Changing Mindsets for Advisory Services
At our recent Boomer Technology Circles Summit, expanding the firm’s advisory services was a hot topic. Some firm leaders are asking how they can hire or develop the skills they need. Others are opting to purchase consulting firms to acquire the talent (and client base) to hit the ground running. Whether they build it or buy it, I caution firms not to attempt to run a consulting firm like their traditional tax and audit practices. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of money and might not get what you were hoping for in return.
The right mindset
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck argued that there are two kinds of people, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe:
Abilities, intelligence and talents are traits
There is a limit you are born with, and that’s all you’ll ever be
They must protect what they’ve done, look smart, and avoid looking dumb
People with a growth mindset believe:
Talents and abilities are developed through effort, teaching, and practice
Anyone can improve and be smarter if they work at it
They are open to new ideas, learning, and recognize not everyone is the same
To truly embrace advisory services, your firm will need to have a growth mindset. Here’s why:
One size no longer fits all
For years, firms have been counseled to get tax and audit departments using the same systems. While these strict standards create cost savings and efficiencies in training and response times, they reduce flexibility and innovation – attributes crucial to an effective consultancy!
Advisory services need entirely different tools, and they aren’t bound by the same compliance services as tax and audit. Innovative tools like Box, SmartSheet and Zoom can provide the flexibility and freedom advisory consultants need to perform their jobs from anywhere, at anytime.
This can work really well if your in-house IT group is open minded and willing to collaborate with your advisory team. But if not, you could end up with shadow IT: consultants using devices, software, and services without the knowledge or approval of your IT department. Shadow IT causes a number of potential problems, including creating large scale compatibility issues, adding additional often unbudgeted costs, and most concerning of all, opening security holes that put your firm at risk.
Location vs. performance
Performance of audit and tax professionals may be measured by face time in the office and billable hours. This simply isn’t feasible for advisory services.
Many consultants may never set foot in a standard office. They often have a road warrior lifestyle that necessitates working when and where they can, and jobs may take years to pay off. So how will performance be measured?
Some of the key performance indicators (KPIs) we see successful firms using are:
Annual revenue per billable consultant
Annual revenue per employee
# of services delivered to the client
New client growth
Average revenue per year per client
Strategic actions that enable remote consultants
Now that we’ve taken a look at the considerations you’ll need to take into account for Advisory Services, let’s talk about what you can do now to enable your team.
Performance before perfection. Audit and tax services are process-driven tasks that must be carried out 100% correctly. Advisory Services are more about performance. These consultants help clients by digging in and offering creative courses of action and solutions in very short timeframes. They have to hit the ground running. When a consultant is having a technical issue, they don't need to spend hours determining the perfect fix. Solutions to a consultant’s problems in the field are an iterative process! They don’t have to work perfectly, they just need to work RIGHT NOW . . . and we’ll get it working better later when there is more time and less pressure on the consultant.
Ease stress. Focus on improvement in your technology systems. Advisory consulting often demands 24/7/365 schedules. They work across global time zones, travel extensively, work on holidays and have little down time. Where traditional IT support may allow for maintenance windows, advisory IT needs resilient systems and support teams that are available and working when they’re needed.
Identify ways to move away from billable hours and toward fixed fee billings. Look for alternative metrics. The ones mentioned above are just a few examples. Find out what works for your team.
Implement professional development plans for all team members. Firms tend to focus on professional development for their audit and tax teams, but forget about other professionals who don’t have an annual CPE requirement to meet. Everyone in the firm needs professional development and a clear career path.
Dump the hierarchical structure. Focus on collaborative management and empower all team members. This encourages your team to work together, rather than focus on their individual climb up the career ladder. There’s also a focus on “knowledge transfer” so that client information isn’t locked inside the head of any single staff member.
Focus on flex and remote work. The people who make excellent Advisory Services consultants are driven self-managers. The nature of their work means they’ll be offsite and working outside of the traditional nine to five work day. Prioritizing flex and remote work demonstrates that you understand the unique needs of these professionals.
Having first class Advisory Services requires great leadership, different skills, and new processes. It’s not enough to just follow “best practices.” There’s no competitive advantage to following the herd! Work on nurturing a growth mindset in your firm that supports innovation in your Advisory teams and they can drive innovation throughout the firm.
Marc Staut, Principal & Consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc., helps meet the growing needs of CPA firms by leveraging his experience to provide strategic technology assessments, planning, visioning and coaching. He feels that “technology should be an enabler – something that’s approachable, aligned with and integral to the success of each firm.” Marc is a regular speaker, author and panelist on technology in the accounting profession, cloud computing, mobile technology, leadership and vision.