Professional service companies can be successful as either shared services or shared vision firms, although there are limitations on shared services firms.Your question may be, "What is the difference?" Conducting an honest assessment of your firm is the first step that should be taken. Next, develop a strategic plan. Shared services firms can grow and prosper financially, while shared vision firms can provide more than just financial results. Shared vision firms can also provide exponential growth, as well as a differentiating culture where individuals are rewarded for their significance in support of the firm's strategic objectives. Shared vision provides direction, growth and integration with personal goals and a differentiating culture.

The following questions will assist you in determining where your firm is today. Shared services firms are limited to incremental improvement and growth, while shared vision firms can achieve firm improvement, exponential growth and a differentiating culture.

This requires P3 Management (for planning, people and processes). P1 is firm improvement, P2 is exponential growth and, finally, P3 is a differentiating culture.

1. Does your firm have a strategic plan with buy-in from the owners and staff?

2. Does your firm have a professional management team?

3. Is your firm managed by a chief executive officer or managing partner?

4. Are owners compensated for objectives other than financial (charge hours and book of business)?

5. For firm and office management?

6. For development of staff and other owners?

7. For management of staff and other owners?

8. For client development and satisfaction?

9. For process improvement and innovation?

10. Does your firm have succession and retirement plans in place?

11. Does your firm view technology as a strategic asset?

12. Does your firm have written standards, policies and procedures?

13. If so, do the firm owners comply with the standards, policies and procedures?

If you answered yes to nine or more of the questions, you are well on your way to being a shared vision firm.

If you answered yes to six to eight of the questions, you are in transition.

If you answered yes to five or less, you are a shared services firm.

While the benefits of being a shared vision firm are great and the dangers associated with a shared services firm are significant, both can have financial success. The problem with shared services firms is that they tend to be about the owners, rather than the firm. It is difficult to sustain growth, especially exponential growth, in a shared services firm. Lack of succession and continuity is also an associated risk.

It takes planning, processes and the right people to be a shared vision firm. The firm must come first. Once you have determined where you are today and where you want to be in three years, you can then begin implementing the appropriate strategies.

The table shows some of the differences between the two types of firms. Of course, there are degrees and many firms are striving to transition.

P3 Management can transform your firm; however, it requires the proper balance between planning and processes, then the right people in the right seats on the firm bus.SERVICES v. VISION

 
Shared services firm
Issue
Shared vision firm
1.
MP or executive committee
Governance
CEO or managing partner
2.
Little time for planning and thinking
Planning -- strategic, IT, HR, succession, staff development
Integrated partner and staff game plans
3.
Book of business, then the firm -- owners in charge of key leadership roles
Management focus
Professionals in key leadership roles -- CEO, HR, CFO, CIO, marketing, etc.
4.
Protect individuals
Agreements
Protect the firm & owners
5.
Unfunded, often unrealistic
Retirement
Funded or unfunded, but limited
6.
No plan -- hope to hire future leadership
Succession
Develop leaders at all levels; plans in place
7.
Overhead
View of technology
Strategic asset
8.
Focus on CPE requirements
Training and learning
Technical CPE, soft skills and leadership
9.
Charge hours and book of business
Owner compensation
Goal-oriented; Balanced Score Card
10.
Multiple processes & generally not adhered to by owners
Standard, policies and procedures
Documented and adhered to by all

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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