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The Boomer Bulletin - 2011
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Glass Balls and Core Values

Posted By Scott Morrill, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
My coaching philosophy is best summed up by the following statement:  "Winning is everything – but the score at the end of the game doesn’t define winners and losers.”  Sure, that sounds like coach-speak from someone who’s used to losing a lot of games.  But the point of the philosophy is that the length of the game is somewhat arbitrary and it can be dangerous to let it unduly influence a team’s strategies.

I believe that the "length of the game” can also unduly influence business practices.  In this article I’ll use an example from sports to help clarify my point and then ask you to reevaluate your core values.  As a shortcut in this article, I’m going to label the "length of the game” as the "time metric”.

I think that we would all agree that the time metric is a necessary and useful tool.  I think we’d also agree that winning and losing are both important motivational factors that we use in making life and business decisions.  What I’m going to be arguing is that over-valuing short term measurements is a factor in creating an epidemic of problems throughout our society.

Can Losers Win and Winners Lose?

Sports and games often mirror serious real-life situations so they can be used to teach core values that can be applied when facing real-life decisions.  To the uninitiated, many sports appear to be silly games played for entertainment.  However, to those who coach and play, they are learning tools for skills like hand-to-hand combat, decision making, teamwork and strategic thinking.

In a few months, 68 college basketball teams will participate in a tournament to determine a national champion – a team that will be long remembered as the best college basketball team of the 2011-12 season.  One team will win and 67 teams will lose.  You’d think it’d be a pretty conclusive system for defining winners and losers.  But games are often won or lost based on the outcome of things beyond the control of the participants – an injury to a key player, an official’s error, an underdog being able to overachieve in one special game.  There have been seven national championship games decided in overtime and another four determined by a single point.  In addition, many eventual champions survived at least one game whose outcome was determined on the last play of the game.  So is the winning team really more successful than the losing team?  Would changing the time metric impact your decision?  In other words, would the results be different if the game were but a few seconds shorter or longer?

In case you’ve forgotten, the University of Connecticut (UConn) defeated Butler for the national championship in college basketball last year.  Both programs developed strategies and made sacrifices in order to earn their way into that specific championship game.  But for the next three years UConn will be penalized for recruiting violations – violations which weren’t proven to have impacted the game but which introduced some suspicion about the core values of the program.

When measured on an annual time metric, UConn is a winner and Butler is a loser – and to me, that’s indicative of a danger.  The problem is not in having a time metric but in valuing the short term result more than the long term impact.  Greed, for lack of a better word, describes the motive that drives one to sacrifice one of society’s core values for a short term result.

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or power, often more than one’s proper share.  Consider how the excessive desire for wealth or power played a role in other stories that dominated the sports page this past fall – conference realignment and the NBA lockout.

But I Thought "Greed Is Good”

When measured with a short-term time metric, greed looks good.  UConn fans get to celebrate a rare accomplishment, schools get to develop new rivalries and NBA players and owners eventually reach a compromise that everyone can live with for several additional years.  However, greed is not free of consequences.  In each of those examples someone is being hurt economically.  Now let’s turn to topics in the real world.
  • Global recession – which according to the Senate’s Levin-Coburn report was "the result of high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; and the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.”
  • Iran’s Nuclear Ambition – will the quest for ultimate power trigger the next war?
  • Congressional deadlock – where the desire to win elections every two years trumps the core value of working as a team.
  • Global warming – we’ve only been drilling for oil a little over 150 years.  What happens if we have to live on this planet for another billion?
There’s a Revolution Against Greed

Dictators can probably be considered the grand masters of greed and Arab Spring is the current actual revolution against greed.  But rival drug cartels have been fighting the Mexican Drug War and Mexican President Felipe Calderon has employed 45,000 troops in their country’s fight against the cartel’s greed.

In the United States, the Occupy Movement appears to essentially be a statement against greed.  Initiated as a protest against the influence of Wall Street, it has now morphed into a complaint about the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners.  Although I think it’s a revolt against greed, I personally think they have misidentified the greedy.  Greed and charity exist at all levels of economic circumstances.

The Responsibilities of the Most Trusted Advisor

This is a great year for the accounting industry to step up and take a role in reestablishing credibility within the corporate world.  Reeducate about the value of audits.  Help your clients find competitive advantages so they aren’t tempted to violate core values.  Above all, adhere to your own core values.  Here are three important steps that you should implement.

First, take an opportunity to spend time reviewing your core values during your annual strategic planning summit.  Make sure that your staff understands the meaning and importance of each principle.  Spell out the responsibilities for new hires and those with generational and cultural differences.

Second, lead by example.  There is a moral attributed to an ancient Chinese philosopher, "don’t lie for me because if you can lie for me, you can also lie to me.”  It’s hard to lead others on a path you’re not willing to travel.

Third, don’t over-value the short term time metric.  Don’t compromise your core values for something that might not be important in the long run.  Rebecca Ryan compares making life decisions to juggling.  "Some of the balls we juggle are made of rubber and some are made of glass.  You can drop a rubber ball without damaging it.  But core values are like glass balls.  If you drop one you’ll never be able to completely restore it.” 


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What Story Will Your Clients Tell About You?

Posted By Sue Thiemann, Monday, December 12, 2011
Your biggest season is coming soon. This is your opportunity to stand out from the competition. Are you ready? Do you have a plan? Have you put in the effort to properly prepare your firm members?

As Greg Cordell, CIO (Chief Inspiration Officer) and author of Brains on Fire puts it: "Your Company is the stories people tell about it.” Everyone has a story about their annual tax preparation or their experience with an accountant’s office.  Some are stories are great and other stories are a nightmare.

What stories will your clients tell about your firm? 

We are all aware of how critical it is to look at what we do from our clients’ perspective.  How often do you stress to the firm members to produce, produce, produce? So what does the member do? Rush immediately to the tax return or accounting issue without making a connection with the client.  While often times marketing efforts are you talking about yourself and what you can do for them; stories, on the other hand, are others talking about you and their experience with your firm. Marketing campaigns embrace an "us-versus-them” mentality. Stories can say, "we’re all in this together.” Relationships create the positive stories others tell about your company.

 So let’s get down to the basics; it’s about people.  It comes down to trust. People don’t trust companies; people trust people.  People they know. People whose opinions and recommendations they seek out and have faith in. They rely on word of mouth (stories) to determine their choice in firms to employ for their business needs.  

Again, what stories will your clients tell about your firm?

Like it or not each person in the firm is a part of the story of your firm. Each person should consider their approach or conversations with your clients. It’s about reframing the conversation or the focus from the "me or my firm” mentality to the "us” (you and your clients) approach. Reframing the conversation is about going from what role does our service or product have in people’s lives to what role can we play in our clients’ lives. It’s a turn from a service or product role to a relationship role. Connect and develop a relationship with the client first and always. 

So what is the value of client relationships?  According to Jim Simon, author of Hidden Champions of the 21st Century, staying close to your clients compels performance and innovation. Strategies become driven by value – client value, not price, so these companies can charge more for their products or services. Regular contact and conversation and being on a first-name basis with your clients significantly impacts the stories told about your company. 

So, what stories will your clients tell about your firm in 2012! Make every conversation an experience in and of itself.

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2012 Talent Development Outlook

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Monday, December 12, 2011
The dawn of a new year enables firms to establish new strategies as well as instilling 
a new sense of urgency for opportunities. As firm leaders begin to set their agenda, now is the time to look ahead at the trends that will drive your talent initiatives in 2012.

In 2012, firms will seek to return to higher profits.  More emphasis will be placed on higher production and getting the most from the established group of core talent that we have recruited and developed.  The beginning to the middle of the year may see a continuation from the previous year. However, as the economy gains momentum, trust will return and ultimately will bring more activity to our industry. 

More activity will bring a list of strategic objectives that every firm will need to consider thoughtfully as they work to strengthen their talent initiatives.  

  1. Dealing with survivorship – A concern of many employees’ that has not been addressed in most firms is the feeling of survivorship from the mass terminations during the recession. Many of these individuals have been busy producing, and for some producing more than was expected before the downsizing.  There is now a feeling of being overworked and underappreciated.  The amount of work that has consumed our talent pool has left little time to learn new skills, communicate effectively and concentrate on projects.  The feeling of un-ease may create an environment where the team may quietly start looking for other opportunities, expecting an adjustment in their compensation or the expectation that management needs to hire additional staff to help relieve the workload pressure.
  2. Slow return to hiring, faster return to productivity – With many partners concerned about profits, hiring will return, but very slowly.  Firms did not like to "trim” so they want to be sure that they need the new staff long term before making the decision to add staff.  In fact, many firms are choosing to hire temporary workers to fill voids in short-term projects, primarily to keep overall expenses down including benefit costs.  The lack of mid-level talent will also play a role in the outlook for 2012.   This could mean losing some of your mid-level team if they do not feel as if they are being treated fairly or the ability to hire a new team member as individuals start to feel more comfortable with the economy.  
  3. Training and self-development – A tremendous amount of money was spent on training and development prior to the recession. However, during the recession, many firms reduced their training professionals or stopped training initiatives as they contained expenses.  The return to normalcy in the training arena will be very slow and may never return to pre-recession levels.  In many cases firms had a difficult time seeing the return on their investment.  However, firms are already beginning to change their strategy in this area as they see the need to develop their talent for succession purposes.  They are becoming motivated due to the questions that are being asked by highly qualified candidates who expect – and in some cases demand – a training plan before they join the firm.  Firm leaders are re-investing in the learning and training initiatives within the firm.
  4. Leadership challenges – During the 1960’s through 1980’s succession planning was a major initiative in firms. The story of starting out as a staff accountant and climbing to the partner level was not only a dream but also reality. Presently there is a distinct lack of succession planning in firms of all sizes. This issue has created a dire shortage of leaders and future leaders. Without proper leadership, firms lack strategy and direction. There is an increasing need for written succession plans for each leader as well as a well thought out development plan – including sponsorship of the super stars to insure the future of the firm is protected. 
  5. Accountability – The lack of setting and meeting firm goals has stressed leadership. Good times of the past   allowed for flexibility. However, as profits tighten and time seemed to be scarce, the lack of accountability sunk even lower.  As we look ahead, great leaders understand that developing goals, sharing the overall plan with the team and then holding everyone – especially the partners – accountable to the goals leaders required managers to tighten controls. Difficult times require a return to fundamentals and more stringency for managing by objectives. 
  6. Customer service – Technology and globalization has increased competition. Client to client influences are more prevalent than ever. With the popularization of social media, client testimonials can either elevate the brand or simply implode it in the blink of an eye.  Firms have been slow to determine that the purpose of business is the acquisition and retention of clients. In fact, it is the competitive differentiator. Firms will work very hard on the organizational culture and interactions with clients. The impact will reap huge benefits for the bottom line.
  7. Frugality versus extravagance – Without sounding trite, desperate times requires desperate measures. Yet the return to better times will not necessitate a return to bigger spending.  Firms previously spent unwisely on travel, meetings and other expenses. The New Year will be a continuance of frugality. Leaders realize that the pre-recession extravagance led to similar results experienced during lean times. Frugal with a slant toward "investment spending” will be the theme for 2012.  Investment in training, salary increases and re-establishment of bonus plans will return.
  8. Turnover – The new economic climate provides more opportunity for expansion. Surviving employees, new talent and simply those desiring change will leave their firms creating an intense drain on knowledge and production for some and an opportunity to strengthen for others.  To insure that your firm ends up on the right end of the spectrum, identifying what your talent pool values is important.  Focus groups, stay interviews and continued communication and training will be imperative.  If your employees don’t find what they want in your firm, they will most assuredly find it in your competitors.
  9. Ethics - Simply mention the names Bernie Madoff and the Lehman Brothers and the first word that comes to mind is ethics. Ethics are the nexus of any firm. There will be an increase in employee background checks, training and development and hiring of human resources professionals to maintain compliance. The client-to-client influences are too strong to dismiss this vital issue.
  10. Optimism - First and foremost, the New Year brings the opportunity to look ahead to better times. The choice is yours, develop strategies around your talent that will brighten your future or be left behind in a highly competitive environment.
An excellent opportunity to get off to a great start in 2012 is to consider sending your Administrative Partner, COO, Firm Administrator or Training Professional to  "The Talent Development Advantage” on February 28 and 29, 2012.  Go to http://www.boomer.com/?page=TDA and check out all of the details of this amazing event.   

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The New Firm Leader

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The future leaders in our profession are sending us a message about how 
leadership is changing, the question is, are we listening?  They are saying "We don’t know everything and we don’t have to.  What we have to do is develop our unique talents and let others develop theirs while blending them collaboratively together.  That is how we will lead the firm of the future”. At first blush, many current firm leaders might say "they are naïve, just wait until they grow up”.  I would respond by simply saying – read on.  

The future leaders in our firms have a keen understanding of self, and they understand that while they have many fantastic traits, they are not a superstar at everything.   They push back strongly saying that in the firm that they build, it will function vastly different than the one they work in today.  Their firm of the future will be more collaborative and cohesive.  These young leaders have been fearless about change in their lives and that will carry through to the way they build their firm.  Culture, systems and processes will all change for them, and ultimately will change the entire industry.  The secret to all of this change is one person will not be responsible to create all of this change; it will be a collaborative – "group think” – mentality that is based on intellectual openness. 

So, what are the changes that will take place in the future?    

Change #1 - Collaborative Relationships are King

No lone rangers allowed will be the battle cry from leaders.  Today, when a new idea develops in a firm, it is often one leader coming to the group and selling their idea.  Then, the idea is implemented by a committee.  In the future, the idea will be developed by a group of people from the inception and then the entire group will continue to support and nurture the idea by bringing in other team members as needed to make the idea better.  The thought process is "let's all sit down at the table and figure this out – together”.  The pattern that will develop, and ultimately make a good idea a great idea is that by pulling together everyone’s ideas, thoughts, intellectual capital, the firm will benefit from the "group think” rather than "individual think”.  As you might imagine, there will be little room for individual egos in this environment.  Silos within the firm will deteriorate and power teams will emerge.    

Change #2 – Globalization and Diversity Will Be the Norm

Firms today have a reputation for being predominantly male, white and aging at the partner level, female, middle aged and white at the manager level and slightly more diverse in race, gender and nationality at the staff level.  Given the changing demographics of our country today, and the reality that our younger leaders have a more diverse and global outlook of the world, it is safe to say that the "look” of our firms will change in the future.  We are going to be more colorful and more widespread in our human resources.  This is a welcome change by our younger leaders who have gone to school and often traveled the world with friends of different nationalities and cultures.  Additionally, this change will require that we put a stronger emphasis on retention, attraction and motivation of the best talent, and find new ways to solidify our teams.

Change #3 - Digital Lifestyles and Skills Will Shape The Firm

This may be a change that most people would simply say "Duh” to.  We all realize that digital skills are changing the leader of the future.  The fact that our future leaders don’t understand why this is a game changer should tell us something.  The majority of our young leaders have never known a time when they did not have a computer in their home, and many don’t have any idea what it would be like to go out for an evening and not have a cell phone to communicate with.  This digital lifestyle will never go away – it just is!  Also, keep in mind that as our young leaders are built this way, so are the young clients that they will interact with.  This new digital reality is certain to shape the firm of our future. 

Change #4 - A Sense of Purpose and Dedication For All 

One interesting trait that will be a game changer for the leaders of our future firm is that these leaders will be less concerned about their own goals and more concerned about their overall team.  This goes back to change #1 in building the relationships, but it also emphasizes that this group of people have been programmed from their growing up years to care for their community and others.  Think about the youth of today and how they are taught, motivated and rewarded in schools today to care for their community and work with their classmates on projects. They will never be satisfied in their work life not using these skills to develop a sense of purpose and dedication for the overall firm and team, not just themselves.

Change #5 - Mentoring Is Out, Sponsoring Is In

 Future leaders are not uneducated, and they are realists that not everyone is going to want grow at the same time or the same pace as the next person.  They also realize that not everyone has the aptitude to be promoted to leadership positions. Rather than developing mentoring programs where everyone is treated exactly the same, they will opt for picking the players that are the best and then developing a close relationship with that person to sponsor them and grow them into one of the leadership positions that is required in the firm.  Even though some of them were raised in an environment where everyone got a blue ribbon or a gold medal, they understand that "one on one” sponsorship will provide an individual with the training that is best for them and far more productive and valuable than a program that is "one size fits all”. 

Change #6 - Health and Well Being Are Essential

 In a world where obesity seems to be the bane of our existence, the next generation leader will understand and support a work environment that promotes the physical and mental health of their team.  Through education, experience and a world that is fighting to control the balance between life and work, this new leadership group will put more emphasis on healthy lifestyles both in the office and outside the office.  The reward will be higher productivity, morale and retention rates.

With all of these changes upon us, how can the current leadership group help prepare and start implementing today?

Change #7 - Team Development and Hiring Changes

Profile your current team and begin to look critically at the skills that are not in your firm today.  Are you a firm that is full of researcher oriented people, but the number of process oriented project leaders are lacking?  Or, do you have a firm full of introverted followers who take direction well, but not many individuals who are hungry to "own” responsibilities and want to lead initiatives in the firm.  After you analyze your current situation, then prepare to hire for more than the technical needs of today, but also the leadership needs of the future.  Firms absolutely need skills and abilities, but they also need emotional intelligence.  This will require analysis, new hiring skills and a dedication to changing old habits.  Remember, if you continue to hire, promote and motivate the way you have in the past, you will get the same talent you have had in the past, and that will not be good enough in the future.

Change #8 - Form a Future Leader Initiative

Leaders must listen carefully and hear what their people are telling them.  Leaders must also understand that putting together the leadership of the future requires that they look at each person as a separate and unique individual – identifying the unique characteristics that they have and allowing them to develop those skills.  Just because someone is not the best business developer does not mean they are not valuable, they may indeed have a gift for putting processes in place that will save the firm hours in productivity and efficiency.  Another person who is a superb business developer, may not like to research new systems and the leader sees that their motivation will come from front stage projects dealing with client and prospect interactions.  One is not wrong or less valuable, both are equally amazing.  A positive way to find out what is floating around in your future leaders minds is to form a "Tomorrows Leaders Initiative” in your firm.  Give them objectives, but let them figure out the strategies, ideas and timelines for initiatives that will help the firm prepare for the future.  

Change #9 - Get Flexible With Learning and Training

While some firms are still struggling to develop cookie cutter learning ladders and training plans that will work for everyone in the firm, the firm of the future will have career planning and learning ladders that are much less linear and far more individualized.  Flexibility will be imperative and lateral moves will be much more accepted and encouraged.  This would be an excellent project for a Tomorrows Leaders group to work on.

Change #10 - Replace Pen and Paper with Real Words

We are a paper and pencil kind of world when it comes to feedback and performance management.  We are an industry that is nice and caring. Often, this translates to thinking through how you want to nicely give someone feedback on their performance, writing it down and then delivering by letting them read what you wrote.  The verbal exchange is short, sweet and to the point, and often has not intrinsic value to the team member.  Progressive firms today are teaching their leaders to have verbal exchanges with their team members and using the paper as simply backup to the conversation.  These conversations are critical to developing the relationships that are valued by the individual and to enact the performance that we desire from each person.  Some will think this is contrary to the digital lifestyle that this younger leader is accustomed to, but it plays well into the close relationship that they are hungry for within their work environment.

Conclusion

Is this new leader, and new leadership style of the future complicated? Yes!  Is it rewarding? Absolutely!  As we approach a new year, I challenge each of you to rethink your current leadership style and commit to making changes that will assist your firm is taking positive steps toward a firm that future leaders will be attracted to, and will be excited about helping to build.    

 



    

      
 

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What We Can Learn from Zappos

Posted By Jon Hubbard, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Zappos.com is an online store and apparel shop.  It was started in 1999 and in 
2009 was acquired by Amazon in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion.  Zappos has set itself apart from other online retailers by having a passionate focus for customer service.  Most online retailers go after having the lowest price or the largest selection, but Zappos chose to focus on customer service because they felt it was the biggest value they could offer their customers.

Through Zappos’ insane (or not so insane) focus on customer service, they have created a company culture that is known around the world. Courses have been developed, books have been written and companies have been started with the goal of communicating and replicating the unique and profitable culture Zappos has created.

In this article, I will highlight 3 key aspects of the Zappos culture with the purpose of getting us to think about how we can apply similar aspects to our firm.

Your culture is your brand

Building a brand today is much different than building a brand 60 years ago.  In the past, the executives of a company would meet and decide how they wanted to brand and position the company and they would then spend a lot of money on advertising to communicate the message. While marketing and advertising are still important, they do have limitations.  Zappos believes the best way to build your brand for the long term is to develop a strong culture. Once the culture is established, other areas of the business such as customer service, building a great reputation and attracting passionate employees will happen as a result.  Zappos has 10 core values that shape their company culture:
  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble
To learn more about each of Zappos’ core values and how they shape their culture, please click here.  I do not think that every CPA should have these core values.  Your firm should be unique and should have a unique set of core values that everyone is passionate about.

What steps can your firm take to make the core values truly influence company culture?

Creating a passionate team

Zappos goes to great strides to have employees that are passionate about their 10 core values.  Without passionate employees, the company culture will sputter and will not be a competitive advantage.  Zappos starts with the hiring process.  They hold two sets of interviews, one interview focused on technical ability and experience.  The second interview focuses on the culture and the 10 core values.  Once an applicant becomes a new-hire, they go through a 4-week training process at Zappos call center, no matter what their job title is. During the first 2-weeks the new-hire is educated on company history, importance of customer service, and company culture philosophy. During the last 2-weeks, the new-hire will takes calls from customers. At the end of the training, Zappos makes an offer to the entire training class. They offer everyone $2,000 to quit (plus what they’ve already earned during the training). Not surprisingly, less than 1% take the offer. Although this process is a little unconventional, it helps ensure the company is being strengthened with each hire.

Also, Zappos regularly measures the strength of their culture through regular employee surveys that asks employees whether they agree or disagree with the below statements:
  • I believe that the company has a higher purpose beyond just profits
  • My role at Zappos has a real purpose – it is more than just a job
  • I feel that I am in control of my career path and that I am progressing in my personal and professional development at Zappos
  • I consider my co-workers to be like my family and friends
  • I am very happy with my job
What steps can your firm take to ensure the hiring and retention of passionate employees?

Create fun and a little weirdness

How good would a company culture be if it wasn’t fun and a little weird?  Not super weird, just a little unconventional to add some humor to everyone’s day.  Zappos celebrates and embraces diversity and each person’s individuality.  They want their people to express their personality in their work.  They feel strongly about this because they feel their employees will perform best when they can be themselves.

A great example of Zappos employees creating fun and a little weirdness is their finance department has a weekly parade called "Random Acts of Kindness”.  They march down the hallway to 3 employees desks and present them with a gift, put a hat on them and take their picture.  

A great side effect of encouraging fun and a little weirdness is that it encourages creativity and innovation.  When employees are more engaged with their work the company as a whole becomes more innovative. 

What steps can your firm take to create fun and a little weirdness?

Conclusion

Although Zappos is in an entirely different industry than we are, I believe we can learn from what they have built and implemented at their company.  It is important that we consider what our firm’s purpose is and take steps to building a culture that supports it. No two companies are exactly the same nor should the cultures. Without fun and a little weirdness, we won’t get too far.



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Make a Resolution to Be a Highly Effective Firm

Posted By Arianna Campbell, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The year is coming to an end and this is a time to reflect on successes of the past 
year and areas of opportunity for the year ahead. Personal improvements are often the focus of New Year’s resolutions, but it is important to not overlook changes that can be made to increase productivity and profitability in your firm.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, is filled with practical suggestions for making changes that will result in a better lifestyle. While the principles have personal applications, they are also relevant in your firm. The following habits can be implemented to achieve a higher level of effectiveness in your firm.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

"Proactive people do more than take initiative. Proactive people are agents of change.” – Stephen Covey 

Change is inevitable, and being reactive to change usually causes feelings of chaos and lack of control. When this happens in a firm it can result in decreased profitability and productivity. Taking the initiative to evaluate your firm’s dangers, opportunities and strengths (D.O.S) is an excellent way to identify areas where the firm can be proactive. This will create awareness of dangers to avoid, take advantage of opportunities, and maximize strengths. A D.O.S Form is a tool that will help define these areas in your firm. The findings can then be used to put together a plan instead of handling challenges and opportunities as they arise.

For increased proactivity, team members can complete a D.O.S assessment for their role in the firm. Knowing the collective D.O.S of the members of the firm combined with the D.O.S for the firm as a whole will give a clear guideline of how to stay ahead of the curve. This approach will allow change to be driven by the firm instead of having a firm driven by change. 

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

"Begin with the End in Mind is based on imagination – the ability to envision, see the potential, create with our minds what we cannot at present see with our eyes and conscience.” - Stephen Covey

Having clearly defined goals is an important element for being a highly effective firm. A strategic plan is essential an essential roadmap for firm success. It should include firm strategies and objectives with deadlines and responsibilities assigned. L. Gary Boomer says the following about the importance and benefits of documented strategic planning: "In order to maximize your profitability, you need a written plan detailing your firm’s strategy. This will reduce the time required, build consensus, provide consistent communications, and insure accountability.” 

Once the plan is in place it should be shared with the entire team to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. The plan should be reviewed throughout the year to help the firm stay on track, and adjustments should be made as needed.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

"Highly effective people do not really manage time – they manage themselves. They are planning and executing according to their highest priorities.”  - Stephen Covey

Once a strategic plan is in place and goals and responsibilities are clear, the challenge to stay on track begins. It is easy to be distracted by daily tasks and projects that may arise beyond the strategic plan. The key is to use the firms goals as a guide to prioritize and make sure that even your daily tasks are in line with the firm’s plan. 

A 90-Day Game Plan is a tool that can be used to define projects and goals for a shorter time frame. Each team member should create a Game Plan at the beginning of each quarter with goals that are in line with the strategic plan.  At the end of the quarter Game Plans should be reviewed with coaching and recognition as needed.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

"Win-Win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-Win means agreements or solutions that are mutually beneficial and satisfying.” – Stephen Covey

A culture of cooperation instead of competition is essential to making your firm operate at the highest level. In a Win-Win environment, everyone is working together to achieve the strategic goals for the firm, and each individual’s successes contribute to the success of the firm. This requires dedication to the firm’s value system, a commitment to clear communication, and respect for each person on the team.

Habit 5: Seek first to Understand Then To Be Understood

"In order to have influcence with other people, they must first feel that you understand them. And once they feel understood, they are open to hearing your ideas, your counsel and your point of view." - Stephen Covey

Understanding your clients is an important part of being a highly effective firm. When you are working with clients with needs that are aligned with your firm’s strengths, you are likely to be more profitable and productive. In order to select the right clients, you must first understand their needs. If you ask the right questions to new and existing clients, you can maintain the good relationships and identify those that are not a good fit. 

The next step is to use what you have learned from your clients to build strategies to find and retain clients, as well as how to end relationships that are not mutually beneficial. In addition, understanding your client’s needs will help to manage both internal and external expectations and keep the firm operating at a high level.

Habit 6: Synergize

"Synergy is celebrating differences, teamwork, open-mindedness and finding new and better ways together.” – Stephen Covey

Each person in your firm has a unique ability that makes them a valuable member of the team. When people are allowed to use their talents in their job, they are more likely to enjoy their work and be high performers. No one should expect to spend all of their time working in their unique ability, but finding opportunities for team members to integrate their best skills into the job will have a positive effect on the firm.  Unique ability combined with teamwork will accelerate your firm to the next level.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

"Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal – a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge and skill.” – Stephen Covey

Be mindful to never stop learning.  Make sure that your firm supports and encourages a learning environment. This can be done by creating training and learning plans for everyone in the firm and for the firm as a whole. Continual learning will help to keep your firm and team members ahead of the curve.

Conclusion

When the principles listed above become habits for the firm, the level of effectiveness will increase as a result. Remember that creating new habits take time, commitment and patience but the results in firm profitability and productivity will be long lasting.

Additional Resources

Download the Guide to Strategic Planning (Free until 11/25/11. Use discount code StratPlan100

Download the Guide to Client Filtering (Free until 11/25/11. Use discount code CFGuide 100)

Download the Guide to Training & Learning (Free until 11/25/11. Use discount code TLGuide100)

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Practice Management in the Progressive CPA Firm

Posted By Ken McCall & Chris Gryskiewicz, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Management Challenge

The challenge of managing a CPA firm has never been more difficult than it is today.  Firms of all sizes are grappling with volatile economic conditions, changing expectations by clients and staff, and rapid evolutions in technology.  Is there some magic solution that will bring all this into harmony and allow the firm to cruise calmly forward into the future?  Hardly!  But, firms positioning themselves for success will usually look for a careful alignment of people, processes, and technology.

The first essential for this alignment is a shared vision of the future, articulated clearly in a written strategic plan.  One thing that a strategic plan will reveal is that to be successful, a firm needs a commitment to growth.  A commitment to growth doesn’t necessarily mean more people, but it does demand that the staff on hand be as efficient as possible.  Part of this focus on efficiency will likely mean developing staff members and empowering them to work effectively from wherever they might be.  Most firms have some experience with staff working non-traditional hours, or working from home, or simply keeping up with their workload while traveling.  This requires the technology to make flexible work opportunities possible.  

Good firms view technology as a strategic multiplier, not an overhead expense.  But all the technology in the world won’t make much difference if the firm doesn’t commit to refining processes and procedures to take advantage of the opportunities technology presents.  Technology and process go hand-in-hand:  new technologies make new processes possible while new processes are necessary to get the most out of the technologies purchased.

Fortunately, the tools required to achieve this alignment of people, process, and technology are available across a wide spectrum of firm sizes.  Firms as small as 20 or so staff and a few partners have one set of needs and opportunities; multi-office firms of several hundred staff and a diverse partner group have yet another.    In both cases, however, partners must be free to focus on client service while using automated processes for maximum efficiency.  We will look at how well-integrated practice management software will allow both large and small firms to meet their own special needs.

Streamlining Functions

One way to improve results is to carefully review traditional ways of doing essential functions.  These functions include the sales and marketing tools used in client development, the ability to forecast staff availability and assign the right staff to a job, the ability to build accurate job budgets to ensure profitability, and the full integration of Work in Process (WIP) and Accounts Receivable (AR) into the firm’s own General Ledger (GL) accounting system.

Most firms have a variety of back-office systems in which they track multiple interactions with prospects and clients.  Far too often, these related functions are tracked in entirely separate systems, limiting the firm’s ability to share critical information at the right time.  These firms miss the competitive benefit of a full relationship view of all interactions with prospects as it nurtures them toward becoming clients and they miss the benefit of leveraging firm contacts and experiences with existing clients in new pursuits.  Once a "prospect” becomes a "client”, then the traditional time, expense, and billing processes come into play.  Combining those into a cohesive firm-wide relationship data base yields significant dividends but it doesn’t just happen, it requires a marketing plan and executive vision.  

Once a client engagement is secured, the key to maximizing the profitability of the engagement may have already been lost.  Most sales processes emphasize winning the pursuit first and then consider profitability after the fact.  The assignment of the proper staff to the job and the development of an accurate budget for the labor costs to be incurred are deferred until the time the project is initiated.  Firms use a variety of tools to do this, ranging from specialty software applications to the ubiquitous spreadsheet.  This process typically involves separate data sources limiting their ability to share common information across applications.

One of the most frustrating examples of the lack of integration comes from the firm’s own internal accounting process.  Many firms use a traditional "time and billing” application to track time and expenses, accrue WIP, and track AR after invoices are issued.   Far too often, however, these asset balances are not integrated with the general ledger accounting system and require one or more journal entries to produce the firm’s own financial statements.  The real breakdown in this system is the inability to "drill down” into the financials and analyze source information without resorting to multiple applications, each with its own database.  Perhaps even more damaging is that most systems do not integrate a preview of the engagement’s likely profitability into the pursuit.  As a result realization and profitability not known until the final invoice has been paid.

A step toward simplifying these back office processes is to move from a mixed array of software technology to a fully integrated Practice Management system which brings all these features together with a common shared database.

Templeton Solutions, LLP, a technology consulting company, and a division of Templeton & Company, LLP an accounting and management advisory firm with offices in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida has done this with their system TC Practice Management (TCPM). Providing time and billing, sales and marketing, project management, document management and analytics, all built on top of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. TCPM offers an intuitive interface delivered directly from Microsoft Outlook. With a single log-in and folders visible on the left side of your screen linking you to the applications, the program is fully integrated and designed to provide a cycle in which to manage your business – from sales and marketing, to prospecting and planning, to winning and creating the project, to forecasting, to time and expense input on a periodic basis to generating invoices for clients. 

The Sales & Marketing function of the system manages contacts, clients and opportunities in a single location, charting the prospect to client process. Ultimately, firm leaders can see an estimated project realization before the opportunity is won. As in standard CRM, interactions are documented by emails, tasks, appointments and notes, and that information is also saved into Outlook. CPAs can look up the zip code where a client is located, the business type, the address, and have the ability to verify data as it is entered.

Once a project work plan is created by a team leader, it can be confirmed as the project’s budget and used to benchmark the actual time for completion with a preview of the project’s realization before work had begun.  When a particular professional service is chosen as an opportunity within TCPM, a unique template of standard work steps or "tasks” for staff is presented. Those tasks come with an estimated time of completion and a fee based on the staff levels needed to complete the project. Once a prospect becomes a client, managers will be able to view the actual time vs. planned time on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately this function allows forecasting and a better understanding of time management for each staff person. Team leaders can now see which staff person is working on what, if time revisions need to be made, the rates per hour and how work is distributed between staff members.

Executive Decision Support

For the firm to run efficiently, decision makers need timely and accurate information.  This means having the right information (not cluttered up with unnecessary distractions!) presented naturally, in a clear and concise form.  For many firms, this will mean rounds of customized reporting to get the information the partners need and oftentimes supplemented with individual spreadsheets where the reporting falls short or is suspect.

The high payoff activity in streamlining reporting is the consolidation of databases without the costly effort of developing data warehouses.  Instead of going to multiple places to change or enter common information, do it once and let the applications share the data!  Instead of drawing information from multiple sources, and compiling it for reporting purposes, let the reporting application draw upon the information it needs!  Best of all performance metrics are available in real-time – which offers powerful tools for management and accountability at all levels of the organization.

TCPM promotes a growth strategy supporting the philosophy that the clients belong to the firm, rather than to individuals or practice groups. The program allows managers and staff a bird’s eye view of the business and practice management processes happening at all times. Assessing clients across industry segment and service areas enhances cross selling ability and creates a one-firm concept. Each individual staff person can look at their billable goals and from their own dashboard view see how they are doing while their managers see how they are measuring up to others on the team and within the firm.  Open and pending WIP and prior Progress & Final Bills can be viewed in a single location and workflow notifications of pending tax and project deliverables are also easily accessible. Within the program’s time and billing capabilities, the Biller’s Workbench is a powerful one-stop resource for project/billing managers to quickly generate bills and see the impact of billing decisions on realization.

Flexible Implementation

So far, we have examined many benefits of a fully integrated Practice Management application with a shared database and common user interface.  These benefits are enhanced even further, and implementation and training become simpler, if the system is built upon industry standard tools.  Some of the most common (and most powerful!) back office support tools come from Microsoft.  Specifically, these include Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft SharePoint.  These tools have the advantage of being available for an "on-premise” server installation, or in the Software as a Service model "from the cloud”.  In either configuration the integration described above is readily available.  Smaller firms with less robust internal IT support may find the cloud model appealing, while larger firms with more engineering expertise available may opt for the on-premise model.  In actuality, though, either model can fit well with either firm profile allowing clients to choose the deployment option that is right for them. Clients or prospects looking to transition to the cloud can take their time – knowing they can make the move without buying additional software or building out new infrastructure. 

Using a standard set up to start, Templeton Solutions tailors TCPM to individual firms helping with initial data organization and setup.  Clients then take over to decide their service lines, tax codes, output templates, etc...  A firm administrator is trained to support the firm’s ongoing configuration of TCPM to meet their specific needs.  Typically the implementation process lasts about two weeks but most important is a two-day event that includes the project owner and more progressive leaders in the firm that helps them design and own their process.

Rising to Meet the Management Challenge

At the outset of this article, we recognized that large and small firms alike are facing unprecedented challenges to profitable operation.  The key to profit in today’s environment is efficiency, and efficiency comes in large part from simplified and integrated back office operations.  Achieving these back office efficiencies becomes much easier when the tools are based upon industry standard applications.  TC Practice Management, built upon Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft SharePoint, provides robust back-office integration, flexible installation configurations, simplified licensing, all built on industry standard platforms.

Templeton Solutions is primed to offer a practice management system because of their association with Templeton & Company. They’ve put their everyday working knowledge of what it’s like to be part of a CPA firm into practice – as the vision and direction of TCPM came directly from the founder and partners of Templeton & Company resulting in a solution for CPAs designed by CPAs.  Realizing that many firms don’t want to fix something that’s "ain’t broke,” TCPM integrates with other systems and can be customized to fit your firm’s needs.  Templeton’s practical approach to implementation allows you to take advantage of the capabilities you need when you need them.

Has your firm committed to the alignment of people, processes and technology?  Are you positioned the way you want to be to meet the management challenges of the future?  If so, congratulations!  If not, it’s time to get started!  

About the Authors

Christopher J. Gryskiewicz, CPA, CITP, is the Executive Vice President of Templeton & Company, LLP, an accounting firm headquartered in South Florida. He also serves as a senior executive with Templeton Solutions, a technology consulting subsidiary of Templeton & Company. It is in this role that he manages high-level IT projects and leverages his business and accounting background to identify opportunities for successful, thoughtful integrations.  If you have any questions or comments regarding the content of this article, you can contact Christopher at (561) 798-9988 or chrisg@templetonco.com

Ken McCall is a Senior Consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc.  Ken assists CPA firms of all sizes in strategic planning and technology planning. He has worked extensively in the area of training management for CPA firms. Ken is a lead facilitator and the program coordinator for The Boomer Technology Circles™, the industry’s premier peer networking group for technology management in accounting firms.


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Encouraging a Move to Information Service Delivery

Posted By Eric Benson, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Information Technology (IT) is one area of any business that is marked by these characteristics:
  • Excellence is largely determined by a lack of issues 
  • The skill and knowledge to understand the complexities are not understood by most people (it's a specialty field, after all)
  • The most consistent trait is change, and this trait can be controlled by seldom stopped
This article covers the idea that information technology has never truly been about the technology itself.  Computer science and computer engineering are about the computer and software. IT professionals may be viewed in many instances as manufacturing personnel (put this here, insert this, type this, install this).  However, most IT people are really in the business of information service delivery.  That's "endpoint delivery" in geek terms.  In business terms, it simply means that the end result is a small step from face to face communication.  IT people are just delivering information through screens instead of direct communication - but it's still a service. 

In order to make this change from IT as a product to IT as a service, new terminology may be needed.  Since accounting is a service, let’s call our new model Information Service Delivery (ISD for short).  This term suggests a shift from the computer (or screen, as we shift more to multiple delivery platforms) to the point at which the screen and the person interact.

Looking at technology as ... well, technology, tends to reduce the quality of output to the end user (translate this as person).  In other words, since you aren't providing a service, you can get away with fixing the computer and call the problem fixed.  If you look at IT as ISD you also have to qualify if the information was delivered properly after service is performed, not just that the computer is working.  This leap from technology to people can radically improve the level of service, the understanding of your job and the contribution to the people working in the firm.  Let’s revisit the three statements above and look at how shifting to a service model can improve the quality of IT.

Excellence is largely determined by a lack of issues

Many technology issues can be benchmarked on this alone.  Help desk ticketing solutions are set up to let you resolve tickets when the issue is gone.  They're even called issues or tickets in most systems - because you're dealing with computers or other devices, right?  Punch in your work and you are, like an assembly line.

Contrast this with information service delivery.  In this instance, a problem isn't fixed until the information is resolved, not the issue.  So, an issue with a computer driver not working might not just stop at the driver being updated.  It will stop when the displays are verified as working by the user.  I think this, in many cases, is very different from the way the IT person uses the displays.  A follow up 2 days later may uncover that the assumption for the fix wasn't quite correct.  Is the information flowing again?  This follow up can be automated, but is that good service?  Selecting a subset of tickets to call on might be a great way to see if you are truly providing what you think you are.

Other issues are not pure IT and shouldn't involve just IT.  A failed patch is an IT issue, let's say.  But when the patch has been rolled back, what if you find out someone is having trouble using write up properly during the patch removal (since you have to do it in person on the one machine that didn't take)? That's an ISD issue and might not involve you directly - but you can be accountable to make sure the issue gets resolved.

The skill and knowledge to understand the complexities are not understood by most people (it's a specialty field, after all)

As an IT professional, specialized knowledge is crucial to the completion of projects.  However, communication is crucial to the successful delivery of these projects.  On teams, this may not be the person who does the work, but a successful information service delivery should include the business and information delivery reasons why a project was completed successfully, not just what was done.

Most often, the heavy lifting in IT is not communicated because of the specialty knowledge needed to understand what happened.  However, this often bleeds over into areas that don't need specialty knowledge.  Thinking with a service delivery mindset may allow these areas to shine through, which will in turn allow for improved communication.

In addition, that communication, since it is part of the service, will need to be catered to the recipient.  You wouldn't sell a highly technical watch that needs some assembly to someone looking for a stopwatch, so why would you want to communicate more than you need to in order to let someone know their problem is resolved?  There is a balance between what was done and why that change was important to the person reading or listening to the message.

The most consistent trait is change, and this trait can be controlled by seldom stopped

In the IT world, oftentimes the reaction to change is loudest in gadget arenas as well as in the camps that are stalwarts for technology that is tried and true.  In the business world, technology often is delivered too often for comfort or not frequently enough to keep up with the times.

Think change using an information service delivery mindset.  Will this change help the information being delivered?  If not, it might be a good candidate for reevaluation.  Sometimes it's a patch that will fix a lingering issue.  Other times you may be switching out a system without a strong information case - which in some instances is not evaluated properly in the business case for an upgrade.

"This will give us a competitive advantage because we'll be ahead of our competitors" is business language but says nothing about the quality of information being delivered.  Let's say the software upgrade mentioned here fundamentally changes the three key screens of an application.  Although it gives a competitive advantage, the information will not flow as cleanly after the upgrade.  Understanding this and acting on it will help to improve IT from installer to enabler.

Consider information service delivery as a great way to consider how IT provides value to a firm. An example would be "a change is happening Saturday morning to improve the review process during x".  This is much easier to digest than "release 6.208 of x package will be installed on Saturday morning".  The first sentence states how information delivery changes; the second merely states what is being installed.  The typical IT response is what was done, not what value the change provides.  This shift in communication is crucial to helping your firm adjust to whatever change is coming.

Communication using an information service delivery model may initially increase ticket resolution times.  In the long run, however, that communication improvement will help everyone in the firm.  Issues will be completely fixed, reducing reemerging tasks.  Updates and system downtime will be assessed based on what is being improved, not what dot release is coming online.  And you and your firm can start to benchmark the success of technology on metrics beyond uptime, service SLAs and other metrics.  Things like Net Promoter scores, satisfaction indexes and quality feedback will start to drive an improvement in service that may have an impact across all departments in the firm.

The longer information as a service is taken into account during IT projects, the more end users will become allies in transitions and updates.  Translation will become easier between technology and business, and understanding of IT projects will improve.  Look for those in your team (or your firm) who can view IT as information service delivery and use those people to increase the quality of information you deliver.  You will be part of the engine in your firm that develops people because your service and communication will be concerned with how they work, not what they use.  Look at ways you can start improving service to your firm.  The change will take time, but the change is worth the cost.  

Tags:  Information Technology 

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Congratulations to the Top 100!

Posted By Boomer Consulting, Inc., Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The "Top 100 Most Influential People” list was released in the September, 2011 issue of Accounting Today.  Looking through the list brought to light just how lucky we are at Boomer Consulting, Inc.  Not only do we have a tremendous team of people with amazing talents that we get to work with on a daily basis, but we also get to work with some of the best people in the accounting profession.  We are honored to be associated with so many of the professionals that made the list.  Boomer Consulting, Inc. would like to say congratulations to everyone who made the list and recognize those individuals with which we have the pleasure of working.

Our Clients & Partners

Our motto is "helping the best get better.”  The number of our clients, partners, peers and friends on this year’s list supports the notion that we are working with the best people from the best organizations.

 Mark Albrecht
CEO, XCM Solutions/Xpitax LLC
 August Aquila
President & CEO, Aquila Global Advisors & Chantrey Capital Advisors, Inc. 
 Andy Armanino
CEO & Managing Partner, Armanino McKenna 
 Erik Asgeirsson
CEO, CPA2Biz 
 Ron Baker
Founder, VeriSage Institute 
 Jon Baron
President, Professional, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting 
 Chandra Bhansali
President, AccountantsWorld 
 Jim Bourke
Partner, WithumSmith+Brown 
 David Cieslak
Principal, Arxis Technology 
 Gale Crosley
President, Crosley+Co. 
 Chris Fredericksen
Chairman, The 2020 Group 
 Barry Friedman
CEO, BizActions 
 Michelle Golden
President, Golden Practices 
 Jeff Gramlich
President, CCH Small Firm Services 
 Angie Grissom
Executive VP & COO, The Rainmaker Consulting Group 
 Tom Hood
CEO & Director, MACPA 
 Randy Johnston
Executive V.P. & Partner, K2 Enterprises 
 Rita Keller
President, Keller Advisors 
 Mark Koziel
Vice President of Firm Services & Global Alliances, AICPA 
 Allan Koltin
CEO, Koltin Consulting Group 
 Krista McMasters
CEO, Clifton Gunderson 
 Barry Melancon
President & CEO, AICPA 
 Jim Metzler
V.P. of Small Firm Interests, AICPA 
 Jeff Pawlow
CEO & Managing Shareholder, The Growth Partnership; CEO, iShade 
 Brian Peccarelli
President, the Tax & Accounting Business of Thomson Reuters 
 Rick Richardson
Managing Partner, Richardson Media & Technologies 
 Marc Rosenberg
President, The Rosenberg Associates 
 Rebecca Ryan
Founder, Next Generation Consulting 
 Mike Sabbatis
President & CEO, CCH 
 Gary Shamis
Managing Director, SS&G Financial Services, Inc.
 Doug Sleeter
Founder & President, The Sleeter Group, Inc. 
 Jennifer Warawa
Senior Director of Partner Programs, Sage North America 
 Jill Ward
Senior VP & GM, Accounting Professionals Division, Intuit Inc. 
 Troy Waugh
CEO, FiveStar 3 
 Geni Whitehouse
Countess of Communication, Even a Nerd Can be Heard and
Brotemarkle, Davis & Co. 
 Jennifer Wilson
Co-founder & Owner, ConvergenceCoaching 
 Dave Wyle
President & CEO, SurePrep

Our Leaders

A company is defined by its leadership and the Boomer Consulting, Inc. team is certainly fortunate to have the people we do steering the ship.  We are honored to work with such great leaders and proud of their recognition.


L. Gary Boomer
CEO, Boomer Consulting, Inc.                                                                              

Sandra Wiley
Shareholder & COO, Boomer Consulting, Inc.


Jim Boomer
Shareholder & CIO, Boomer Consulting, Inc.
*2011 Top 100 "Ones to Watch"

Again, congratulations to everyone who made the 2011 "Top 100 Most Influential People” list.  And, thank you to those of you who we frequently have the pleasure to work with.  You definitely make our jobs more enjoyable and we are proud of your accomplishment. 

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Innovation – How Great Firms Excel

Posted By L. Gary Boomer, Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Accounting firms generally are not who you think of when you mention "innovation”, 
yet many firms excel at innovation and there is a pattern to their success.  Innovation is directly linked to growth and not an epiphany like many think; but rather a process that combines hindsight, vision and insight.   The accounting profession is going through significant changes and I am often told by firm leaders they just don’t have the next generation of leaders in their firms.  In many cases there is validity to their statement and a better understanding of innovation and how firms get into this situation can help firms take the necessary steps to balance between "discovery” and "delivery” skills. Discovery skills focus on new opportunities, trends and creativity while delivery focuses on execution.  You need both, but the tendency is to focus on delivery.

Mature and typically declining firms are dominated by people with excellent delivery skills, but often lack the proper balance of discovery skills.  Typically one or more firm founders were entrepreneurial and tended to hire people for their delivery skills and not their discovery skills.   As a result, many partners and managers don’t know how to think about discovery or give enough value to the importance of innovation.  Accounting programs teach people delivery skills while most experiences and on-the-job training also focuses on delivery and execution.  In fact, many of the discovery skills are viewed as nonproductive – more about that later.  I believe innovation or lack thereof can explain some of the frustration and what firms must do in order to develop the next generation of innovative leaders.

Let’s look at two different types of innovation and then how the most successful firms are modernizing their practices to meet the needs and wants of their clients. Accounting majors are taught the rules and regulations of the profession in school and throughout their careers.  This is not a negative, but rather a fact as their perception is often different than those with different training and aptitudes.  Upon graduation, most accountants going into public practice start in audit and/or tax.  This has been the traditional approach and is the primary reason most innovation in firms is directional innovation.  Directional innovation tends to improve a service in fairly predictable steps with a well-defined dimension or goal.  The majority of innovation is directional and is accomplished through increasing levels of expertise and specialization (delivery skills).  This is a low risk approach and one with which many CPAs are comfortable.   There is nothing wrong with directional innovation, yet it is limiting due to the fact most of the participants are looking at the problem from the same perspective.

Darwin John, former CIO at the FBI, once said "if two of you have the same opinion, then we don’t need one of you”.  This may be a bit extreme, but the point is that for real innovation (discovery) to occur it requires multiple perspectives.  This is often called intersectional innovation where multiple disciplines meet in the attempt to solve a problem or improve a solution.  From my experience in the CPA profession, two areas within firms that have been responsible for innovation over the past 20 years are firm administration and technology.  Leaders in these areas have been attempting to bring the silos together and improve performance through improved communications, efficiency and effectiveness.

One step in entrepreneurial innovation, and the one leadings firms are focusing on, is intersectional innovation or client centric innovation.  It not only involves the client, but his multi-discipline advisors.  This can be difficult due to egos and personalities, but the CPA is the most trusted business advisor and should take his or her role seriously by acting as the quarterback when it comes to innovation and improved client services.  While many CPAs were trained to be rugged individualist (focus on delivery) and solve the client’s problems on their own or with a small team, that approach no longer meets the needs of a majority of clients.

Today, clients are looking for faster, better, cheaper and easier solutions forcing firms to be innovative and sensitive to clients’ wants and needs.  The capturing of transactions is becoming a commodity with new technology and the ability to aggregate and integrate information via cloud based solutions.  In the past tax return preparation has involved a significant amount of time (fee) in aggregating data while technology has automated the calculation and processing of the return.  In other words, the CPA is now caught in a situation where the services they are offering are diminishing in value (commoditization).  Part of this is due to technological innovation and part is due to the pricing strategies used by the majority of firms (hours times dollars-labor theory of value).

We are living in a connected world and someone is making those connections.  As the trusted business advisor it should be you, the CPA, and your firm.  The people making these connections tend to be professionals who excelled in one field, but learned from others.  This describes many CPAs and why they are the most trusted business advisor.  Formal education increases the probability of attaining creative success to a point and then actually reduces the odds.  A key to prolonged success throughout ones career is lifelong learning and multiple experiences.  It makes sense to spend time on a variety of projects if you wish to develop fresh and groundbreaking ideas.  The value comes from being able to spot trends and then integrate what you already know.  This requires curiosity and an interest in a variety of things.  Innovators don’t produce because they are successful, but they are successful because they produce.

Diversity promotes innovation while too much expertise can create barriers to innovation.  Innovation requires a balance.  More good ideas come when working in a group than when working independently.  The big question becomes: what can and should firms do to promote innovation at the intersection?  As I said earlier in the article, innovation occurs with vision, hindsight and insight.  By looking at the current generation of great firm leaders we see several characteristics that allowed them to be innovative.  Let’s looks at a list of the most important discovery characteristics.
  1. The ability to connect and associate different perspectives (clients, multiple advisors, trends, technology and etc.)
  2. The ability to question the status quo.
  3. The ability to hold self and others accountable.
  4. The willingness to participate in "safe haven” meetings with peer leaders.
  5. The ability to manage, not avoid risk.  The quantity of new ideas improves the quality.  Create the environment to promote, not stifle innovation.
This list may not seem important to those who focus only on the delivery side.  Firms must be cautious not to swing the pendulum too far toward the delivery or discovery skills.  Both skills are required, important and cannot be ignored.  Success today requires a team.  The team should involve younger members who are capable and expected to challenge the status quo or strategy which has often been developed and implemented by senior leadership. 

The fact is most large organizations generally fail at disruptive innovation because top management has been selected for their delivery skills.  While it is the managing partner or CEOs role to lead the innovation it is an extremely difficult assignment.  Delivery executives do not like having the strategy constantly challenged nor do they appreciate change.  Does your firm reward and promote discovery skills?  If the answer is no, you have your answer as to why you don’t have the innovative leaders for the future.  Now is the time to identify and develop leaders with the skills and willingness to focus on intersectional innovation.  The future success of your firm depends upon innovation.

Here are five areas where innovation will produce significant results.  Granted they may not fit every firm, but most firms will find three or more of these innovative ideas profitable.
  1. Billing and collection policies – use technology to improve cash flow (ACH payments & Credit Cards).  This requires different thinking and change management.  Too many firms are allowing clients to treat them as interest free or "cheap” banks.  You can turn this around with improved engagement letters that specify payment terms leveraging monthly bank drafts.
  2. Tax return preparations processes – avoid loops and focus on one-way workflow.  There are better ways to train than sending work back to the preparer.  You can use technology to grade performance and report errors.  Current workflow software has its roots with outsourcing companies.  If Federal Express can track packages electronically, firms should be able to track work in an efficient manner reducing cycle time.
  3. Client accounting in the Cloud – firms can provide transactional as well as value added services such as bill payment, payroll, controller, HR, IT and CFO related services on a monthly basis.  Private labeled software that can be centrally updated and supported will allow firms to take back control of accounting.  It will also allow your firm to become hardware agnostic.  It works the same on Mac as on a Windows based PC via a browser.
  4. Use portals to aggregate client data for auditing and accounting as well as tax return preparation.  Avoid false starts and wasted time.  Portals provide security, are inexpensive and clients like them.  Most of the resistance I see is within the firm.
  5. Conduct client focus groups with marketing, tax and technology expertise present.  This will provide innovation at the intersection from multiple perspectives.  Listen to the client and provide the services he/she wants.  Utilize firm leaders with discovery skills.
Innovation is part of a firm’s culture and DNA.  It requires leadership and the willingness to manage risk.  Not every idea is a great idea, but the quantity of ideas determines quality.  Successful firms balance discovery and delivery skills.  Does your firm have the discovery skills necessary to meet your clients’ demands in a rapidly changing world?  Provide your people with the time and resources to innovate.  Based upon recent studies, most firms are less than 50 % chargeable.  What better use of the non-chargeable time than innovation, training and new business development?

Tags:  Innovation 

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