Most accountants (particularly partners) complain about wasted time during meetings. I suspect this is because many, if not most, meetings in accounting firms are poorly managed. By improving meetings, your firm can increase performance with a focus on solving issues, rather than just identifying and discussing them. Open discussion is healthy, but resolution is what differentiates high performers.
Let's begin with the basics of partner meetings, because problems often start there. Develop and stick to an agenda. Doing so requires discipline and structure. Record decisions and assign tasks with due dates to people whether they are in attendance or not. Doing this ensures accountability and can be easily tracked with tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook. Get rid of paper and utilize a flat panel or projection system in order to keep everyone focused. Links to any relevant documents should be sent to attendees in advance; however, people do not need to bring paper to the meetings. Any relevant documents can be displayed on screen.
The following is a sample agenda for a monthly partner meeting that includes suggestions to save time and be more efficient.
Item 1: Call to order. Start on time. No excuses.
Item 2: Positive review. Ask each participant to share their most positive experience (or accomplishment) during the previous 30 days. This process sets a positive tone at the outset, so that issues can be discussed and solved. (Each person should spend no more than 30 seconds while taking a turn.)
Item 3: Review previous-period scorecard. The meeting director should present a brief summary of the firm's scorecard. This includes important metrics that drive the economic engine. Limit the time for this, though, because accountants can easily get caught in the numbers.
Item 4: Firm core values and vision. Have a copy available in the event of discussions or decisions. Values and a vision make decision-making faster and easier.
Item 5: Review unresolved issues and tasks from previous meeting. This is about accountability. Utilize technology and present a quick report of issues that are still unresolved from the previous meeting. Don't be afraid to show names and due dates, and seek a report on status.
Item 6: Current issues. Address each issue by order of priority. Define, discuss and solve. Do not allow people to go on tangents and procrastinate. Assign tasks, responsibilities and due dates. When the meeting is over, it is over and there are no flip charters or papers to incorporate into minutes.
Item 7. Establish or confirm the next period's "big rocks." Great leaders hold their partners accountable and keep them focused on the "big rocks." They don't allow them to get caught in the sand and gravel. Do not be afraid of being repetitive. Most people, including partners, do not hear it the first time.
Item 8. Meeting assessment. Allow each person to assess the meeting and express if their expectations were met. Ask each person to grade the meeting from 1-10. Strive for 8s, 9s and 10s.
Item 9. Adjourn. End on time.
STAY FOCUSED AND ACCOUNTABLE
Most partners are great at identifying issues. They are not as great at openly discussing the issues (especially the "elephants" or tough issues) and tend to get caught in the "tangent trap." I challenge you at your next meeting to count the number of tangents people take when trying to solve a single issue. Doing so is human nature and requires discipline, leadership and a culture of trust to overcome. With a high level of trust, the number of issues that make it to a partner meeting is few. Most will be resolved and tasks assigned by firm management. Procrastination is the other enemy.
Accountability is a process, not a slogan. It starts at the top by addressing issues head on and resolving them. Non-accountable partners tend to avoid specific measurements, demand equality, talk in abstracts, and ridicule excellence. Accountable partners will strengthen standards, welcome measurement, take initiative, and deepen commitments.
While this list is not thorough, the tone is set during firm meetings. How your firm discusses and solves issues is a process. Processes can be efficient or inefficient. Great meetings are not about the technology, but it can be utilized to assist the leader or manager and to hold participants accountable.
"Edge," or the ability to make a decision, is one of the top criteria of a partner. Many in the accounting profession have a propensity to gather more information and organize it for presentation purposes. You can live with an issue, end it or change it. The decision is yours. Putting off the decision and justifying procrastination because you can immerse yourself in client problems is not an acceptable excuse. Napoleon Hill said, "Lack of decision and procrastination are the major causes of failure." Your firm should come first, and resolving issues promotes confidence, clarity and the capacity to perform at a higher level. You must have accountability in order to get to the next level.
If your firm is having troubles in these areas, Gino Wickman, in his excellent book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, provides 10 commandments for dealing with issues that apply to your firm and your clients.
1. Thou shall not rule by consensus.
2. Thou shall not be a weenie (strong will, firm resolve and willingness to make tough decisions).
3. Thou shall be decisive. Don't procrastinate.
4. Thou shall not rely on secondhand information.
5. Thou shall fight for the greater good.
6. Thou shall not try to solve them all.
7. Thou shall live with it, end it or change it.
8. Thou shall choose short-term pain and suffering. Solve it now, rather than later.
9. Thou shall enter the danger. The issue you fear the most is the one you most need to discuss and resolve.
10. Thou shall take a shot. Propose a solution.
To share your thoughts and discuss this topic, please visit our blog at www.thinkplangrow.net.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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