This issue of Generational Viewpoints features two individuals from Kennedy and Coe llC (www.kcoe.com), a Salina, Kan.-based top 100 firm with over 200 professionals. Generation X member Jeff Wald, born in 1972, and Baby Boomer chief executive Kurt Siemers, born in 1948, shared their responses to the following question:

"Do you agree with the statement that firms that are 'old school' are 'uncool'? Why or why not? If you think 'new school' is important, what are some examples of progressive ideas or policies that you think today's CPA firms should consider?"

WALD'S GEN X VIEWPOINT

What many CPA firms view as revolutionary or "new school" are just expectations of the top talent we are all trying to attract. These expectations include work-life balance, cutting-edge technology, a flexible work schedule, high-impact assignments, and teamwork. To be truly "cool," we are going to have to create an environment that allows our people to have a real impact on the clients they serve and the people around them, and allows them the freedom to pursue their personal passions. We have to stop viewing these freedoms as a necessary evil and realize that developing a culture of innovation will enable our highly motivated and satisfied people to serve clients and grow our firms.

We need to move away from the "partner hero" model to a collaborative model that rewards those who work together to create the best results for our clients and our firms.

CPA firms should also re-evaluate their relationships with clients and allow individuals to focus on creating the highest impact on the client's well-being, and spend less time focusing on creating a more efficient delivery mechanism of core services. Most of us were attracted to the profession because of the opportunity to impact the future of our clients, and I believe that the higher impact we have on our client's success, the more valuable we are to them. Our valuecreation process enables high-level interactions with our clients, and the expectation that we are there to help them achieve their goals. It also allows for a pricing mechanism where our people know that they are not limited by adding more time to create more revenue, but are instead encouraged to use their knowledge to impact the client and get paid commensurately. We are, after all, selling the knowledge of our professionals, not the amount of time they spend.

CPA firms must look at new ways to provide fulfilling opportunities if we want to attract the best talent, and we also need to change the way individuals are trained and evaluated to keep that talent. We need to create systems that promote creativity and impact the well-being of our clients from the moment they walk in the door, and not judge a team member's success based on getting work done fast and the willingness to spend more time at the office.

 

SIEMERS' BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT

To a great extent, I do agree that old school is "uncool," but there are certainly aspects of "old school" that continue to be important. For instance, genuine relationships with clients, maintaining our ethics and integrity, and viewing our work in the context of a career versus only a job are a couple of old school aspects that are worth retaining. It is important for firms to identify their fundamental values, and those are likely to never go out of style.

However, it is important for firms to constantly look forward and use the concept of "creative destruction" to stay relevant for both our people and clients. This requires letting go of some of the old school thinking and creating new ways of doing things.

I believe that hourly billing is the biggest anchor keeping firms in the past. More firms should bury that paradigm and move to value pricing to stay ahead of the curve. The value-creation process that we use in our firm includes value pricing. As the ability to access and share knowledge continues to explode, successful firms need to be more innovative in how they filter and integrate this knowledge in ways that create value for clients. Our business model should reward this innovation, and value pricing creates a sustainable way to do so.

I also believe that the new school way of running our business will require us to become much more adept at compensating our people on the basis of the actual "value" they bring to the firm and clients - consistent with the concept of value pricing our services. This means eliminating timesheets, which may be a blasphemy to some CPAs but is definitely part of our firm's vision of the future. Other innovative ideas we are implementing include identifying the distinct abilities of each individual and finding ways to collaborate where they can make full use of those abilities, looking for more services that impact our clients' future with less emphasis on reporting of history, as well as extensive use of flex time and remote-working arrangements.

The future of our firms lies in the hands of our up-and-comers. We have to allow them to innovate, deconstruct, and create new ways of operating so that they develop the sense of ownership needed to run the firms of the future. Being open to "new school" ideas is what will make CPA firms successful into the future.

 

This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Gen X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that helps CPA firms achieve success. To have your firm’s viewpoints considered for a future column, e-mail krista@convergencecoaching.com.

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