When you work in a professional services firm with different locations, different practice areas and different industries (not counting different deadlines and "busy seasons"), it is quite challenging to pull everyone together and focus on one vision for your firm.
To get all employees to have the same focus is like herding cats: One is chasing its own tail (working on a current client), one is hunting a mouse (prospecting), while another is taking a nap. How do you corral all the felines to focus on the same thing? The best way is through actively promoting communication throughout the firm. Typically, firms have one planning retreat annually where the partners get together and talk about a plan for a few days outside the office, only for it to be forgotten a few weeks after the retreat and never conveyed to the staff. Although retreats are important, without a specific plan and steps for implementation, this process is about as successful as teaching a cat to fetch.
First, there should be clarity in your vision and mission. Second, there must be clarity in "the future." Define the specific future goals of the firm - growth, industry focus, internal and external training, coaching/mentoring programs, and business development plans. All staff members need to understand and have "buy-in" to your firm's strategic goals. All of this falls under the main problem most professional services firm face: miscommunication. The phrases "I know nothing about that" and "That's news to me" need to be eliminated from conversations at your firm.
• How do you start? A first step is to implement monthly meetings with staff members (not board meetings or partner meetings -- these folks already know what's going on; they control it!). This allows the executive director or managing partner to freely communicate the firm's goals and objectives and make the items relatable.
Make sure topics are understandable to all levels of staff, and include all items that could be relevant. Never assume that your staff knows changes or updates; use this time to inform them. Always relate back to the future plan for the firm, either specifically or incrementally. An example would be if you had a new targeted industry on the business plan for growing the firm.
It is important to communicate why this industry has been selected and how team members can help with prospecting, research and growth. Once monthly meetings are established, look for other ways to reiterate clear and focused communication.
• What tools are available? Does your firm use internal newsletters? Paper or e-mail newsletters are a great way to reach out to all employees at different offices and working in different fields. Use this tool for celebrating wins and accomplishments, and communicating your vision and future goals. Most firms are now utilizing intranets or internal homepages as another form of communication. Use the tools your firm has available and don't underestimate the power of repetition.
• Who is responsible? Leadership must always set the tone and carry the message, but all supervisors, marketers and business development professionals need to reflect the message as well. The employees who truly care about the future of the firm and want to be involved are your best resource and will leverage the vision of the firm to all employees they encounter.
TIE IT ALL TOGETHER
Communication needs to go both ways. The executive director or managing partner needs to bring feedback, ideas and suggestions that have come from staff back to the board or partner group. With frequent, honest communication, gaining firm focus is an achievable goal, unlike herding cats.
Emily Doherty is the marketing director of Savannah, Ga.-based CPA firm Deemer Dana & Froehle LLP.
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