Lewis & Lewis, P. C. is a small, Jackson-based accounting firm that employs thirty-five people and was founded by Phil Willis in 1968. It exhibits many interesting aspects of organizational behavior, which we will examine below from several perspectives. After examining the company’s current policies and practices, we will evaluate its status in the transition from the “old” to the “new” model of organization, and recommend some changes that may improve the way Lewis & Lewis operates.
From a Strategic Perspective Physical Description Lewis & Lewis, P. C. s located in a quiet suburb of Jackson, Michigan. It is a forty-five minute drive from Lansing. The two-storied building is built on a slightly elevated hill with spacious parking lots in the back and to one side. The outer walls are of a pleasant beige brick which is in keeping with the calm atmosphere of the community and of the landscape. Right in front of the building there are columns and the large main entrance is toward the rear off the parking lot. The appearance of the building is well harmonized with the surroundings. However, it gives guests the impression of dignity and openness.
Directly inside the main entrance to Lewis & Lewis is a small but elcoming lobby, with a natural stone floor, stylish but difficult to walk on in heels. There is a narrow open closet for guests to hang their coats, and several chairs arranged around a table on which are placed the company newsletter and other publications. The receptionist’s desk is facing the entrance door, and behind it sits a friendly young woman. The partners’ offices are found against the two farthest external walls, noticeably removed from the rest of office.
The other external walls are lined with the offices of the professionals, with large windows overlooking the pleasant exterior. The remainder of the office space is segmented with partitioning walls, forming a sort of cubicle labyrinth. In the center of this maze is a small kitchen where employees gather and converse informally. Adjacent to the kitchen is a small work area with copy machines and office supplies. In a corner of this floor is a set of uninviting sta irs leading to the ground level, where the conference room is located.
The conference room itself is spacious and handsomely decorated, with a large table and comfortable chairs, a video center with television and VCR. The seating is limited to fourteen people. Task and Job Description Tasks are distributed on the basis of specialization: auditing, tax, government and consulting. Very few tasks are performed by routine; each day may include new procedures for each employee. Jobs in this accounting firm are created by the customers’ needs, and therefore vary greatly from client to client. Each employee does most of his work based on experience, not according to standard procedure.
This individual- style process replaces clearly defined tasks in the firm. However, there is no job rotation between specialties. Coordination Systems Information flows very informally and on a personal basis. While this may create problems that will be discussed later, there are many positive aspects to this arrangement; it contributes to the family-like atmosphere that is very evident to the casual observer. The lack of a formally defined flow of information is in part caused by the many client contacts within the firm, but there is imbalance in the quality and quantity of information that each employee receives.
Formal information flow is undefined between the vaguely defined divisions of the firm in part due to the nature of the accounting industry. Therefore, information flow is very vertical. Information is handed down to each department from the top (Phil, Brian and other partners), and from each professional to the shared administrative staff. Data from each individual professional division flowing back up to Phil and Brian goes through David. There are no general staff meetings at Lewis & Lewis. The only formally coordinated data-sharing medium are the partner meetings.
In a busy month (those preceding April 15) the partners may meet two or three times, but throughout the rest of the year there may only be two meetings scheduled. Therefore, even among the partners, information flow is on a need-to-know basis only. There are very few task forces formed where people from different divisions work together on a project. The exception is an auditing team, created when the company embarks on an external auditing job and sends four or five people to the company being audited. The firm believes relationships with clients are of the utmost importance.
They stress frequent contact with customers, but it is conducted at the discretion of individual responsible for the client’s file, and with little or no coordination among other employees. Control System Lewis & Lewis is controlled almost exclusively by personal authority. Phil is the founder and principal partner, and is responsible for most important decisions within the firm. His control over the company is perceived as firm, and his conduct and demeanor influence all the employees. He is viewed as an authoritative figure, and employees regard his approval as crucial to their job performance.
From a Political Perspective Power Structure Lewis & Lewis has five key stakeholders; the partners. Each of the five partners has one area of expertise and they deal with any questions that arise n this area. However, aside from this, the five partners all have very different roles within the organization and we see an unequal distribution of power among them. Management duties are divided between two of the partners, Phil and Brian. These two supervise all of the staff, generate most of the new business, manage the dispersal of accounts and take care of any problems that may arise within the organization.
The founding partner, Phil, has the ultimate decision making authority, and can therefore override any decisions made by Brian or the other partners. The other three partners all stay out of the anagement aspects of the business, and defer all problems concerning it to Phil or Brian. Phil’s efforts to involve other partners in management issues have been met half-heartedly; the partners seem content in their current roles. This power structure has never been verbalized, nor has it been written. It is implied through practice, and therefore not known or understood by employees.
Most of the employees believe that all five partners participate equally in the management process. This causes confusion for the employees who aren’t sure who to address with particular concerns. It also limits the time mployees have to speak with a managing principal. Conflict Resolution The area of conflict resolution within the company is rather gray. As noted above, Phil and Brian are the two who directly manage the personnel at Lewis & Lewis, but this is not always the case. According to staff interviews, it is very difficult to actually have either Phil or Brian resolve an issue.
Phil is always out of the office and when he is in the office he does not have the time to deal with employee problems. Brian is always willing to take the time to listen to employee problems and he seems to sincerely want to help, but e prefers to wait until the issue blows over before addressing it. There is no set procedure for how a problem is solved once either Phil or Brian gets involved. One partner is apt to give one possible solution to the problem only to have the other turn around and contradict what has been suggested.
This sends mixed signals to the employees who are not sure which path of resolution to follow. In addition, conflicts are not resolved in the same manner for all employees. Some experience more favorable outcomes that others, and the people who are lower on the totem pole do not always see their nterests being protected. Employee Interests The support staff is basically at the mercy of the partners, and don’t have much say in how the company is run or what might work better in certain areas. All of the employees agree that Lewis & Lewis tries to be flexible where work schedules and time off are concerned.
Unfortunately, however, there is tension among the employees because of perceived favoritism when it comes to approving flexible work schedules. Some people are allowed to work part time, others are not. Some part-timers receive benefits, some do not. In an office s small as Lewis & Lewis, this can be a source of contention between employees. Employees do not always know where they stand in regard to job performance. The limited feedback they do get from the partners is inconsistent. At times they are criticized for the same performance on which they were previously complimented.
This causes worry among the employees, who fear that duties will be taken away and leave their job in jeopardy. From a Cultural Perspective Artifacts Some of the artifacts we identified at Lewis & Lewis include its recruitment practices, its highly rigid job descriptions, and the physical office itself. The recruitment practices at Lewis & Lewis are consistent with the informality of the company. Lewis & Lewis usually does not advertise its job openings; instead, most of its new employees are hired through its clients.
For example, one employee had applied for a secretarial position with a client of Lewis & Lewis. The client passed on her resume to Lewis & Lewis. The company uses the same strategy for attracting new clients. It does not market its services conventionally; instead, existing clients tell business associates about the firm and its services. While there are no written job descriptions, the specific tasks that ach employee must complete imply a rigid definition of their position at Lewis & Lewis. The building itself is an artifact. First, the building is very identifiable to the Jackson community.
On our first visit to Lewis & Lewis, we got lost and asked a gas station attendant if he knew how to get to Lewis & Lewis. He not only know where it was, he gave us an exact description of the building. Lewis & Lewis is a long-standing business in the Jackson community, and almost eighty percent of its clients are based in the greater Jackson area. During our visits to Lewis & Lewis, we conducted our interviews in the Antique Room, a small office filled with antiques accumulated over the years. The Antique Room is a microcosm of the history of the company. Values The company places great value on the individual and the home.
Within the company’s facility itself, one sees many clearly evident proofs of these values; family photos adorn the desks of most employees, spouses and children are invited to all company functions. The offices within the building are strategically placed to limit the interaction among employees. There is very little open office space and, with the exception of a conference room, there is o area conducive to team interaction. This value placed on individualism can best be summed up by a partner who stated “there are plenty of opportunities for people to succeed at Lewis & Lewis. It is up to each individual to take advantage of them.
While team interaction is limited at Lewis & Lewis, subcultures are prevalent. Examples of subcultures are the secretarial staff, the “old guard,” and the newly hired CPA’s. The secretarial staff subculture seems to have been created as a support mechanism for the secretaries. Our interviews with these employees indicated that they feel unappreciated and thus seek encouragement and upport from each other. The company’s most recently-formed subculture is the group of new CPA’s who were hired at approximately the same time and are expected to take over the leadership of the firm in the next decade.
In general, subcultures are formed to provide support and to create a system of reward mechanisms for employees within them. Employees crave support and recognition because they feel they are not receiving it from the partners. Despite the lack of support from management cited above, productivity does not seem to be a problem at Lewis & Lewis. What are the motivational actors for employees? First, employees seem to be largely self-motivated. Self-motivation is consistent with motivational posters displayed throughout the office. For example, one poster states that “success is what you make of it.
To a lesser extent, employees seem motivated by the independence given to them by their supervisors. Even given the small size of Lewis & Lewis, some employees claimed that they may not communicate with any of the partners for as long as a week at a time. Finally, employees are somewhat motivated by the lack of communication from management itself. Employees work hard and try to cover all aspects of their assignments because it is not always clear to them what management expects. Underlying Assumptions The most obvious underlying assumption is that employees should be loyal and self-motivated.
The company provides a good salary and benefits package but it provides little support in terms of the daily responsibilities of its employees. Instead, management believes that if it provides its employees with good pay and a comfortable working environment, employees will be productive. Another underlying assumption is that if you provide a good service, usinesses will come to you, and the clients’ concerns are always top priority. As stated above, Lewis & Lewis does very little if any marketing of its services.
It believes, instead, in the word-of-mouth philosophy that satisfied clients will recommend its services to others. In the same way, the company opts to develop good relationships with the banks of Jackson, in order to benefits from their referrals. In short, analyzing Lewis & Lewis from the cultural perspective reveals, among other things, the management philosophy of the partners and the impact that philosophy has on Lewis & Lewis employees. Management places great value on individualism and expects its employees to perform their jobs with little support from management. However, there is a major inconsistency.
Although the company values individual responsibility, the employees themselves do not feel empowered enough to make all of their own decisions. One employee had a problem with a small project and asked Phil for help. Phil responded, “I don’t have time for your problems. I’m trying to run this company. ” Moving Toward the New Organization Networked A networked company uses cross-functional teams that bring people ogether from different departments to accomplish tasks. In the new model of organization, customers are served more efficiently because they can speak to specific departments instead of boundary spanning personnel.
Horizontal information sharing eliminates redundant tasks and speeds completion of projects. Lewis & Lewis still harbors many of the beliefs inherent to the old model. While an employee working on a company’s file may at times feel free to call that company with specific questions regarding their business, the partners prefer to handle most interaction with the clients. Because of the nature of the accounting firm and the relatively small size of the organization, the partners alone are normally able to handle these responsibilities.
Although this method of interacting with clients does not utilize team functions, the quality of the product does not seem to have suffered. Although Phil feels that the firm is flat and informal, his subordinates and the other partners claim that Lewis & Lewis is still very hierarchical. Phil commented that he was trying to manage as little as possible and empower lower employees to make decisions on their own. This follows the definition of leaner firm that is trying to reduce management levels so it can better respond to changes in the environment.
Unfortunately, the employees feel that they can make decisions as long as they are the some ones that Phil would have made. Although empowerment of the employees has not yet proven very effective, Lewis & Lewis is making use of technology to remove layers of personnel. During the 1980’s, many paraprofessional employees were used for bookkeeping, payroll, and other basic tasks. As computer software increasingly simplifies bookkeeping, the firm’s need for paraprofessionals decreases, and Lewis & Lewis is able to hift toward hiring more professionals.
Therefore, the average employee at Lewis & Lewis is gradually becoming more knowledgeable and expert. This not only increases the amount of revenue that each employee brings to the firm and but provides better service to the customer. Flexible As Lewis & Lewis attempts to create a more flexible workforce, they are encountering new obstacles. All the employees and partners at Lewis & Lewis feel that the firm is very flexible on most issues that are important to the staff. Employees are able to schedule dentist appointments during the day and ake up time on the weekends or after hours.
Several members of the staff are currently enrolled in classes that meet during the day. While Lewis & Lewis attempts to be flexible on these matters, they are not willing to allow the clients’ work to suffer; employees are expected to maintain specified work loads. This same flexibility has created some problems for the firm; some questions have been raised about who will get benefits and why some employees are granted part time status and others are not. Some of the staff feel that favoritism occurs when deciding these issues and because the firm is so small, it affects mployee relationships.
In one case, one part-time employee was receiving fulltime benefits while another part-time employee was not. This caused friction among the employees who felt that management was not being fair and honest. Diverse With very few exceptions, Lewis & Lewis is a white male dominated accounting firm with a white female support staff. The partners seem to hire people who think like them, to minimize conflicts within the firm. Of the six new professionals that were hired last month, none of them were women.
This does bring into question the diversity within the firm. Many of the issues that reate stress and problems in a diverse work force simply do not exist because men and women are not working together at the same status level as in larger firms. One wonders, though, what benefits are being missed through this same lack of diversity. Although there do not seem to be many efforts being made to increase diversity in the firm’s demographics, Lewis & Lewis does predict a different educational background for many of its future employees.
The firm would like to provide a wider range of financial services to its clients, and will therefore be looking for employees with educational experiences other than niquely accounting. Diagnosis and Problem Definition Most of the problems with the organizational aspects of Lewis & Lewis stem from ambiguities in the formal structure of the company and from the inconsistencies they cause. The conscious effort at creating a comfortable work environment through flexibility and informality causes many communication and managerial problems.
In addition, there is a noticeable contradiction between the partners’ views of the organization and those of the other employees. First, one remarks that even at the partner level, there are few shared orms and values. While the company is technically owned by the five partners collectively, there is an uneven distribution of interest among them. Financially and otherwise, it is obvious that Phil and Brian are far above the others. One partner remarked that while everyone is given the impression that their ideas are being heard and considered, ultimately they have little or no effect on Phil’s decisions.
Brian runs day-to-day operations and seems to share most, if not all, of Phil’s opinions, but there is no policy in place to guide them if there were a dispute or disagreement. The lack of a mission statement is the physical manifestation of the less obvious but equally significant lack of common goals and plans to reach them. A brief survey was given to the partners assessing their views of the company’s present situation. When asked to rate Lewis & Lewis as flat or hierarchical (1 to 10), the results revealed that four of the partners viewed the company as a 3 or 4 on the scale, while Phil himself gave the firm an 8.
This represents the deliberate effort he is making at giving his colleagues and employees the ability to make decisions themselves and essentially manage hemselves, but it also points out the fact that at this point he doesn’t seem to have succeeded. The other partners still view Phil to some extent as a dictator, handing down responsibilities where he sees fit. They seemed, after questioning, to accept their inferior roles in decision-making and managing, but their positions are nowhere formally defined in this way.
They seemed to have expected to have more say in matters of importance to the firm when they became partners, but now have bowed to Phil’s authority and greater stake in the future of Lewis & Lewis. This is not to say that they resent the way that Phil runs hings, or that they would change anything if they had the power to do so, it simply points out the inherent vague descriptions of each partner’s function and leads to some confusion that prevents optimum participation in goal achievements.
The partners do not meet often; during the busy months, they might meet 2-3 times per month, but the rest of the year there are few, if any, scheduled meetings. At the CPA level, we noticed that there are differing views of the company. Most of the new employees, hired within the last year, have a positive outlook on Lewis & Lewis. This may be in part due to the attention they get rom the partners. Phil and Brian consider it top priority to “check up” on new employees to ensure that they are not only performing in a satisfactory fashion, but that they are happy and challenged.
The new hires, therefore, seem to have more interaction with the partners, and therefore better personal relationships with them. Alternatively, the employees who have been with the firm for greater lengths of time feel slighted by Phil and Brian. They comment that the partners are never available to give help when needed, are always out of the office, and seem too busy to be bothered with their comparatively small problems. Since it is these employees who have shown the most loyalty to the company, and have obviously shown they can perform well, it seems likely that the partners take advantage of the fact that they require less supervision.
On the other hand, it is precisely those employees who have been there longest (and therefore gained the most experience and knowledge) that the partners should be most concerned with keeping happy. While Phil thinks of the “freedom” he gives his trusted employees as a sign of his confidence in them, they seem to regard it as a lack of concern or interest in their contributions to the company. Some of the support staff seem distantly removed from the vision of the company that Phil and Brian and the other partners describe.
Most of the partners describe the firm as providing superior quality products and excellent customer service. The partners feel that the most valuable time they spend is when they are actually with their clients. In contrast, the employees at lower levels in the company rarely, if ever, mentioned clients or their relationships with them. They never alluded to contact with customers, and were under the impression that Phil and the others spent too much time out of the office instead of working.
Naturally, these employees focus on the small tasks with which they are presented at work, but they showed little understanding of the end product of their work; that is, the customer’s satisfaction. They seemed more concerned with the fact that they were receiving no attention from their superiors. Lewis & Lewis seems determined to provide a flexible work environment for their employees. Their experiences with telecommuting and flextime, though, have caused them to set limits on the flexibility they are willing to practice, and this has caused some resentment among employees.
Add to that the inconsistencies which almost always accompany workforce flexibility, and you see some very unhappy and jealous employees. Because the office is small, each employee knows almost everything about the others’ benefits and hours, etc…. and is likely to consider certain arrangements unfair if they were denied the same request and were not told the reasons. It is obvious that the company needs to introduce some changes. This will present not only the initial problem of identifying the needed changes, but the difficulty of instituting them.
Phil is very conservative in his ideas; ome of the partners even used the phrase “old-fashioned. ” He is reluctant to make immediate changes to some aspects of the company, and in addition, he thinks that in most respects it is operating well at present. He is, however, preparing things for his exit, at which point presumably Brian will take over. Brian is much more apt to introduce change. Suggested Plan of Action -Hold a company-wide meeting to collectively compose a mission statement.
This process will promote team unity and the statement will allow the employees at all levels to see the “big picture;” to understand how their job contributes o the success of the whole company. -Formally define the company’s operating structure. The partners’ roles should be better defined; both to improve the way in which they perform their jobs and to provide predictability for the other employees. -Create the position of Office Manager. The employee filling this position should be a non-partner and will serve as an ambassador between the partners and the rest of the staff.
The Office Manager should meet regularly with the partners on an informal basis when they can spare the time, and in turn conduct regularly scheduled staff meetings for the rest of the office. The Office Manager should be able to answer most questions that would normally be addressed to the partners. -Provide incentive for employees to bring in new business. This will not only create more business through new clients, but cause the employees to project a certain pride in their company that will affect their performance on the job. -Establish a clear set of standards for benefit eligibility.
This document should state in objective terms the hours necessary to qualify an employee to receive benefits and other means of compensation, in order to avoid discrepancy between workers that has resulted in conflict. Formulate a specific and objective evaluation procedure. Employees are currently being reviewed annually, but Lewis & Lewis should standardize the criteria involved and perhaps perform the evaluations more regularly. This will eliminate suspicions that management has been playing favorites, as well as provide the partners with a better understanding of their employees’ progress and concerns.
Create a common lunchroom. Lewis & Lewis is currently constructing an addition to the back of the building to provide needed office and storage space. Some of the new wing will be occupied by other firms currently in the same building. The inclusion of a common cafeteria would foster relations not only between Lewis & Lewis employees but with employees of the other firms, all of which provide financial services to Jackson companies and are to play a crucial role in Lewis & Lewis’s expansion plans.
Implement an “Employee of the Month” award. The honored employee may enjoy a special parking spot, announcement in the company newsletter and other privileges, and will appreciate the recognition. This provides management with an opportunity to encourage employees using non-financial incentive. -Formalize procedures for conflict resolution. Among the partners, conflicts eem few and far between, but a procedure to follow in the event of a difference in opinion should be developed.
As new partners emerge, consistency of opinion may not be as prevalent, and a standard procedure for conflict resolution will minimize tension between the new partners. -Lastly, we suggest that Lewis & Lewis seek external consulting services. The implementation of many beneficial changes may require a long-term commitment and periodic input from an objective group. If finances are a concern, may we suggest a now highly qualified group of MBA students after their completion of Management 806 at Michigan State University.