Firms that have recently completed or plan to develop a strategic plan should be concerned about implementation, accountability, discipline and commitment. Expectations should be dealt with now, rather than later, to ensure success.Each firm is different when it comes to execution, but most firms and their members know what they should do in order to be successful.
There will be obstacles, and the fact is that most firms do not achieve to the full extent for the following reasons:
* Not all partners buy in at the same level;
* A lack of accountability;
* A lack of discipline; and,
* A lack of financial rewards that support the plan.
Successful planning and execution does not end when the firm’s annual summit or retreat does. Most people leave the meeting motivated and excited, but immediately revert to old habits once they return to the office.
The differences in success that I see among firms start with buy-in of the vision, mission, core values and objects. Partners know what needs to be done; many just don’t want to do it.
It’s helpful to understand the multiple perspectives that we note among partners and staff. These may be obvious to outsiders, but are often ignored within firms because of conflict avoidance and the time required to hold people accountable. The accompanying table illustrates four perspectives on growth and the investment in growth. It may also be helpful in determining the authenticity level of buy-in.
QUADRANT 1: RUGGED INDIVIDUALIST
These individuals value independence over income and capabilities. Over 30,000 sole-proprietor firms are members of the American Institute of CPAs. They are motivated by the premises of “Eat what you kill” and
“I will do it my way.” They typically do not care to invest in the future and want rewards now. There is little accountability at the top, but staff members are held accountable for financial results.
QUADRANT 2: CONTROL FREAKS
These people will invest in staff and the future as long as they are in control. They truly believe that no one can do it better than they can, and have difficulty delegating responsibility and authority. There is typically little accountability other than financial results. Staff members are often viewed as expendable. They typically view training as top-down, rather than a two-way street.
QUADRANT 3: WOLF PACK
Wolf pack members are usually well organized in order to increase opportunities for larger and more profitable clients. They’re more interested in current (short-term) results than in long-term investments — people, planning and processes. They’re motivated by the “Eat what you kill” philosophy. If the pack doesn’t meet an individual’s needs, the individual will normally join another pack. There is little loyalty or trust among members of the pack.
Another motivator is the ability to share necessary overhead. With an aging profession, wolf packs are at risk because they have not invested in succession and developing people. This is normally a shared services approach.
QUADRANT 4: UNIQUE ABILITY TEAM
Members of unique ability teams focus on culture as well as productivity. They are life-long learners who are willing to invest in the future. They understand their own unique abilities and respect others and their unique abilities. They share a common vision. They live by, and expect others to live up to, the firm’s core values. They desire to be a part of a training-learning culture and develop successors at all levels in the firm. Individual accountability permeates the firm, and managers readily give recognition to those who live up to the firm’s values while meeting personal as well as firm goals. The firm comes before any individual.
With that said, this article does not intend to be judgmental. People have different definitions of success, and it is possible to attain financial success in any of the four quadrants. However, firms that strive to share a vision, invest in the future and grow require different types of people than those that want to be rugged individuals, control freaks or wolf packs.
All progress starts with the truth, and those who agree up front on the type of firm that they strive to be will grow much more rapidly and be more profitable than those that try to be something many of their people don’t want. Individual needs change, as do firm strategies.
Integrating personal significance with a firm’s vision is critically important. As Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, you must get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and then those on the bus in the right seats based upon their unique abilities. One size fits one, but it is imperative that you know who you and your firm are before you develop a strategic plan.
The following steps will help you ensure that your firm moves to the quadrant of choice:
* 1. Know your own unique abilities.
* 2. Develop a strategic plan with input from all stakeholders.
* 3. Define personnel requirements based upon the strategic plan.
* 4. Build your team. A unique ability team will attract those who desire to be part of something much bigger than they can do on their own. Rugged individuals, control freaks and wolf packs attract different types of individuals. Fun is important to satisfying work. Make sure that you work for a firm in the quadrant that is right for you.
* 5. Hold everyone accountable. Accountability has a different meaning in each quadrant.
With these five simple, but difficult, steps, your firm can develop a culture of trust and respect, confidence, growth in revenue, profitability, and successors. Doing so requires time and commitment. It may also require an outside coach who can provide guidance and assist in building confidence. Planning, people and processes are keys to performance. Technology is the accelerator. If Quadrant 4 is not your goal, be realistic and plan accordingly.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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