By L. Gary Boomer

Prior to facing the assault by the U.S. military and its allies, the Iraqi army was termed a formidable force by many observers. After the war, many of these same observers described the Iraqis as ill-prepared, disorganized and misinformed.

How did the American forces capture the Saddam Hussein International Airport and immediately send a column of tanks and troops through the center of Baghdad? Were the Iraqi generals getting their information from “Baghdad Bob”?

The truth is that the Iraqi troops didn’t even know the American forces were present and going to attack. A major difference between American and Iraqi troops was that every American service person knew the war plan and their mission.

The Iraqi troops didn’t know their plan. The Iraqi forces were simply expected to react to orders. Their main motivation was fear of a powerful dictator.

As bad as the Iraqi military thinking was, it had some advantages over many accounting firms’ thought processes. At least in the Iraqi army, the orders were coming from one person, while the orders in many accounting firms come from partners who do not agree on the firm’s game plan.

To make a quick assessment of your firm’s thinking style, ask the following:

● Do the partners and leaders agree on the firm’s mission and strategy? Who is in charge?

● Has the firm’s strategic plan (if any) been communicated to the managers and staff?

● Is everyone held accountable?

These are important questions and good indicators of how your firm will perform in a competitive market and a changing economy.

Some may argue that the accounting profession is not operating under wartime conditions and that a firm’s strategic plan is not a necessity. If it is not a necessity, having a strategic plan provides a distinct competitive advantage, to say the least.

Creative thinking coupled with critical thinking can be a powerful tool in the planning process. The problem in most firms is that the majority of leaders and partners have been trained in critical thinking, but not in creative thinking.

As soon as a creative idea is presented in a planning meeting, multiple obstacles are presented with regard to why that idea will not work. A recent example is outsourcing, something which partners quickly resist simply because they have not done any creative thinking.

Creative thinking lists the possibilities and focuses on goals rather than on the obstacles. In the strategic planning process, critical thinking needs to be suspended until the possibilities and goals are reviewed.

The profession continually talks about increasing the value that is offered to its clients. It is time that firms stop and think about how they can create value for their employees.

If they spend any time in this process, they will find that the same characteristics create internal value. Those characteristics are leadership (direction), relationships (confidence), and creativity (new capabilities).

It is important that firms realize that they cannot consistently create value externally if they do not first create value internally. They need teamwork, efficient processes and training for all, including for partners.

The following questions should help you determine if your firm is ready for engagement, or if it is simply bluffing like Saddam Hussein:

● Does your firm have a current strategic plan?

● If so, has it been adequately communicated to employees and clients?

● Does your firm operate with standards, policies and procedures?

● Do you train to those standards, policies and procedures?

● Is everyone, including partners, held accountable?

● Are you investing adequately and wisely in technology?

● Do you train everyone how to utilize the technology?

● Are you able to hire top-quality employees?

● Who are your allies?

● Who will lead you into the future (succession)?

Many firms spend too much of their time talking about the present and the past. If you want to improve, you must have people in your firm (particularly in leadership roles) focusing on the future.

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