Accounting firms are full of barriers to growth, many of which are invisible, and some of which may spring from the owners themselves, according to growth consultant and Rainmaker Companies president Angie Grissom.

“There are a lot of natural barriers in our organizations,” Grissom said, speaking at a session called “Blur the Lines to Clear Your Strategy” at the 20th Annual Rainmaker Superconference, “To create a culture of growth, you need to find those barriers and ‘blur the lines’” to get around them.

Grissom and session attendees identified a number of barriers that can exist within accounting firms that make it difficult for them to create a culture of growth.

Among the barriers:

  • Communication gaps. Whether between partners, or between management and staff, failing to maintain open communication is a major impediment to growth.
  • Barriers between departments. Balkanization of service lines and departments -- audit versus tax, for instance -- can prevent a firm from pursuing a strong growth strategy.
  • Physical separation. Staff in different offices may feel isolated or cut off, and thus not engage. And groups don’t even have to be in a different office -- even being on a different floor can be isolating: “An entire tax team told me they were isolated from the rest of the firm because they were on a different floor,” Grissom said.
  • Age. With different expectations, attitudes and goals, different generations can find it difficult to agree on creating a growth strategy.
  • Technology. While it can often be a cornerstone of a growth strategy, technology can also actually be a barrier, whether because of varying levels of skill within a firm, or because it prevents human contact. “They don’t know how to use the telephone,” one attendee said, referring to younger accountants, whose preference for more digital communications leads them to ignore more fundamental modes of communication and relationship-building.
  • Lack of responsibility/accountability. Employees need to be engaged and feel responsible for your firm’s growth strategy. “If you make your staff own their careers and their initiatives, you will have a growth culture,” Grissom said.

Figuring out which barriers are in place at your firm is critical, Grissom explained, and leaders need to keep their eyes wide open, because they may exist in surprising places.
“Barriers to growth are invisible,” she said. “I wonder, would the people who work for me be more productive if they worked for someone else? If they would, then that’s my problem.”

“Take a look at yourself and determine if you’re the barrier,” she suggested. “Did you cause that problem?”