Take Back Your 128!
by: Matt Nettles
There are 168 hours in a week and we want only 40 of them to be spent in the office. In any industry that has seasonal or deadline driven work, this concept sounds nice – but unrealistic. hb&k has been developing a process to make a 40 hour work week year-round a real possibility.
Anyone who knows Dennis Sherrin, our Managing Shareholder, knows he is a visionary. He is continuously challenging the way we think, the way we do things, and the services we provide to push hb&k to stay current in an ever-evolving industry.
Not long after completing our 2nd Lean Six Sigma project which focused on improving our entity-tax process in the summer of 2013, Dennis presented the idea of working a 40 hour work week….year around. I remember chuckling to myself and thinking “Yeah, right” and, trust me, I wasn’t the only one in the room thinking that.
Fast-forward to May of 2015. We had been through two more busy seasons (January –April). I had worked more overtime than I’d like to disclose and know many others who worked much more than I did. Dennis continuously brought up his vision with Project 40 and was asking for volunteers to start a task force. From there, Project 40 was born!
What is Project 40?
The initial thought process behind Project 40 was to eliminate overtime and create a 40 hour work week no matter the time of the year. While a 40 hour work week remains a key component of where we want to be, it is only a piece of the puzzle. In 2 years, we have quickly learned that Project 40 is about looking beyond our norm and pushing the limit to make a new approach work. Our initial goal was to complete the same (or more) amount of work, with the same high quality, just in less time.
Project 40 is a win-win situation for the client, employees & firm:
Doesn’t working less prevent employees from getting crucial deadline work done on time? Absolutely not! Decreasing overtime means employees have a better chance of coming into work feeling rested, focused and fulfilled, which means increased quality of work produced. Improving employee morale leads to better staff retention, and allows the firm to keep employees with knowledge and experience to better serve our clients. Decreasing the number of hours an employee is in the office challenges them to remain focused through the 8 hour work-day to work efficiently and effectively. (Read more about how clients benefit from P40 here.)
From an outside perspective it is easiest to see how Project 40 is beneficial to the employee. A 40 hour work week, year-round? Definitely an employee benefit! More time with our families? Absolutely! That’s why our initial campaign posed the question, “What will you do with your 128?” We challenged our employees to remember that there are 168 hours in a week and we only want 40 of them to be spent in the office. A decrease in time spent at work improves morale, employee performance, and client service.
So, where does the firm benefit? Isn’t the implementation of Project 40 costly? Doesn’t it take time away from client work? In the short-term, yes. However, in the long-term, hb&k will benefit from increased morale, high employee retention, better client service offered, and improved knowledge and expertise.
How are we doing it?
We created a task force with representation from each office, department, and all experience levels. The task force’s initial focus was on one area – busy season (January – April). 70% of the firm’s annual overtime came from this 4 month window. In two years, hb&k has decreased overtime in busy season by roughly 40%, or roughly 2,650 hours while delivering more services. That is 66 40 hour work weeks! We contribute this success to many internal initiatives including the following:
- Tracking progress throughout the season
- Creating initiatives to increase focus time
- Finding ways to communicate more efficiently and effectively
- Practice of Leadership and Followership
- Committing to a one-firm process, and sticking to it.
- Utilizing technology to level-load work across all offices
- Bringing on qualified seasonal staff
- Setting deadlines for client information to be brought in
- Completing a Lean Six Sigma program on each major process we have
- Creating flex time for employees, so that they can work when most productive
- Outsourcing work
Public accounting has forever been known as an industry that works a tremendous number of hours with demanding deadlines. Our biggest challenge is convincing our team that we can decrease overtime all while providing the same, if not better, client service. With true buy-in and culture shift the opportunities under Project 40 are unmeasurable!
The truth is, Project 40 is not just applicable to a CPA firm. This concept is can be applied to any industry who experiences seasonality within the year. If you are interested in how Project 40 can work for your company, please, give us a call. We’d love to help guide you in this process!