Vision Stamina: Does your firm have what it takes to achieve its goals?

The truth is most accounting firms do not have vision stamina. And just so you don't think negatively about the profession, the vast majority of organizations do not have it either. So what is vision stamina? It is the dogged determination to overcome any obstacle and handle any distraction that might get in the way of realizing your goals.

Here are four suggestions for building and maintaining vision stamina.

  1. Don't use partner retreats for planning
  2. How many firms set up a retreat off-site, incurring costs (direct and indirect) with aggressive agendas that seldom ever get fully realized? Partner retreats should be used to revitalize the partnership, build trust, reinforce core values and the vision of the firm. Sadly, most partner groups feel they must accomplish something tangible in order to justify the expense of the retreat. So they end up creating grandiose plans that have little hope of being executed - often resulting in guilt and frustration every time the topic of going away on another partner retreat is raised.


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    Retreats are a good place to talk about, share feelings, and think about the vision of the firm but don't get caught up in the trap of using the retreat to develop an implementation plan for the vision. The time for planning will come later. One of the most critical aspects of vision stamina is trust and buy-in. Having a healthy partner group that respects and enjoys each other is the best foundation for building a future together. Retreats should be for building the foundation, not the whole house.

  3. Focus on one thing . . .

    I admire those individuals who, for whatever reason, decide they want to run a marathon. I also know that any plan that includes going from zero to 24K overnight is doomed to fail. Those who are successful start out with a training regimen that builds over time; first week one mile a day, second week two miles a day and so on. Over time they build their muscle strength and stamina.

    Achieving goals is much the same. So often, firms will take on too many goals at one time, become distracted and give up. I love the saying, "I could get so much more done if I didn't have to work each day." This is absolutely true, but not realistic. We all have a job to do and yet somehow we have to keep working toward our future, not just acting in the present.

    Success happens one step at a time, not just when the goal is achieved. Every day we take action in the direction of our goals, we strengthen our commitment to achieve our goals. Each little success that reinforces the value of moving forward in the new direction helps to build momentum.

    For example, one particular firm had a vision that included growing revenues, serving high quality clients, and higher realization rates. To achieve that vision, they decided to do just "one thing"; spend all their non-chargeable time with their best clients. That meant they quit schmoozing bankers and attorneys, quit boards, networking and referral groups, and only pursued new business that was referred to them directly by one of their "A" clients. Everyone in the firm had individual goals to meet with their "A" clients several times over the course of the year (above and beyond normal interaction). Sometimes it was over lunch, other times an early breakfast where the firm brought in breakfast bagels and coffee for the client and their team. Almost without exception, every time a firm member met with a client they came back to the office with more work to do.

    The result? The firm grew 40% in top line revenues, the quality of their client relationships flourished, there was a significant increase in referrals, and the new work brought in was generally non-compliance focused, non-seasonal, and billed at a higher rate. Lesson learned: The firm focused on one activity for a pre-determined period of time. There wasn't any confusion about who was doing what, they were all doing the same "one thing." The results were outstanding.

  4. Get everyone exercising their vision muscles
  5. Share the vision with everyone in the firm, admin and professional staff alike. For example, Trudy Beard, CPA (a sole practitioner) had a vision of a firm that fully supported a healthy balance between family and work. In support of that vision, Trudy encourages new moms to set up a crib in their office as well as encouraging everyone in the office to make the most of their family activities. Many firms have a similar commitment to their culture.

    However, few would be willing to commit as much as Trudy has to live up to the firm's vision. You see, Trudy had always had a hard time saying no to new clients resulting in a never-ending overload of new projects to attend to. This was creating an out of balance situation for her and her staff, compromising the vision of a family friendly firm.

    To save Trudy from herself, the team suggested that she not be allowed to bring in any new business without first running it past everyone on the team. Trudy reports that following the team's suggestion has not just lightened her load but also got everyone thinking about workflow, leveraging the skills of everyone in the firm, ideal client characteristics, and the overall direction and vision of the firm. Whereas Trudy didn't have the muscle to pull off the vision on her own, having her entire staff pitch in made all the difference.

  6. Trust your team to exercise their vision muscles appropriately
  7. A great example of this is a veterinary clinic where the owner had a vision of being the most fun place to work at and do business with. One day he overheard several of his staff complaining about a couple of rude clients. He decided that for their Christmas bonus (in addition to some cash) that year, he gave permission to each member of the team to fire any two clients they felt didn't fit with the vision of the clinic.

    After he announced this to the team, he felt nervous about how they would respond. To his surprise and delight, his 10 employees exercised great vision muscles and did not come back with 20 names. Acting more like owners than employees, they put their heads together and submitted just 4 client names for firing. The vet reported that two of the names he fully expected. The other two were a surprise. He discovered what everyone in an accounting firm already knows, there are some clients that treat partners very well but not the staff. The vet immediately fired all four of the team's list of undesirable clients.

    The vet reported that team morale was already pretty good but spiked even higher when he confirmed to his team that his vision of having a fun place for them to work was more important than any particular client. There is a profound lesson in this example for accounting firms that find it easier to bring in new work than to attract and retain talent in their firms. If you firm's vision is to have a happy and productive team, your "one thing" might be to involve your team in the removal of difficult clients from your practice.

Summary thoughts

Grand visions are realized by not-so-grand acts being executed over time. Likewise, vision stamina is developed with small repetitive actions resulting in progress toward the desired outcome. Most of us have a pretty short attention span and limited bandwidth these days, leaving little room for a lot of new activities on our plate. So choose your Vision partners wisely, be certain you are all on the same page. As a group, commit to "one thing" you can all do that moves you in the direction of your goal.

Finally, and most important, share your vision with everyone who has an impact on the vision and with those that are impacted by the vision. Doing so will generate support for your vision you never knew was there.

By Edi Osborne, CEO, Mentor Plus
About the author: Edi Osborne, CEO Mentor Plus is recognized as a leader in the area of performance measurement and management to the profession. Mentor Plus' Performance Measurement Plus and Strategic Performance Management workshops, as well as the $COPE Advisor and Firm Forward Program are offered to the profession on a limited basis. Contact Mentor Plus for details: 831-659-PLUS (7587)

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