If you’re a leader in public practice, one thing’s pretty certain. You’ve grown tired of being beaten over the head with discussions about cloud technology, business advisory services and all of the things you’re not currently doing. What you do want is some practical advice advice from your colleagues and others who have some understanding about getting through the next year and beyond.
Why is it so difficult to move from theory to practice? It’s clear that theories largely describe how things work and, in so far as they explain how things should work, they are guides. The only product of thought which is designed specifically to be put into practice is a procedure (or a program).
So, practical advice from people who have ‘done it’ or are going through transition themselves can be a very useful way to get both the knowledge and confidence to change.
However, there’s an additional problem with a procedure (or a program) that we’re all aware of in public practice accounting. If it’s not supported by the right learnings and behaviours of individuals, it’s relatively useless as a tool of change management. When we lack either the knowledge, skill or motivation to change, nothing changes!
The current approach to developing a stronger advisory focus is a great example of these challenges and provides a lesson for all leaders of change. For too many years, accounting firms have focused on software tools in transitioning to a stronger advisory culture.
And what do most firms have to show for this? Most advice is still being provided in an ad hoc manner based on specific client needs. It’s also largely being provided by senior managers and partners without much leverage. In your firm, how many ‘advisory’ tools have you purchased to date and how many have really generated significant revenue for the firm?
I certainly believe that there are some great business advisory software tools out in the marketplace. However, it’s clear that few firms are using them consistently to really add value to their clients. Most suppliers focus on software implementation and admit that they have neither the time or resources to devote to change management. Firms are largely left on their own to work their way through the jungle.
So, now for some practical advice. It’s possibly not what you want to hear, but I stake my 30 years of experience working in corporate and professional service environments on it!
- STOP relying on software tools to bring about change. Ask the supplier of the tool what they can do to help you use their tool to generate real value to clients and how much it will cost you. Remember that it’s worth the investment if it really achieves its objectives. A sole practitioner firm should be willing to invest between 10% and 20% of revenue on this project.
- FREE up your time to focus on the most important business development project for your firm. Start delegating and outsourcing compliance work, even if it hurts in the short term. Start with committing between 10% and 20% of your weekly time. You simply have no alternative if you’re serious about the growth of your firm.
- SPEND more time getting out to engage with both clients and staff about their needs and interests first and foremost. You’ll be surprised in many cases with the feedback you receive. Use this feedback to get a better understanding of the services your firm could provide if it had the right people, systems and processes.
- TALK with colleagues and people you trust not so much about what they have done to move ahead in their journey, but specifically HOW they have done it. Ask them about the challenges and obstacles with implementation. Remember, this discussions is not just about the tools, it’s also about behavioural and motivational issues and solutions.
- FIND and nurture people who want to come on the journey with you. Delegate both responsibility and authority where appropriate. And remember that sometimes it’s actually better to downsize and regroup whilst you change direction than persist with a team dynamic and culture that isn’t going to serve your clients well in the long run.
Remember, software tools are just part of the solution. Those firms that have leaders that are prepared to change themselves, their people and their clients are those who achieve success relatively quickly.
Just some recent examples from my personal experience with accounting firms:
- A sole practitioner decided to invest around 20% of her firm’s revenue on an experienced practice manager, to free up his time to focus on business clients. She has immediately started to attract bigger clients and is developing the capacity to service them by outsourcing some services and leveraging others.
- The partner of a regional firm encountered challenges in moving into the business advisory space, with active resistance from another partner and some staff. He decided to restart his practice with a new brand and value proposition and has in a relatively short time built up a strong business client portfolio.
- Faced with a difficult decision to grow or stagnate, the sole practitioner of a profitable firm made the decision to merge his practice with a larger firm and has subsequently taken on a leadership role in the business advisory space with the merged firm. Not only has he significantly enhanced his equity position, he has a new lease on his professional life.
Sometimes, all we need to do is to have the courage to do something different and believe that the consequences will be positive. In most cases, they are!
What are you going to do in 2017 to go from theory to practice?
Dale Crosby | www.hightechsofttouch.com.au