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Art of Accounting: Postpone the retreat but not the process

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Many firms organize a summer retreat that they are now postponing or canceling. These are usually done at a relaxing location while they conduct their serious business. Whether they are held or not, I recommend not canceling the preparation process.

A problem I see when there is a “committee” to decide on a plan for action is that the participants prepare and then wait for a “decision” before implementing their plans. I think this is a mistake. Here’s why:

I see two parts of the project. One is the process to obtain information and the other is to develop the plan or big picture agenda for the retreat. I believe the process uncovers many issues that can be acted on immediately by the partners and other participants. The problem is that many don’t act on the issues because they wait for the meeting and the decisions that arise from it and assignment of responsibilities. This is a big wasted opportunity. A firm grows by the little steps each partner takes, by the continuous little steps. Here are some benefits from the process that can be acted upon almost immediately:

  • Every partner should take some management of practice courses, but many do not. The questionnaire process should uncover the importance of this, and if partners understand this, they should start immediately to rectify this omission.
  • An assessment of individual skills could indicate there has been little recent personal growth. That can start now.
  • An overview of some partners' clients could show no added services and minimal fee increases. You can resolve to reverse this.
  • Staff leverage could be waning, with some partners spending more time on certain services that can easily be transferred to staff.
  • Some partners could be disdainful of CPE, mainly because they take canned and easy-to-attend courses instead of CPE more appropriate for their level and development plan.
  • Every partner “knows” how to network and to be touchy-feely with clients, but perhaps they’ve lost their edge, evidenced by a lack of client growth or new business. On reflection, a marketing or soft skills type of CPE could help them jumpstart their engine.
  • Some partners are usually “on” 24/7 including during their vacations. Perhaps a real vacation would be in order.
  • There are trends in many firms toward niche development. How is each partner adapting or adjusting to this? The questionnaire process can uncover this, sometimes just by having the question asked.
  • Pricing methods vary by client and sometimes by each service performed for them. If you are in a one-pricing-method mode, the question process can also uncover this.
  • There are always some partners that have more or less WIP than others. When they are made aware of this, those with more work in process could try to emulate those with less. Regarding realization, those with less should look to those with more for assistance. If they want to do it themselves, then they can use the questioning process as a wakeup call.
  • A review of staff growth could show that some are not growing the way they should. Perhaps mentoring is in order.
  • Not every partner embraces IT as much as they should. This can also be revealed by the initial exploratory process.

I have many more examples. The point is that every question is designed to uncover information that can be factored into the final strategic plan or retreat resolution. Firms need long-term plans, but they also need each partner to perform at the best level they are capable of, every day. The preliminary process is also a method to move a partner from a weariness or lethargy they might be temporarily in.

Why wait? And why delay the process? The retreat can be held later on. Constructing the long-term strategic plan can wait a few months, but individual growth should not wait.

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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