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Art of Accounting: Planning your strategic planning meeting

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This is the time of year when most firms that have retreats or strategic planning meetings finalize their plans. These meetings are more necessary and important than ever, and should be scheduled if you haven’t yet done so. If circumstances don’t much change (hopefully they will), the meetings would be done virtually. Here are some comments about strategic planning meetings that are essential to enable a firm to grow and to grow the way it should.

This year all playbooks have to be discarded and a fresh start needs to be developed. Right now it is hard to envision where you’ll be at the end of the year, let alone five or more years from now. Nevertheless, the planning needs to get done. The strategic plan is a road map of where you think you’ll be and what you will need to get there. It provides a framework to assess your abilities and resources and a way to chart progress, or the lack of progress.

A key to the success of the meeting is a realistic assessment of each partner, key staff including your admin people, major clients and your financial resources. This requires a lot of preparation and the development of a meeting agenda to keep you on target, as well as a method to assign accountability and measurement. Participating in the management of a practice, which is the role of every partner, involves the juggling of multiple aspects, with each being important. The purpose of the strategic planning meeting shouldn’t be to discuss every important aspect of the practice, but the most important. There can only be one most important thing (MIT). And that should be carefully identified beforehand and the meeting should focus its energies on that MIT. Not to deal with that squanders the opportunity.

A suggested MIT could be where the firm would be in five years, and how to get there. This has many moving parts. Will the firm have the infrastructure, the financial strength, the type of staff, the services clients will need, clients consistent with the new size, and the leadership and management capacity to grow into the projected firm? This will require a significant and realistic self-assessment of the present firm.

I can rattle off 30 essential areas of managing a practice, and I am confident I could provide compelling arguments why each one is important. However, given the time and resources that go into a meeting of the entire partner group, I suggest the meeting be devoted to the MIT.

If you are compelled to discuss the 29 important areas that are not the MIT, then this could be done during the year, closer to home, in a series of meetings, workshops, task forces, teams or groups, but not with every partner and senior manager.

As Stephen Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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