For some time, large firms have known that having a vision for the future and strategic, tactical plans were the only way to manage their practices.

Unfortunately, many firms still question whether written strategic plans are really necessary. Some say that firms and businesses alike have been successful over time without having a plan in writing. So, do smaller firms really need to have one?

He said: I am definitely in favor of having some dream for the future. I really don't care what you want to call it -- dream, aspiration, strategic vision, etc. If a firm cannot focus on the future, then where is it going? Whether a firm or an individual, we all need to have a dream for the future, otherwise we are stuck in the present. If you dreamt of being a CPA, you majored in accounting, sat for the CPA Exam, and joined an accounting firm. That was your dream. If you dreamt of being a partner one day, you started thinking and behaving like a partner. Sure, not all dreams become reality, but if you can't dream it, you never will be able to do it.

She said: Having a plan in writing does not guarantee that it will be followed. Old-fashioned, head-centered, stationary business plans are not the most effective. A plan needs to have passion, innovation and life behind it. Many firms invest time, resources and money to have annual planning, but the plan is never followed. Annual planning is scheduled like the annual Christmas party; the difference is that the planning is just an event, not a process with execution. Strategic plans can become a tool to motivate and give your team vision to prepare their thinking for action items that will move the firm forward.

He said: Partners work together because they have a common dream. For example, I was with a firm that was growing rapidly and moving upstream. Some of the partners who wanted to serve small clients no longer shared the dream. This is not to say that they were wrong; it's just that their vision of the future did not mesh with the firm's. So, what does a firm leader need to do to create passion within the firm? I go into many firms, and I don't find passion.

She said: Firms that are successful have agreed on where they want to go. They have communicated it to the partners and team members so that everyone knows which way to go. Check-ins are occurring in the form of accountability meetings. The most important part of having a strategy is the ability to be flexible in that strategy. I would rather a firm have more communication around opportunities as they arise, than laser focus on what is written in a plan and then lack the flexibility to adapt to changes. Strategic plans should be a tool to guide the team, not a document to be followed to the letter.

He said: I can't disagree with what you are saying, but most accountants don't see the relationship between what we are talking about and what they do day-in and day-out. Accountants for the most part just don't think strategically. When they were just accountants they did not have to. The world has changed faster than our accounting colleagues.

She said: That is spoken like a true strategic guy.

He said: You are a strategic planner, too, my friend. That is why it is important to view the planning as a conversation between your partners, to have open dialogue and challenge one another to come to agreement. This allows your team to formulate a roadmap that is an outline to guide them along, but will allow for change and adaptation to the influences that are constantly moving pieces. They can choose to be prepared, but have the ability to wander down different paths if they encounter unexpected changes they are not prepared for.

She said: Key questions you must ask are: What do you want your firm to look like? What does this mean for your team, your owners and your clients?

The plan should be built around the answers to these questions. This allows you to develop a plan that has been challenged by all members of the team and create a unified agreement that fits your culture.

They said: Planning for the future is a good no matter the size of the firm, because it forces you to think through the why, where and what. Why are you doing this? Where do you want to go? What are some ways to get there? Some may even say that this is the easiest part.

But believe us: Coming up with a good vision and strategies for your firm takes more than a two-day retreat. Even having a plan in writing does not guarantee success -- you need to implement it. Opportunities come from many different places and you need to be agile and flexible.

August Aquila is a well-known consultant, retreat facilitator and author. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or aaquilaa@aquilaadvisors.com. Angie Grissom is president of The Rainmaker Companies, which exclusively serves accounting firms. Reach her at (615) 373-9880 or angie@therainmakercompanies.com.

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