Previously Published in Accounting Today | March 2022
Cross-functional teams using the agile approach can provide your firm an edge or advantage in several ways. The most relevant advantages are perceived value by the client, talent attraction and development, process improvement and managing a remote or virtual workforce.
Gartner predicts that by 2024, 30% of corporate teams will be without a boss due to the self-directed and hybrid nature of work. Cross-functional teams can also be instrumental in your firm reducing any technical debt (which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this article). You might want to reread Gartner’s prediction — 2024 is less than two years away. Are you and your firm preparing and planning for this trend? Or are you worrying and procrastinating, paralyzed by uncertainty?
A cross-functional team is a team that blends IT and business professionals to be more productive and scale faster. This is where the agile part using “sprint days” with a clear mission and a buy-in of the vision by all team members is critical. This approach values unique abilities and multiple perspectives from all levels. Team members are expected and encouraged to speak out. The leader must have responsibility and the authority to make changes.
Here are some examples from both an external and internal perspective.
Value is determined by the client rather than the effort (time) spent by the provider. As Ron Baker says, typically, what the client values is just the opposite of the provider. The provider often values technical skills at 80% and emotional skills at 20%, while the client or customer often values technical skills at 20% and emotional skills at 80%.
The client experience is extremely important, and cross-functional teams can increase value through traditional compliance services as well as advisory and consulting services. Many firms realize they don’t need more clients. They need the right clients, a menu of services, and a pricing model to sustain success and remain future-ready. Messaging and brand are becoming increasingly important. The bottom line: technical skills are not enough.
Talent Attraction and Development
Most firms are focused on talent as their number one priority. But do you have the right clients? Are you leveraging the unique abilities of team members? Employees want to contribute value and utilize their unique abilities on their terms. Outsourcing and automation are two strategies to overcome this challenge, but are these strategies enough? In my opinion, cross-functional teams can best answer this question while improving and developing a future-ready culture.
The emotional needs of employees include trust, stability, compassion and hope. The key differentiators are benefits, hours, technology and performance reviews. It sounds simple, but it is getting more difficult to meet these emotional needs, especially under the old business model.
Innovative firms are using multiple approaches to be more attractive and meet the wants and needs of multi-generational employees. Flexibility and reasonableness must be emphasized along with two-way communications. Some of the ideas we hear from our talent team and Circle member results leaders include:
Opportunities to update skills in areas of their unique abilities and passion
Clearly defined expectations and more frequent reviews
Technology, tools and processes to work remotely or in a hybrid environment
Member of a high-performing team. (Mediocrity promotes mediocrity while excellence hates mediocrity.)
Managing a Remote or Hybrid Workforce
As mentioned above, the metaverse is here to stay and continues to accelerate with new technology. The past two years have shown the benefits and challenges for firms that were not prepared.
One of the biggest challenges for firms and their talent leaders is how to operate in a hybrid environment. Cross-functional teams can accelerate this process and continuously improve your other processes, mindsets and manage change. This current challenge is real as more firms call their workers back to the office, at least for a few days per week. This is even happening with the big tech firms in California. A cross-functional team using agile practices will be more on target with guidance than simply listening to the loudest voice, which is often not the most accurate.
Reducing Technical Debt
Technical debt is often compared to deferred maintenance on property and equipment. Still, it can go well beyond hardware and software costs and be a serious obstacle to your firm’s ability to transform and remain competitive. It is often the sum of the maintenance, integration, lack of user training, outdated processes and security issues the firm has ignored or was just too busy to address.
A great example was the difficulty many firms had in March of 2020 when the pandemic forced them to operate in a virtual environment. Some firms will be caught in the reverse scenario as they go back to the office, only to find that their space requirements and interactions with clients and employees have changed.
Relevant questions to ask are:
How much are we spending on technology just to run the business?
How much are we spending on technology for incremental improvement (modest growth of 5-7%)?
How much are we spending on technology for disruptive innovation to transform our firm so we can sustain success and remain relevant?
Process improvement, digital workflow, training, security, project management and moving totally to the cloud are examples of where firms and many of their clients accumulate technical debt before and during the pandemic. CIOs know that paying down on this debt can be a significant factor in how quickly the firm transforms.
Firms need a plan and budget to remediate technical debt as quickly as possible. The good news we hear from leading CIOs in our Circles is that owner attitudes toward the level of investment in technology have changed dramatically due to the remote workforce and talent shortages. Two more critical questions to ask are:
1. What is our vision for the next one to three years?
2. Where will we be in one to three years if we don’t invest?
Most firm leaders get this. Now, they are looking for the process-driven playbook or checklist of how to execute and motivate an often burned-out and undersized team. In the world of uncertainty, we recommend visioning and developing multiple scenarios with desired outcomes. Playbooks focus on the execution of the steps and are a surefire way to miss the signals in the market.
This is where less can become more (fewer clients and increased value). This scenario requires a new model with more/different levers to pull and generally some new skills and faces in the control room. The old model was primarily based on hours and rates. The new model is focused on adding value to the client by packaging and pricing multiple services in a subscription model. Think-Plan-Grow!
Could you benefit from a peer network of other advisory service leaders?
The Boomer Business Transformation Circle is a peer group of advisory service leaders from top accounting firms who benefit from sharing knowledge, best practices and lessons learned. Apply now to get plugged into the Circle and start transforming your firm.
L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.