Conference season is a great time to meet with the boldest and brightest minds in our profession. AICPA ENGAGE 2019 was no exception. This year, conference speakers wowed me with their ideas around accounting firm innovation, growth, and evolution. Below is a snapshot of my top takeaways with some practical advice.
In her session, Renee Moelders from ConvergenceCoaching challenged attendees to rethink how they recruit in our digital age. Recruitment is no longer a static experience. Gone are the days of event-based hiring. Firms need to shift their mindset to dynamic recruitment, which focuses less on filling open jobs and more on promoting the firm’s brand and identifying the right hire. The new workforce is not afraid to leave a job if the culture isn’t a good fit. Knowing what makes your brand attractive, keeping your name in the marketplace, and networking with potential talent will keep your firm top of mind.
Another mindset that small-to-midsized firms can rethink is their position in the wage race. The Big Four firms attract the best and brightest talent by offering competitive or above-market compensation. When you can’t compete with dollars, compete with flexibility. Ask your staff what makes your firm stand out – you might be surprised to hear why your people keep showing up.
Finally, it’s time for accounting firms to get creative with their advertising. It only takes a cursory glance at social media and news platforms like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post to see that people react to stories. The best way to build brand awareness is to integrate digital advertising with your story. If recruitment were an equation, continuous recruitment + brand awareness = the staff of the future. The only way to make this equation work is with the right tools.
I could say a lot about this topic. Our name, Inovautus, is a creative combination of the English word, innovate, and the Latin word autus, which means growth. The mission of our company is to help firms grow faster and in the right direction. The only way we can accomplish this is to be curious, test new things, and look at the big picture.
One of my favorite sessions at ENGAGE was Simon Sinek’s keynote address. The conversation affirmed that innovation is neither efficient nor inexpensive. When we contemplate what it will take to bring accounting firms into the next decade or beyond, we need to recognize that the process will be a series of small refinements. The race is before you, but before the profession can run, it must learn to walk, and that process involves a lot of tripping and stumbling. Embrace falling; “you only fall when you push the boundaries,” says Sinek. Don’t approach innovation to recreate the wheel, approach innovation as adapting to the change in marketplace demands. Success in innovation happens when you improve your processes, delivery, and end product. As a CPA, you are trained to look at profitability – here’s an uncomfortable truth – growth isn’t always immediately profitable. Many pioneers consider the cost of R&D a necessary step to staying ahead of the curve. Don’t allow indecision to paralyze you. A missed opportunity is not an acute experience; oftentimes, it is a slow bleed. Repairing the damage to eroded service lines is much more difficult (and costly!) than preventive maintenance. If you’re only now starting to look at innovation, you’re already behind the curve. Take action today – look at 1 new process, 1 new shift at a time.
Technical skills are overrated; we need more humanity. Another fantastic quote from Simon Sinek, “No one is teaching managers how to be leaders…you would never allow anyone to do accounting without being taught. So why do we do that with leadership?” The firm of the future needs people with more humanity and soft skills. Unfortunately, the overwhelming message to CPAs is that skills that aren’t associated with CPE are not worth their time. The harsh realize is that many CPAs feel penalized for this kind of learning. The Partner skills of 1995 are not the skills the Partners of 2025 need! Today, firms are so afraid of succession because they lack the appropriate roadmap for talent. Do firms need a 1:1 replacement? Not necessarily. Here are the skills we need to focus on:
- Ability to adapt to technology and understand how to leverage it in the business
- Deep relationship development skills
WHO do you want to be and WHO do you want to serve? Similar to what we’re seeing with the Partner of the future when it comes to your clients, what got you here won’t get you there.
A lot of firms are questioning certain lines of business and the depth and level they’re going to with their D clients. The painful reality is that 20-40% of your clients are eating away at future revenue, growth potential, and capacity. If you want to advance (innovate!), you need to protect your staff and increase their capacity for learning new skills and technologies. Your people need the time and energy to develop. Instead of thinking about what you’re losing (revenue), focus on what you stand to gain. A great question to ask your management team is, what will be the return on NOT investing in the future?
Rethink who you are serving and who you want to be serving and what you want to be doing for them. Pruning clients is a complicated process, but a necessary one if you’re going to evolve your traditional CPA firm.
The accounting profession, like many industries, is at the crossroads of complacency and action. Our consultants’ passion is to help accounting firm leaders bring their profession and firm into the future. ENGAGE gave us a lot to think about and validated many of our instincts. Follow up with us in the coming months to gain practical advice on putting the pedal to the metal in your firm.