In this Generational Viewpoints article, we asked members of Green Hasson Janks (www.greenhassonjanks.com), a Los Angeles-based accounting firm with approximately 100 employees, to share their perspective on the importance of visioning. Generation Y accounting and audit manager David Sternberg, born in 1983, and Generation X partner Warren Shulman, born in 1966, replied to the following question:
"How important is visioning and strategic planning to your firm and its people, and why?"
SHULMAN'S GEN X VIEWPOINT:
For a firm to grow and be successful and for its people to feel valuable and challenged, it needs to continuously look forward to see the impact that future trends are going to have. We also need to look back and critically evaluate what works well in our firm and what needs to be improved or abandoned.
We all get bogged down with our day-to-day activities of serving clients, managing our people, and our busy lives, and we spend most of our valuable but limited time reacting to the latest "fire drill." Visioning and strategic planning is a great way for us to become proactive, instead of reactive, helping us to prepare and plan for the future. Visioning is also a way of anticipating and preventing problems from arising in the future.
Our firm underwent a visioning and strategic planning process six years ago, and we are in the midst of completing a new vision and strategic plan for the next five years. This process has been an excellent way for us to include all of the different departments and functional areas of the firm, as well as people from different levels, all working toward a common goal. It has been a great team-building exercise and has allowed us to be creative and think outside of the box.
With the pace at which technology and the profession are changing, firms that do not regularly create visioning and strategic planning goals will fall behind. These firms may eventually need to merge or be acquired by competitors that are more actively evaluating the future of their firm. If we are not looking toward the future, then we will become stagnant and eventually may start going backward.
As competition heats up for talent, those firms that are doing visioning and strategic planning will have an easier time attracting, hiring and retaining talent, as they will be able to easily explain where they are going and where they see everyone fitting into the plan. Whether the recruit is a partner or an entry-level staff member, they are more likely to join and then stay with that firm if they have a clearer picture of what the future looks like and what their role is going to be.
Visioning and strategic planning is one of the most important exercises that a firm should undertake. When done right, it will ensure the continuity and success of the firm. Without it, a firm's chances of survival in this ever-changing profession are significantly diminished.
STERNBERG'S GEN Y VIEWPOINT:
I was recently appointed as a member of the Green Hasson Janks Visioning Committee and participated in the development of the firm's five-year vision and strategic plan. In the past, only partners participated in this process, but this time around a younger group of managers and staff were included - a smart move!
In my opinion, a vision needs to be embraced by the entire firm. In many instances, younger generations see things differently from the partners and more senior employees. Without our input, the vision runs the risk of not being effective. A vision that is exclusively built by partners and pushed downward may not convince the younger employees to go "all in." The vision requires the entire firm to be passionate and focused on "making it happen," otherwise it may very quickly lose steam.
An effective vision is crucial, as it allows for consistency and purpose in recruiting, training, performance evaluation, decision empowerment (since we are all working from the same roadmap, decisions can be decentralized), and marketing and business development.
Generally, Generation Yers are more in tune with today's ever-changing environment, are more flexible, and are willing to embrace change. As a Gen Y, I've been brought up where technology enables instantaneous response and everyone expects overnight achievement, sometimes with a lack of planning. On the other hand, some Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are more likely to avoid change and also tend to be more long-term-focused, so they seem to need extensive planning before acting. I think a vision requires direction, but sufficient latitude for flexibility. This balance of styles between generations all working together to create and execute a vision is likely to encourage new ideas, foster creative thinking, and drive action from everyone.
The importance of visioning is highly dependent on how effectively it is communicated. Gen Ys sometimes speak a different language from other generations. My inclusion in the process will allow me to communicate our firm's vision to fellow Gen Ys in the firm, allowing the younger crowd to more easily relate to and embrace the vision.
Overall, I feel that visioning dramatically increases the chances of achieving a competitive advantage and for us to ultimately become an even greater firm!
This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm's generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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