As we wrap up another tax season, it’s time to think about strategic planning for our firms. Most CPAs are pretty effective and accomplished in the planning process. We invest the time and money in retreats, we focus on the future, get lots of ideas on the table, agree on objectives and goals for the next year, commit to an action plan and sincerely want to move the firm forward. But what happens to all of the good intentions after we leave the retreat? How many of us really make significant changes, and really accomplish the objectives and goals? Unfortunately, not enough!

While we may be effective in the planning process, most of us struggle (or fail altogether) with the implementation of the strategic plan. We just don’t seem to be able to get it done, and next year’s action plan may wind up looking a lot like this year. The entire strategic planning process literally lives or dies on how well we implement.

We all know the drill. We’re energized leaving the planning retreat, we return to the office, the to-do list is still there, the e-mails are piled up, the phone rings and we’re back to doing what we do – serving clients. That’s what we enjoy and we tell ourselves that we’ll get around to the “retreat stuff” when things slow down a little bit. Most of us never seem to get around to it.


Parts of the plan

There are several common realities and roadblocks, including those in the preceding paragraph, that stand in the way of successfully implementing our strategy. They exist in most CPA firms and our implementation plan should be designed to overcome them. If your implementation plan addresses the following, you will significantly improve your odds for success.

  • “There are just too many things that we are working on to get it all done.” A common mistake is to come out of a retreat with a long laundry list of action items. We are doomed to fail if there are more than three or four strategic objectives that we are committing to over the next 12 months. Remember the key word is “strategic” and that means they are significant to the firm.
  • We all know that each of the action items needs to be owned by someone and that there needs to be a completion date. Make sure that the champion is an individual and not a group or committee or more than one person. It is much more difficult if not impossible to hold a group accountable. And make sure that the due dates are reasonable (not overly optimistic).
  • Does the champion who owns an action item or strategy have the time to accomplish it, especially if it is significant? Or do we just expect that person to get it done on top of their existing client and firm responsibilities? If this is a strategic priority, we must enable them to be successful and that means creating the time to accomplish it.
  • Don’t be a lone ranger. The champion needs to get other people involved. If it is a sizeable initiative and important to the firm, build a task force to accomplish it. Make sure you bring some of your young people into the process. The Millennials want to be “a part of it” in your firm and they will make a contribution.
  • Is the action item a significant part of the individual partner’s goals for the year? Further, make sure that the individual goals of the entire partner group are aligned with the firm’s goals and strategies for the year. If you don’t set partner goals, that process should be an action item coming out of your next retreat!
  • Is it nice if we accomplish the action items or is it mission-critical? Does it have any influence on a partner’s compensation whether they achieve it or not? Many firms set the expectation and may even include it in a partner’s goals, but the compensation system is not aligned. True accountability must include compensation.
  • Keep the strategic initiatives from the retreat alive and “top of mind.” Make sure that a status report is a lead agenda topic for every partner and executive committee meeting. Share the strategic initiatives with the team right after the retreat. You’ll be more likely to get something done if others are watching.
  • Someone should own the overall implementation process and that is your managing partner. They should be the person driving the process and holding the rest of the partner group accountable to achieving the action plan. That doesn’t mean that the managing partner or your firm administrator should wind up with the all of the action items on their personal to-do lists.
  • If you utilize an outside consultant to facilitate your planning retreat, ask that they build some follow-up time with you into the engagement. It can be as simple as a couple of phone calls spaced over a few months after the meeting to check in and see how you are doing. We are all better if there is accountability and it is even more effective if it comes from the outside.

Make sure that your investment in strategic planning pays dividends for the firm. Your post-retreat implementation plan may be the missing piece and the key to your success. Don’t leave it to chance.

Gary Adamson

Gary Adamson

Gary Adamson, CPA, is the president of Adamson Advisory, specializing in succession planning and strategic planning for CPA firms.