[IMGCAP(1)]I once watched a long-distance golf drive competition and was amazed at the distance that some people are able to hit a golf ball.

Several of those competing were sending the ball up to and even over 400 yards. To put those figures in context, the average drive on the PGA Tour (this is where Tiger Woods plays) in 2008 was 287.1 yards. Logic would tell you that these long hitters would have a huge advantage over their competition: place the ball well up the fairway, get on the green, drop the putt, and walk away having conquered the hole.

However, rarely do you see long distance drive champions walking off the 18th green with a major championship under their belt. It takes another type of skill to calm the nerves, make the finesse shots, and sink the putts of 5, 10, or 15 feet when everyone is watching, waiting, and the match is on the line. It also takes real commitment and endurance to spend countless hours developing all parts of a golf game and doing things others are not willing to do in order to be a champion on the tour.

Often firms use this time of year to set strategy for their accounting practice. They put together a series of “400 yard drives” in designing a beautiful strategic plan with all sorts of huge initiatives for acquiring market share, developing new niches, or increasing profitability.

However, often after putting the plans together, distributing nice bound copies to everyone, the year gets underway and the plan is very soon forgotten. It takes a special type of firm to actually move from putting a strategic plan together to implementing and staying committed to those things that will allow the firm to move to the next level.

Obviously many factors go into executing on a winning strategy. The strategy itself must be clear and well thought out. There needs to be serious commitment from leadership to making the strategy work. Otherwise, why bother? Your people who will be carrying the load need to get behind the plan, and there needs to be an accountability mechanism in place that drives things forward from the start.

Today maybe more than ever, the importance of doing these things the right way can be the difference between real success and losing ground, which ultimately is unsustainable. Many firms even in this economy are thriving by moving aggressively in their market, setting the right course, and being accountable to each other. At the same time we see firms really struggle as their clients struggle. They are seeing flat or negative growth for the first time in the firm’s history, which two years ago was unthinkable.

Firms are also seeing a decline in profits from year to year. This profit trend has been taking shape since 2005 when the average profit for accounting firms was at 34.2 percent. Today it is just 30.1 percent.

You do not want to be part of that negative trend. Now is the time to get serious about your game and work on all the things necessary to succeed. You may have tried and failed in the past; however, the past has nothing to do with what you can do today and tomorrow to change your direction.

Look for initiatives that will set your firm apart. Ask the question, “What makes our firm different?” Assign a champion to each initiative, have them set a measurable strategy for each firm initiative and (this is important) require people to report their progress weekly or monthly (depending on the initiative). Remember that the champion of each strategy must have the authority to make decisions and the support of the partner group for making things happen. The managing partner may be the ultimate owner of the firm strategy; however, the MP obviously cannot do it alone.

Your firm does have what it takes to be the best. You do not need to have the longest drive.

Work on your entire game and start using every club in your bag consistently, and you will get to where you want to be. Who knows? You may even get hold of one and hit that 400 yarder.

Patrick Pruett is the executive director of Enterprise Network Worldwide and The Alliance of Professional Associations (The APA). He is dedicated to providing and developing solutions that fit members’ needs as a group and as individual firms. He is particularly focused on growing the association’s membership base and developing long-term relationships with leading, proactive firms that are committed to a 5 Star Client Service culture.

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