Once a society where information was pushed out to us through mediums like newspapers and television, we now have a greater capability to "pull" in the information that we want most, sifting out that which is unwanted.
Similarly, companies that once survived and thrived on their ability to predict demand and "push out" products and services now struggle to adapt to our changing world. What is hot today is not tomorrow.
In 2010, John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison published a thought-provoking book, The Power of Pull, that tries to define this change, something that they call the "big shift." In it, they discuss several important tactics that can be used to adapt, many of which revolve around talent - finding it, retaining it, developing it, and most important, the idea of innovative collaboration.
Companies can no longer rest on their laurels, because just around the corner is something new or better. Instead, they must constantly be on the edge of innovation, examining how the world is evolving and how they can evolve to keep up. One of the best ways of doing this is by tapping the personal passion of the talented people staffing these companies, allowing them to work together to create, innovate and transform businesses.
That means that your company or firm must offer something that keeps talent flocking to be a part of your business, and you must offer an environment where they can develop as rapidly as possible.
One company that seems to be getting it right is The Siegfried Group, which not only operates on the pull system itself, but facilitates an environment where its professionals and its clients can, as well. Headquartered in Wilmington, Del., The Siegfried Group on paper is a CPA firm that provides accounting and finance services to Fortune 1000 organizations on an as-needed basis. Sounds like just another CPA/consulting firm, right?
So what sets Siegfried apart? In one word: talent. If you ask founder, president and chief executive Robert Siegfried, CPA, what makes his firm more powerful than others, it's the unique ability to attract and retain excellent and outstanding talent.
However, Siegfried does more than that. Its model is built upon providing large organizations with the ability to pull in talent when they need it. Siegfried's clients range high, low, deep and wide, varying from clothing manufacturers to financial institutions, to energy companies and around and back again. These companies are looking for a flexible solution to their changing needs, and Siegfried provides it: ready access to great talent.
In this new world of pull, organizations must focus on outcomes, instead of processes - "I don't care how we get there, just get us there." If companies are able to trust in the fact that they have talented people, then they can set their talent free and allow them to work together, using their collective talents, to reach an end goal.
It is entirely that premise that makes Siegfried a trusted resource for so many companies. Clients may not know what professional they are going to get until the qualification process, but they know that they will be talented. According to one Fortune 500 client of The Siegfried Group, the biggest thing that a Siegfried professional can do "on the job" is be creative and innovative, and, ultimately, eliminate the need that they were brought in to fill. Someone like that, the client said, will be brought back time and time again.
POWER OF PASSION
For the Siegfried professional resources, this pull environment provides a constant source of professional development. Siegfried finds talented people, and provides them the opportunity to become even more talented.
Siegfried professionals are introduced into new environments and new industries every six to nine months that require them to use knowledge gained from previous work experience, their time at Siegfried, and the unique attributes that set them apart from others to be successful. These passionate professionals not only seek out these types of challenges, they crave them! The ability to swim in the deep end on a regular basis challenges Siegfried's people to push their skills to the edge. Many Siegfried professionals, past and present, will tell you that through Siegfried's model, they were able to attain 10 years of experience in five years, and the variety of work provided through this "accounting residency" helped them figure out what they really wanted from their career, and then get it!
The same is also true for the internal support structure. Robert Siegfried encourages what he calls "stakeholder" participation in the firm's success. That means that every employee shares in its successes and its challenges. Entrepreneurial thought is encouraged and company leadership is open to suggestions on ways to enhance the firm, drive profits and improve the business model.
The firm's ability to adapt to the changing marketplace has put it in a phenomenal position of strength. At a time when most companies would be thrilled to see 10 percent growth, The Siegfried Group posted 59 percent growth in 2011.
PULL IT ALL TOGETHER
The next step, of course, if figuring out how you can apply the basic ideas of "pull" to your career and your organization. Great leaders identify and develop their successors. The best talent development organizations have a personal development plan for each employee, provide the resources and hold people accountable. Firms that provide this type of environment become known as developers of talent and don't have to worry about recruitment and retaining top talent. Experiences are as important as classroom training and should include business development (leadership and management skills), technology and the core technical skills.
This strategy corrects much of what has been wrong with regulated continuing profession education, which too often focuses only on technical skills and hours. Your first step may be to hire a training/learning coordinator or utilize an outside talent development consultant to get you started. These people have skills and tools typically not present in most CPA firms.
Gary Boomer, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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