If you're hoping to hit the ground running on or about April 24 (factoring in a few days of recuperation on a sun-drenched beach) with solid growth strategies you couldn't focus on during the busy season, here are some thoughts.Continuing to focus on three persistently challenging areas will yield maximum return - ongoing staffing shortages, changing regulation and leadership development.

Staffing: Cope creatively

The shortage of qualified staff is likely to continue for quite some time. Coping and even thriving in this lean environment requires perseverance and creativity.

Some firms have had success bringing in professional recruiters as an adjunct to their human resources staff. Other firms are reaching out to sole practitioners to attract those who may be tired of slugging it out alone. Bill Pirolli, of Pirolli Deller & Conaty in Providence, R.I., is a big believer in such strategic alliances. For years, his small firm has been located inside the office of the state's largest accounting organization. "It serves us both, because I'm able to draw on their experiences in valuation, pension services, insurance and other areas. And they count on my staff to fill holes in their schedule." Bill has also seen smaller firms start to share part-time employees, as law firms have long done.

"My advice is to hire on a person's potential and personality," counsels Debbie Kuhl of Atlanta financial search firm InBalance Partners. "I tell clients to use job specs as a wish list. If they find someone who does not fall precisely within them, but who has the intelligence, drive and enthusiasm, hire and train them."

New sources of talent will continue to be the name of the game. In addition to outsourcing trends, other approaches are coming on the scene. One of my clients is acquiring gray-haired talent left and right. These are former senior-level partners who found out a traditional retirement wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

I believe that in the future we'll look back and see the serious beginnings of a trend to reshape the way people work. Brick and mortar will continue to become less relevant as technology enables part-timers to work anytime, anywhere. I recently had jury duty and realized I got a full day's work done in the jury selection room, while going through the entire jury selection process! I only needed a bag full of electronics and my brain.

Instead of a standard workweek, with each part-time variation a custom-designed scenario, the firm of the future will be designed with part-time, offsite workers as the norm. My husband, in the staffing business for years, experienced this as a way of life. The firm that cracks the code is way ahead.

I believe that bank tellers represent a perfect pool to source a firm's para-professionals. Along with redefining the way we attack our work - like physician's assistants in the medical field and paralegals in the legal field - we can open up a powerful source of talent and encourage our professionals to "push work down."

Regulations: Fasten your seat belts!

If the history books fail to characterize this time as the era of super-regulation, I'll be shocked! In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley world, more and more regulators have their finger in the pie. The movement of publicly held company auditing standards from the American Institute of CPAs to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board started a domino effect.

Do the same standard-setting bodies make sense for the myriad companies and their investors' needs as in times past? The reconsideration over which bodies set which standards will continue for quite some time. What about the duality of domestic vs. international accounting standards? Should there be one set of domestic accounting standards and two sets of auditing standards?

As these questions are addressed, there will inevitably be some shift in the regulatory and standards-setting environment. I believe regulation will increasingly be a primary lever that will determine what markets firms enter. In fact, it may one day be as powerful as industry and service line niches in our profession.

My suggestion is that your service line leaders stay tuned in to the regulatory and standards-setting machinations, reporting back frequently to the partner group. Be prepared to take a powerful first-to-market position, developing niche strategies as events unfold.

Leadership: Invest in the future

You've seen the statistics. More than half of all CPAs are in their 50s. Within five to 10 years, an unprecedented number will face retirement. While firms have been growing like topsy, and growing gray, who's been paying attention to creating tomorrow's leaders? Most have failed to invest in the development of leaders. The result is a black hole of leadership that no firm that cares about the future can afford.

Many firms are playing catch-up, seeking to punch out leaders like their clients' widgets. But it doesn't work - leadership is an acquired skill, slow to develop like great flavors in a pot. What's needed is that familiar recipe of long-term training, coaching and practical experience.

There are several excellent training and coaching alternatives available today. It's imperative that your firm invest in leadership to ensure a solid future. Also, you're likely to aid retention. By making talented, trusted staff members feel that they are of value to you, you give them a reason to stay. Invest in their future and you invest in yours.

Creative staffing, an eye on the regulatory winds, and serious commitment to leadership development - these are my top picks for strategies that will yield the maximum return for 2006.

Gale Crosley, CPA, is the founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), which provides revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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