Building entrepreneurial accountants and partners during coronavirus

Sometimes the best changes come because we are forced into them.

For example, the pandemic has made many accounting practitioners more aware of limitations — and the value that can come from changing to better manage the stresses and unknowns of current working conditions. Firms managing well through COVID-19 have found ways to become more efficient, more alert, more communicative, more creative and more strategic.

CPA firms have struggled for a long time with staffing and succession issues. In our new environment, firms must find new ways to adapt to meet those challenges. Starting with their entry level team members, firms must find ways to build accountants who are entrepreneurs — and who will one day become partners.

What’s an entrepreneur and how do you build one?

At a basic level, an entrepreneur sees a business need and finds efficient, creative and strategic ways to fill it. To get started building your team of entrepreneurs, consider some “assembly instructions” below:

Mission statements for engagements
An airline passenger wears a protective face mask, manufactured by 3M Co., while passing through Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Israel expanded its 14-day quarantine policy to include arrivals from all countries, ramping up its efforts to beat back the spread of the coronavirus. Photographer: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg
Each year, set goals to help clients of a certain profile build their business. All staff members should be accountable and participate in the goal setting, and they should be ready for feedback from clients.
Compensation think tanks
Ensure bonus and achievement awards are part of the compensation system. People at every level should have input into the milestones and achievements to be stimulated.
Efficiency task forces
Most people like a quick and gratifying work experience. The same holds true for clients. Time is precious. Entrepreneurs realize the value of time and the beauty of freeing up people. Groups of people from all firm functions and levels should meet several times a year to generate better efficiencies and gratification.
Case study engagement
Business schools rely on case studies to develop a mindset for students. Similarly, CPA firms need to use both actual and hypothetical cases to provoke growth and creativity in their team. All accountants must take part in the case study learning experience.
Business world connectivity
Every person — no matter how much experience they have — should be part of a larger business organization, such as an industry trade group, a chamber of commerce or an advisory board to gain bigger picture insights and spark ideas on how they can be better at their own jobs.
Mentoring
Connect every accountant with a mentor in your business community or client base. Entrepreneurs learn more from other entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs like the challenge of engaging with other entrepreneurs.
Flexibility
Of course, firms should maintain focus on deliverables, budget and completion dates. However, don’t go too narrow or too severe with mandatory hours or work location (something else the pandemic has taught us). Entrepreneurs will already know they need to communicate with and satisfy their clients first and foremost. A little flexibility in other areas won’t change that and may help spark entrepreneurial spirit.
Preach partnership, always
Boldly proclaim that the firm can’t have enough partners, and strengthen that message throughout firm culture. Create a "Top 10 Reasons For Being a Partner" list. Current partners should talk openly about the realities of becoming a partner — and how the good far outweighs the bad.

COVID-19 has confirmed that people can be reactive. To overcome the limitations and challenges your firm has regarding staffing and succession, you must move to be more proactive. Be thoughtful, but be aggressive. Now is the time to start building your own breed of entrepreneurs and heroes.

Ira Rosenbloom is CEO of Optimum Strategies, a company that improves the performance, profitability and succession options of small- to mid-sized accounting practices across the Mid-Atlantic region.
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