article was originally published in the January 2013 issue of CPA Practice
Happy New Year! As we say farewell to 2012 and look forward
to growth and prosperity in 2013, it’s important that we set a roadmap for
success. You should all have a firm
strategic plan and individual game plans to guide you toward achieving your
goals. Sorry, that piece of scratch
paper with your New Year’s resolutions probably isn’t going to cut it! However, my real challenge to you in this New
Year is to develop a culture of accountability within your firm – a culture
where you hold yourself and others to the fire to do what they say they will
An overall strategic plan is important to chart the course for
your firm’s future success. And
individual game plans outline the roles each team member plays in achieving the
firm’s strategic objectives. However, if you don’t have a system for holding individuals
accountable for their goals, all the work, time and effort that goes into
developing these plans is diminished to mere wasted effort.
From top to bottom, firms continually struggle with
accountability. Partners face challenges
holding one another accountable. With
junior staff, managers too often focus on the wrong things: Whether an employee
put in enough hours or whether an employee checked Facebook during business
hours, for instance. Results are
ultimately what matters. If you have
documented goals and hold people accountable for those goals, the results will
clearly indicate whether people are performing.
If the work gets done, and done well, "Facebook issues” fall away.
Think - Write - Share
Our minds are constantly at work coming up with great ideas about
the things we should accomplish. Interestingly, however, we rarely formalize
these thoughts into written goals. Studies support the direct link between
written goals and higher performance. The reason is simple. Writing down a goal
captures what you're thinking and creates a greater level of commitment. The bottom line here is that it is much
harder to dismiss something you've written down than to simply let go of the
ideas you have floating around in your head.
To further increase your level of commitment, share your written
goals with others. By telling someone what you are going to do, you move beyond
self-accountability to peer-accountability. Most of us are far more willing to
disappoint ourselves than we are to fail others. If you can identify a person
who will agree to follow up with you regarding your progress – even better.
Leadership Must Set the Tone
Even more common than a lack of planning, goal setting and holding
people accountable is the absence of partner accountability. Firm leadership
tends to hold junior employees accountable but shies away from a formalized
system to measure performance at the partner level. The tone of the firm is set
up at the top. If partners are not willing to hold themselves accountable,
employees will simply go through the motions and won't buy in to a firm-wide
performance system. Documented expectations and regular accountability reviews
are important at every level, but accountability truly starts at the top.
Set SMART Goals
Choosing the right goals is just as important. Individual goals
should be aligned with and support the firm's vision and strategic plan.
Additionally, they should be clearly articulated using the criteria for SMART
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Attainable
- R = Realistic
- T = Timely
The more specific you can be with your goals, the more likely you
will commit to and achieve them. Writing goals in a way that makes them
measurable, attainable, realistic and timely helps ensure that you can truly
assess whether they were achieved.
A few tools we have developed and have proven effective for both
our clients and our internal operations are listed below.
- One-Page Strategic Plan –
Provides a roadmap for the firm and provides direction to individuals during
- 90-Day Game Plan –
Documents each employee's goals for the upcoming quarter and increases
commitment by the employees as well as their managers.
- Accountability Review –
Documents the results of the previous quarter's 90-Day Game Plan and is the basis
for the assessment of an employee's performance.
- Communication - Honest communication
is critical throughout the entire process.
Once a Year Isn't Enough
Many firms that do have a goal setting and review process in place
today are only doing so on an annual or semi-annual basis. However, this simply
isn't frequent enough to keep people on track and committed to their goals. We
recommend reviews every 90 days to look back at the goals set for the previous
quarter and to look ahead at the upcoming quarter's goals. This helps ensure
that people remain focused on achieving results that are important.
Results Are What Matters
If employees are meeting the goals
that were outlined and agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter, it doesn't
really matter how many hours they put in or if they checked their Facebook
hourly. If employees are truly not working enough hours or if they are
seemingly wasting excessive amounts of time, the results will speak for
And results are what
you're really after.