it.
James Appel: [00:41:42] You just want to find out what are the problems before you start? So with teams, for instance, which we brought in just before lockdown, it was finally released to the whole business just before lockdown.
We, it wasn't by design. It was completely by luck, but it consequently made our lives much easier. Yeah. [00:42:00] But there was so much work done on, you know, rolling out slowly to make sure that we pick up the glitches and understand what we're using it for this its purposes for this, not what you think it is.
This is what we're going to use it for. And this is how we're going to test it. So by the time it was rolled out, Yeah, it was an undoubted success straight away.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:42:19] So there's that clarity of purpose. Why we using it? What we're using it for and then time and effort into anticipate the challenges and difficulties and problems.
Yeah, absolutely. In a slow rollout or they encapsulated the three things.
James Appel: [00:42:32] Yeah. I think that's absolutely the case with teams, for sure. That's how it worked and it's been a very, very basic yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:42:37] Yeah. Fab fab. So. We're recording this halfway through 21. Jason, if there's one key opportunity or key challenge, you're looking at over the next six months to take us to the end of 21.
What, what, what is it for you and your team?
James Appel: [00:42:53] It is going to be office or not office, I think rising. I think it's [00:43:00] completely,
Paul Shrimpling: [00:43:00] it sounds a bit black and white that Jason is
James Appel: [00:43:02] well it's clearly not, is it? I mean, I know. We're just not sure we've got these lovely new offices. We also started a refurb completely not planned in February, just before a lockdown started.
So the benefit of that was that we managed to refer the whole office really quickly. But the, the, the downside is that we've had these lovely new offices for only with a third of the people in the merger time, which is a real shame. Right. So the challenge is. Understanding how we can work differently now.
We've, we've had a whole year of working at home. We understand the challenges of working at home. We understand the challenges of training people. We understand the challenges of bringing people through. Can we do it better remotely or do we actually need people in the office in order to train them and make them better people for us?
Hmm. The traditional view is that we need people in the room. And that's the way that all of promotion and all training has always happened. I'm sure that will change at the moment. We're not sure, quite sure the tools are there to enable that, to be done any other way who can work [00:44:00] remotely?
Who's in whose power should it be that remote working is, is undertaken. Is it still, is it still when you speak to you see some press releases coming out saying you never have to come into the office again. Organization saying, well, we want you back in the office or we're going to pay you less. I think it's really tough to see which way it's going to fall.
I think that's going to be our our challenges, making sure that people are working the way they want to work, but also we need to be regarded. We need to be getting the best out of people at the same time as well. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:44:28] And it's that it's that what's in the best interest of the individual what's in the best interest of the clients.
Yep. And what's in the best interest overall. The firm as well. And it, it's just a hard juggle
James Appel: [00:44:38] that isn't, it is, it's a really tough juggle. I think we've, we've, you know, we've realized some people can work absolutely brilliantly from remotely. It makes, it makes not a lot of difference. But if you want to, the challenges for people who want to progress and we want to move on and we want to learn that you're not only need people to learn from.
To be in contact with you that you, you know, you need to be [00:45:00] work traditionally, you need to be in front of the middle of the, to pick up those pearls of wisdom.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:45:04] Absolutely. I was with a firm earlier on this week and they've got five, this team's got five juniors in it. And two of them have been mostly in the office most of the time during the last 12 months or so.
The other three have been mostly at home. And what's crystal clear is the two that had been in the office. Their skill, knowledge, and skills have essentially surpassed significantly surpass. Yeah. The ones that have been working remotely, even though, you know, the nature of the works, the same, it's just the interaction with because one of the partners is, is mostly been in the office as well, just because, you know, being pulled
James Appel: [00:45:39] into a meeting, come in and just listen to this, or, yeah.
Those interruptions that aren't organized.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:45:48] Yeah. That spur of the moment stuff, which is it's usually valuable, which is that what's the word I'm looking for? It's the what's another word for spur of the moment. Jason, it is spontaneous. It's spontaneous. [00:46:00] We know I was I was in a conversation with When my four children were all under 10 and Kate now we're going to my wife, Kate and I work.
It's like, well, we don't get any time for ourselves. Just, you know, you would make us with, you know, rugby swimming band, you know, it's all, all of that's going on. It's just, there's just no task that right. We're going to have to have a weekend away just. And spontaneity spontaneous less. Right? And it's like, how are you going to do that with all kids?
That's just never going to happen. And I was in a conversation like this with someone he says, well, if you want to do something spontaneously, just plan it in. I, you to do that and said, look, just, don't tell him. Planet in an organized where the kid's going and who's doing what, so she's no idea and you'll end up being like the ultimate hero.
And did it a couple of times. I can't have just, you know, at the brownie points for that process, it was brilliant. Casey, is that, how do we plan in the spontaneity in the, in the world we now live in it's. I think it's a really, really healthy. And I think it comes [00:47:00] back to your piece earlier, Jason, about what do we do with the CRM CRM in order to ensure that we planning the client REL relevant, valuable client contact.
And if you, if you are, if you create that pathway, which we talked about earlier as well, then what happens is you can coordinate people's diaries. So it's no longer spontaneous. But it does happen. And it's that it's starting from the client's pathway. Working backwards can potentially facilitate that, I guess.
James Appel: [00:47:28] Interesting. You know, we talk sometimes about these things and some of the senior partners will be, we'll say, well, that's things we do. We, I think that I do, I do anyway. Which is great. And then that's why you're a senior partner, frankly. It's because, you know, you have the ability to organize yourself and also make these client contacts.
But we need to encourage, yes, most people don't, but we want to make them make sure that they. So you can't, you can't just rely on the fact that you did it anyway to make
Paul Shrimpling: [00:47:54] it yeah, but that's yeah, that's the difference. Isn't it. Between having a people dependent business model and a process [00:48:00] dependent business model with the client focus and the cultural wins that you want for.
BKL and actually we've got no choice. If, if this trend is from partner led to team lead. Yeah. It's got to be process driven and which is why the technology is vital, but also those trigger points in the habits that revolve around those areas. So we
James Appel: [00:48:20] talked about freed up that freeing up the senior people's time in order to do the things they want to do, or, Hey, here you go.
This is the way
Paul Shrimpling: [00:48:26] absolutely great sales pitch, DAC sales, but it's true. It's true. It's true. So last, last question of everything we've covered on this list. I'm just wondering what what's what's made you think the most, or what do you think has been of most value that might trigger you to do something different or better within bait BK?
James Appel: [00:48:47] that stuck with me is actually one of the things we said at the beginning, and I've just picked up on, which is this firm who have enabled or managed to push down the work to the, to the, to the people who you feel like should be doing it, which has then enabled this business [00:49:00] to undertake the growth, that growth that it is.
And then also do that. You have to, we had it in a previous strategy document and the right work, the right work by the right people in the right place. And I think that's, that's the focus. If you can push that down using the right technology and the right methods, you free people up to do that.
Yeah. Yeah. But,
Paul Shrimpling: [00:49:22] and, and again, just to revert back to that the, the discussion yesterday with this high growth firm, the only conclusion we could reach in the two hour discussion we had with them was capacity, first growth. Okay. So if you want to cascade work to a, you know, a less senior team member, but they're already busy.
Yeah. Before we cascade anything to them, we've got to work at and help them cascade something away before we give them this high value work, which then frees you up. But clearly this fast-growth firms has been brilliant at doing. Beat on the grounds that it's with their pod system they've used that as one of the mechanisms for, for increasing [00:50:00] capacity and therefore increasing growth.
And by the way, and it sounds as though you're there too is create this career progression because there's the pods and then there's, witnesses' progression within the pod and then there's progression beyond the pod. And, and so they've got around all the people they really care about, which in this film seems to be most of them, this pathway laid out.
For their careers and an only very rarely does someone move on. And when they do, they typically move out of the profession. So Jason has been brilliant to conversation, really appreciate your taking time out and and sharing some insights into what you've been doing, what the firm's been doing and how it's been working with you.
Thank you very, very much. Thank you very
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Business Breakthrough Report
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Turn The Ship Around
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