Key Areas of Focus for Your Firm in 2020
Post by: Arianna Campbell, Director
This time of year, there is a lot of noise surrounding the coming busy season. Technology, process, talent, leadership, growth, metrics, automation – these are all crucial. But the reality is that, especially during this hectic time of the year, it’s difficult to make progress if you are not focused on the right areas.
What should your firm be focused on the in the upcoming year? Here is a “Start, Stop, Continue” list for CPA firms in 2020:
Start focusing on these areas to take advantage of opportunities that are not being fully leveraged:
Utilizing technology as much as possible. We can only get so much efficiency out of our people, so we have to start viewing technology as a part of our talent pool. Start looking at outsourcing, automation (especially RPA), using new technologies and getting the most out of existing technologies. For any task you or your team members perform with any regularity, ask how technology can get it done faster and more accurately.
Having a sense of urgency. The profession is changing quickly. This isn’t a thing of the future; it’s a thing of the now. There isn't time to delay in figuring out your firm's strategy for moving from compliance to advisory. You need to have a documented strategy and communicate that plan to your firm. There’s no time to waste.
Trusting your people and giving them opportunities. Start looking for ways to push work down. Give less experienced people more learning opportunities, responsibility and authority. But make sure you train them adequately to improve their chances of success.
Stop doing these actions or activities that are getting in the way of success:
Waiting for perfection. It’s never going to be the right time to change. Innovation is messy, so stop waiting for the one, perfect technology solution. Everyone won’t buy in. Do it anyway. Have a culture of continuous improvement and focus on progress, not perfection.
Making excuses for not using technology. Stop saying you tried something years ago, and it didn't work or using your clients as an excuse (i.e., “my clients won't use that”). Usually, it’s internal resistance rather than external resistance from clients that holds firms back. Remember, your clients are using technology in every other area of their lives - they can use it with you too. There will always be some exceptions but certainly not enough to keep you from using technology across the firm. If it’s truly a matter of clients not getting on board, you need to consider whether your current non-tech-savvy client base is the right fit to support the growth and future of the firm.
Blaming technology. Technology isn’t a cure-all for inefficient processes. If you’re using old processes with new technology, the tech will fall short, and you won’t get the best return on your investment. Stop blaming the technology. Review your old processes and update them to get them in alignment with your tech.
Not holding people accountable. Accountability is a huge problem in the profession. I talk to firms that say they’re having a hard time with people following processes and using technology. But when I ask what happens when people deviate from the process, there is seldom an answer. Accountability doesn't have to be confrontational. It can take the form of coaching, education and conversation. One of the most effective ways to hold people accountable is simply setting expectations and having visibility and transparency into metrics. The metrics don't need to be complicated. Simple measurements on a whiteboard or dashboard that capture progress made toward firm goals encourage peer accountability.
Continue to focus on these areas to utilize existing strengths and help grow your firm:
Learning. It’s important to keep learning new skills, especially areas outside of your comfort zone. Learn from books, articles, podcasts, conferences and peer groups. Focus on core success skills such as:
o Consultative Conversations
o Creative Conflict
o Continuous Improvement
o Business Development
o Public Speaking
o Thought Leadership
o Technology – Including AI awareness and education
Building and nurturing client relationships. Firms are already good at client relationships. So leverage that talent and add more value. Continue having conversations with your clients, asking questions about their goals and what keeps them up at night. Provide more consultative guidance to become a true trusted advisor.
Maintaining a positive mindset. There is so much opportunity, and the future of the accounting profession is bright. Take advantage of all the exciting things ahead that will contribute to the success of your firm. Acknowledging the challenges ahead can be invigorating, so be hopeful while sharing your enthusiasm for the future.
Your firm will make progress by focusing on the areas that make a significant impact. Use these recommendations to guide your strategies and you will see success in 2020 and beyond.
Are your processes effective, efficient and consistent?