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November 10, 2021

Beyond Efficiency: Prioritizing Effectiveness In Workflow Design

Richard Roppa-Roberts

The fintech landscape is only growing - and fast. The competition now is often centered around workflow efficiency and effectiveness. 

What we haven't really been asking enough is should efficiency be the whole picture? Should this be the metric upon which workflow offerings are judged? And should you, as an accounting professional using workflows and the apps that facilitate them, actually care? Or can we all just chalk it up to theoretical distinctions without any practical differences. I mean, when it comes down to paying your clients’ bills, is the philosophy behind your software really relevant?

Call me a starry eyed optimist, but I vote “YES,” as in ‘Yes, you should care.’ In fact, I think having a truly remarkable working life depends upon it. Here’s why.

1. Efficiency vs Effectiveness 

Efficient: adj  performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry; competent; capable

Effective: adj  adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result

Why does the distinction matter? In the case of workflows, it matters a lot! Efficient workflows are optimized for those performing the workflows. Effective workflows are judged on results.

2. What do clients want? 

To be blunt, for the most part, your clients are all about the effectiveness. They don’t care about your experiences when you are using your internal workflows. They are much more interested in their experiences in your workflows. More particularly, they are most interested in whether or not those workflows actually, well, work!

How do clients judge? They judge the results. In other words, are they getting the answers they need, when they need them?

Clients want to feel taken care of. They want to trust that you have things handled. They look to you to take on their worries and priorities, so they can essentially forget about you and their worries until you tell them to pay attention.

So while clients might care about their own tasks in your firm’s workflows, they don’t care holistically about the back-office work - they ultimately just want things to work. Ask yourself, do you honestly care how easy or hard it is for the kitchen to make the fries you just ordered? Or do you only really care if you get what you ordered and that it’s delicious?

3. What Have We Prioritized?

In all of our talk about building firms, finding niche client bases, and basically getting better at what we do, we’ve depended a lot on processes and automations to be the gateway.

And it's true -- in general, automations and workflows free up time and mental energy. But, have we prioritized our reasons for adding these automations and workflows to our client’s workstreams? 

Legacy softwares approached automation and workflows with a “one-size fits all” approach. Approval flows were built to be easy to manage by the firm, not based on an individual client’s needs. This was based on the assumption that customizations = bottlenecks. And, personal experience = bottlenecks. 

The problem in this view of automation is it assumes two drastic viewpoints: your firm either customizes everything or nothing at all. For your clients, this leaves out room for effectiveness in their advisory and bookkeeping strategies. 

If firms move towards the understanding that we can customize our automation and workflows process while standardizing the client’s outputs, we can ensure firm efficiency isn’t valued over the effectiveness for the client. 

Effectiveness isn’t the enemy of efficiency. If a customized approach gives better, more tailored results for your clients this should be a consideration in the approach you take. Our client’s needs are niche and dynamic, so why are we trying to give a generic approval process to each one? 

4. Where Did We Lose Track?

Apps originally provided automations with structures that suggested general workflows, and operated on truly standard practices. Basically, they automated the repetitive boring stuff. Which was, and is, fantastic. 

But as the drive for automation continued, we’ve begun to seek automations with ‘best’ practices hard wired inside them. And then ‘standard’ practices for particular niches. And then the most ‘efficient’ practices if you have ‘good processes’ in your firm. And then the most ‘efficient’ practices provided you have ‘good boundaries’ with your clients.

And suddenly we are building practices and workflows around our tech, rather than around our clients needs.

I propose we get back on track when it comes to introducing new tech to our clients. Moving forward, when you add a new app to your tech stack, look at what real change you can make for your client. Once you’ve evaluated the solution look to that app partner as an advisor, not a rule book of how automation must happen. 

A good app solves a problem for your clients. A great app allows you to solve a problem in the way that works best for you and your clients. 

Reclaiming Effectiveness as the Standard

What if instead of looking at how efficient our workflows are, we instead looked to see whether or not any of these efficient practices are still answering a critical question or filling a legitimate need? 

We might find that most of what we are doing is simply BEGGING our staff and our clients to just fall in line. That we spend a lot of time trying to convince them to see things a certain way, so that certain efficiently produced results can be seen as the right and important results. So then we all can continue to ‘benefit’ from optimized and automated workflows.

Which of course sounds ridiculous when it’s boiled down like this. 

But, the reality is, we have become very dependent upon being very efficient. And it works, so long as everyone is scared enough of breaking the system that nobody up and decides they want to do business in a way that might cause them to expect some better results.

Asking A Better Question

Prioritizing effectiveness doesn’t mean throwing efficiency out. It means thinking differently before the workflows and automations are even built.

Bill pay is actually a great example: when these automations allow for diversity, they end up being more effective. Which ultimately makes them more efficient at delivering the results that matter most.

The main problem is how can we SCALE the CUSTOMIZED? Or rather, how can we find efficient and effective ways to do the following:

  1. Systemize the questions rather than the answers
  2. Reframe recurring “exceptions” as what they are - naturally occurring categories.
  3. Make a habit of cataloguing "outlier" needs across clients.
  4. Choose software that allows for complexity in these areas.

A client might have some vendors who need to be paid right away, others who need to be paid only after terms are exhausted, others who cannot be paid without complex approvals, and still others who are not to be paid at all if they come calling. 

So it's not just about the workflows. It's about a system to even get things into the right workflow!

Corpay One - An Effective Bill Pay Solution

The workflow capability inside of Corpay One is a truly elegant return to effectiveness. 

Client Specific Workflows: Not only can workflows be automated inside the app, but those workflows can be different for each client.

Condition Specific Workflows: Automate how information is processed inside the app, even down to identifying and treating different categories of data differently.

Reclaiming the Complexity from Clients: Because the app can effectively sort and then process, outcomes depend less upon your clients mastery. Which means less oversight and training by you, and a less stressful experience for them.

Reclaiming Your Status as Expert: Corpay One Allows you to build each workflow for each use case for each client. This means you do what you do best - translate your client’s concerns into EFFECTIVE workflows. Instead of prescribing automations they assume will serve you best, Corpay One provides a platform that allows you to actually deliver what is best. And to do it efficiently!

At the end of the day, I love where Corpay One has taken things. But even more selfishly, I truly hope that the experience of using such a bill pay platform will begin a seachange in what our community expects going forward -- both from automations, and ourselves...

It would be great to see us all using workflows as a way to connect with clients and free up time to be present in our work once again.

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