Perhaps one of the most difficult things is to get young and old accountants to think and act strategically. Most accounting and tax professionals are very good at following work plans. But it's a different story when you ask them to change the way they think and act.

Here are seven specific activities that can help your people think and act more strategically, and hence perform better than your competition.

1. Set priorities

Firms that excel in strategic thinking know their priorities. In fact, everyone in the firm knows, understands and agrees on the priorities. Another characteristic of these high-performing firms is the number of priorities. Most of them have between three and five priorities. Having more usually causes confusion in an organization. With too many priorities, your people won't be able to focus on what is important.

Priorities represent the key steps to achieve your goals. They also tell the firm where to allocate its resources in terms of dollars, time and people.

* Do your partners know the key priorities for 2008?

* Do your people know them?

* Would everyone in the firm give the same answer to these questions?

2. Focus

If you don't have clear priorities, you can't have laser focus. Firms that lack focus usually undergo a lot of activities during the year, but have very little in the way of results. Many times this is apparent in a complete misalignment of activities in the firm.

* How well is your firm focused?

* Do you take a shotgun approach or a rifle approach?

3. Measurement and reporting

The major way to influence behavior is to measure. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, "What gets measured gets done." That's why at Weight Watchers people weigh in each week.

Measuring provides three benefits. First, it helps to implement change, and second, it communicates change, and third, it provides a sense of progress along the way. If you want to change behavior, change what you measure. For every objective ask:

* What will success look like?

* What are you going to measure?

* What is your target for success?

4. Organizational structure

Does the firm's structure support its strategic initiatives? If not, it will be extremely difficult to get the changes you are looking for. Structure must support the strategic priorities. Before you get too far down the strategic planning road, make sure that tasks in the organization flow together on the basis of the firm's structure.

* Does your firm's organizational structure support your strategic vision?

* How will you need to change it?

5. Communication

Communication is not what we say or write, but what our people hear and understand. I've heard managing partners tell me countless times, "But I sent the memo." In those firms that act strategically, great effort is made by leadership to truly communicate the strategic priorities, so that everyone in the firm knows and understands what to do and why.

People in the organization need to know what's working and what's not. Otherwise you won't be able to correct errors. Don't be afraid to ask these questions:

* What needs to change in the firm?

* How can you do better?

* What do you need to improve on?

6. Commitment

The primary way to obtain commitment is through involvement. It may take a little longer to get team members involved in the development of firm objectives and goals, but the results will be worth the efforts. Unless a significant number of your people are committed to the plan, not much will change.

* Did you get enough people involved in developing your plan?

* Did you take their concerns into account?

* Did you end up with a plan that was acceptable to the majority of your owners?

7. Compensation and rewards

Compensation, bonuses and other rewards need to be aligned with the firm's strategic initiatives. Again, this keeps your team members focused on the priorities so that they can reap the rewards.

* Is your compensation system performance-oriented?

* Do partners and team members know their individual and team goals?

ACTION STEP

In order to implement some of these ideas, determine whether your firm is acting and thinking strategically or not. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself and your fellow owners and team members:

* Do you have a single vision for the firm?

* Can everyone in the firm clearly state it in 25 words or less?

* Do you have one firm culture or many cultures in the firm?

* Have you identified the three or four most important goals the firm needs to accomplish this year?

* How many people in the firm know what they are?

* Have you identified what success in each one of these goals means and looks like?

* How motivated and committed are the partners and staff to achieving these goals?

* Have you tied compensation and rewards to the attainment of the firm goals?

August Aquila is CEO of Aquila Global Advisors and Chantrey Capital Advisors. Reach him at aaquila<>aquilaadvisors.com or (952) 930-1295.

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