You might say I’m a little bit of a Chupacabra. I joined Baker Tilly in 2001. It was a long time ago; the organization was much smaller. Back then, we were a 400-person firm based in regional Wisconsin with one outside office in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Today, things look a little different. We have over 6,300 employees working in seventy offices across seventeen time zones. At $1.2 billion in revenue, we’ve grown slightly since I first arrived on the scene as Chief Information Officer. I like to think I’ve worked for five different companies over the past twenty years, but they’re all called Baker Tilly! As the company evolved, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more and more without changing jobs.
I’ve realized over my career that people – and Chief Information Officers, specifically – tend to focus too heavily on significant, sweeping, transformative changes. I’m here to suggest there’s a better approach.
Overvaluing the Big Initiatives
The general public loves a transformation story. We care about disruption. Think about all the technology superstars that make the news – Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb, Uber. What do they have in common? They transformed the industry. They took a novel approach to a common problem. They got our attention.
Now, I’m not here to say those stories aren’t outstanding and worthy of attention – they are. But they’re not the only thing worthy of our attention.
I once heard a great speaker, Daniel Pink, share that we overvalue large accomplishments and undervalue everyday work. I think that’s incredibly accurate. Take another example – every sports metaphor is about the “big win.” A home run. A slam dunk. A one-play touchdown. Those are exciting, celebratory things. But, regardless of how you get the touchdown, whether one play or ten, the goal at the end is making sure you get that touchdown.
Similarly, we must stop overvaluing the major transformations and start shifting our perspective towards incremental wins.
Finding Incremental Success
At Baker Tilly, I like to highlight an approach I call “relentless incrementalism.” This process is all about looking for little wins and celebrating both the big and the small successes.
When you overvalue the big, you undervalue the small. One of the best ways I’ve found to start getting some more minor yet highly impactful wins is by asking a very simple question: “What do you think is weird?”
Anytime you can ask someone in the organization what they notice is odd, you will be pleased with the answer. More often than not, we can’t explain why we’re doing specific tasks. It’s usually a legacy habit that we can improve.
In a real-world example, after asking one of our newer associates what they found weird about the organization, they shared that it took a long time to create new sites. Every time we interact with a new client, we need to develop a place for the teams to collaborate and share critical documents. This process is manual – we need to provision users, and it just takes time. But, should it?
We realized we could create an automation to provision sites more easily. Now, all it takes is to send a simple email, and within fifteen minutes, the new site is up and running. This automation is an example of one of our most successful digital workers! It saves us a quarter-million dollars every year – an incredible example of a small, incremental change with a big, compounding payoff.
People often forget the value of one-off automation, as well. Another excellent example of an incremental win is our integration activity. We recently wrote an automation that helped migrate information from one platform to another. Typically, this work would take a team up to nine months. Our bot handled it all in one weekend. We wrote the automation, ran it, and never used it again. But! It saved us $1.1 million in tax labor.
Running an automation only once is worth it, but we might miss out on valuable opportunities if we focus too heavily on “the big.”
Incorporating Relentless Incrementalism
Realistically, I learned everything I needed to know in kindergarten. Relentless incrementalism encapsulates the lesson from the parable of the tortoise and the hare. We all remember who won the race, right?
In all seriousness, I have three pieces of advice to share with those looking to focus on both the big initiatives and the incremental ones. The first thing I learned is not to split your resources. By this, I mean don’t ask one person on the team to split their time across multiple projects. Instead, you should end up with a few groups working on different things – some bigger, some smaller. A few groups will work on the weird things, fix them, and then move on to the next.
The second piece of advice is to pay close attention to communication. If you’re only sending out congratulatory emails to those who accomplished a big launch, your entire team will want to work on the things that get attention. Celebrate all wins.
Finally, as a leader, make sure you divide your time equally. Don’t just attend the meetings on the big projects – make sure you have visibility into the discussions on the weird ones, too. Being present and showing up makes all the difference.
Ultimately, people tend to like “or” when they should select “and.” I can assure you that you will never regret incorporating the significant and the incremental initiatives into your technology portfolio. Gaining quick wins, making compounding progress, and fixing weird things will help bolster the organization’s success. Again, what matters is getting the touchdown – not how many plays it took to get there.
ABOUT BAKER TILLY
Baker Tilly US, LLP (Baker Tilly) is a leading advisory CPA firm, providing clients with a genuine coast-to-coast and global advantage in major regions of the U.S. and in many of the world’s leading financial centers – New York, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Baker Tilly is an independent member of Baker Tilly International, a worldwide network of independent accounting and business advisory firms in 148 territories, with 38,000 professionals, and a combined worldwide revenue of $4.3 billion.