Accelerating your firm's progress with technology is more imperative than ever. With new business models emerging in light of the fluctuating markets, firms must be prepared to compete under a variety of scenarios.
In order to build a winning technology team that can thrive in these conditions, accounting firms should emulate the methodology of great sports organizations: careful recruiting, proper skills development, judicious game planning and respect for the individual.
Many firms mistakenly expect accountants to rise up as star players on the technology team. Michael Jordan was a great basketball player, but didn't make it far with golf or baseball. Too often, a firm's technology team is comprised of players who lack the necessary talent and skills. Most firms make this mistake at some point.
Firm owners often believe that they can't afford high-priced technology personnel, but to remain competitive in today's economy, a firm must have access to technology professionals within or through outsourcing.
Some firms bet the entire organization's technology on one person, who acts as a rugged individualist and does not seek outside help. As a result, change takes longer than it should and projects that can accelerate a firm's performance sit on the back burner.
In addition, internal technology personnel promoted from the accounting side will often tell owners what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. This risk is especially prevalent in firms where people have been around for a few years. Don't expect revolutionary results by putting the same people in a room year after year to develop the firm's technology strategy.
Results will be incremental at best.
Winning with technology doesn't "just happen." Great athletic teams ensure that they have the right kind of talent playing in the right positions. Why should your firm be any different?
Though some firm leaders are beginning to realize that investing in technology without training is a poor investment, many firms still give little care to learning initiatives. You can't be too busy to stop and sharpen the saw. Technology personnel and end users alike need some degree of ongoing training.
According to the Gartner Group, a worker gains five hours of productivity for every one hour of technology training, yet many partners resist formal training programs by refusing to participate and keeping staff members out of scheduled classes (reasoning that chargeable work might not get done).
Some owners give in to paranoia, believing that offering training will only make employees more attractive to other firms or cost the firm more in salaries. If employees are more productive, however, the firm can afford to pay them more.
IT personnel and end users need technical instruction, but don't neglect to offer project management, sales and soft skills training. Everyone in a firm should learn how to teach, and everyone should learn.
Enlisting the perspective of an experienced learning professional can accelerate training initiatives, because a firm's personnel are often too close to a situation and don't see obvious solutions that someone from the outside might notice.
Those of you fortunate enough to have played on a winning team will never forget it. The greatest lesson to be learned from winning is how a team is motivated by a common purpose. Too many firms view technology as overhead and do not have a united purpose for technology. Firms that win with technology document a game plan and have a purpose.
In his book High Five, Ken Blanchard states, "None of us is as smart as all of us." The book relates the story of Alan Foster, who lost his job because he simply wasn't a team player within his organization. Out of boredom he decided to coach his son's hockey team, and called upon a retired, 85-year-old champion basketball coach to assist him. In short, she taught him that a team with a great game plan can beat a team with more talent and no game plan.
Even the best talent cannot rescue a team that lacks a good game plan. Moreover, talented players become easily frustrated without a defined purpose, and will even leave to play elsewhere as a result. When they do, your firm will be left with those who lack confidence and resist change.
Accountants are quick to blame IT professionals for their frustrations with technology. Not surprisingly, technology professionals report that they often feel unappreciated and even segregated from a firm's team.
Granted, some IT personnel are not great communicators, but neither are some accountants. Focus on the positive as much as possible, and show respect for the unique abilities of individuals on your team. The more you berate IT personnel (or anyone on your team), the less likely you are to win.
The following are a few tips for managing technology and building your IT team.
1. Document a game plan. Owners, staff and technology personnel should all participate. An outside facilitator can help reduce time and ensure progress. Documented standards, policies and procedures are a must. It is impossible to train without them.
2. Assess your team. Make sure that you have enough players with the right skills to compete.
3. Train your team and end users. This requires a curriculum and training program for owners, staff and technology personnel. Good teams practice.
4. Stress positive performance. Celebrate successes. Create enthusiasm among your team. High fives are contagious.
5. Use professional coaching. If you don't have the talent within to coach your technology team, get help from the outside.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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