As competition increases, more CPA firms are focusing on firm growth as a way to remain competitive and add revenue to the top line. Typically, a decision to shift direction stems from a strategic planning process or a partner meeting. But what comes next? Deciding to make a change is the first step in a lengthy and challenging process that will change your firm for the better.
Forming a growth culture in an organization requires that you get buy-in from your partners if you have any chance of being successful. And amongst the partners who support your direction, there will be a handful of them who can, and will, help you champion the effort. You need to be able to identify these people early on in the process and use them to help win over those who are still undecided.
Here a look at how you can find those champions and create the buy-in you’ll need to start down a new path.
In a group setting, like partner meetings, there are dynamics that inhibit your ability to gauge an individual’s level of support for significant ideas and decisions. This can be better determined during one-on-one conversations with each partner, or a percentage of the partners if you’re with a larger firm. These meetings can be in-person, by phone or via video conference and could last between 20 and 30 minutes.
Be prepared with a set of questions you’ll ask each individual, but don’t hesitate to dig deeper in other areas if the conversation takes a useful turn. The following are some questions that may help you get started:
- How do you want to see the firm grow over the next decade?
- Where do you think we do a good job today when it comes to organic growth?
- Where do you think we need to do a better job?
- What concerns do you have with our discussions related to a single growth plan that differs from what we do today?
- How do you think a consistent growth plan will benefit us?
- What role would you like to have if we move forward?
- If I had a magic wand, what would you want me to do perfectly as we go through this cultural shift?
Start with easy, non-threatening questions to get the conversation going. Save the touchier questions for the middle and end. Also, ask open-ended questions. You want more than a yes or a no; you really want to know what they are thinking and feeling.
You have invested a lot of time into interviewing your partners. Make sure you remember what everyone said by summarizing their responses in a findings spreadsheet. Use this document to look for themes in your responses. When you begin hearing similar answers multiple times, you have a trend. Good or bad, these are the issues you are going to have to address.
Perhaps you hear that people are fearful their compensation will change. Or maybe they are insecure about trying new things. Or they think the firm is ready for a change. Use this information to determine the level of support you have.
You’ll never get everyone on the same page, but this exercise should allow you to determine who are your supporters, who are your detractors and who are neutral. Your supporters are most likely your champions. Consider them for leadership roles in this new initiative. Those who are opposed will probably never change their perspective. Unless they are influential partners in your firm, that may be okay. Focus on those who are neutral. They will need more conversations, examples, proof and reassurance, but your goal is to move as many of them as possible to your supporter column. Use your champions to help in this initiative.
Sharing Your Findings
After you understand what you’re up against, there needs to be regular communication to ensure that people are on-board and don’t waver. You’ll need to educate them on what growth means and what it will look like. Ultimately, it’s about working smarter and being more effective at what you’re doing. But without buy-in, you won’t have success.
Share the findings of your one-on-one conversations in a meeting or teleconference. Under no circumstance do you attribute any comment received to any one individual. Rather, you should say something more general about the trends identified like:
“I clearly heard from you that there is concern that people will be required to do more activities that are outside of their comfort zone, specifically in regard to obtaining new clients. Let me share with you where, and how, we’ll obtain new business as part of this growth plan….”
This process allows you to call out those elephants in the room and address them in a way that alleviates fear and garners support. It’s about painting a vision for what this means to the firm one, three and five years down the road. And demonstrating that you have the leadership chops to get the firm there.
When you believe you have everyone on the bus, even if they aren’t all facing the same direction yet, you can begin down your path toward a strategic growth plan that dictates how, where and by how much you’ll grow. As with any change, this will be hard. In the end, everyone in the firm will be focused on growth. You ultimately create a culture where people are actively looking for and winning new work.
Growth becomes the fabric of your firm.