How to Define Your Accounting Firm's Culture

Edward Mendlowitz
Withum
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Corporate culture is defined as the set of values and norms that is strongly held and widely shared across your organization. In a New York Times op-ed, Greg Smith – former Goldman Sachs vice president – attributed the company’s success to its culture, which promoted humility, integrity and teamwork. Moreover, a survey of over 1,400 American CFOs and CEOs revealed that 91 percent of these executives considered company culture to be one of the most important components of their firms, with over 78 percent placing it among the top five factors that affect their firm's value. 

In light of these revelations, it is undeniable that your accounting firm needs a strong culture to achieve higher levels of success. But how can you incorporate it into your organization? Since every firm is unique, the kind of culture that enabled one company to be successful might not necessarily work for the next. As such, you should first start by defining your own culture. This article is a guide to how to do just that. 

1. Perform an Assessment of the Current Culture 

You first need to understand the mindset that is being shared across your organization. Is your team working towards the same objectives? Can each of your employees articulate why the company exists, where it is going and how it is going to get there? 

Ask your staff members questions like:

• What makes this firm different from the others you have worked in? 
• What are the characteristics you would like the people joining your team to have? 
• What are the things we need as a firm? 
• What can we improve on as a practice? 

Often, the most successful accounting firms have a team who fully understands and is committed to the shared vision and overall mission of the company. Thus, if you get varied responses to these questions, work needs to be done to define your culture so everyone on board has the same mission. 

2. Define Your Purpose 

Think about your purpose. This does not imply what you do, but rather, why you do it. In the same breath, think about your company’s future. Where do you intend to be in the next five or 10 years? What about beyond that? Do you plan on broadening your scope or specializing? Is there an exit strategy for when you stop working? 

When you obtain and write down the answers to these questions, you will have a reason behind why you do what you do. This will help you design a culture that will facilitate these goals. 

3. Note the Essential Traits of Great Leaders and Employees 

A firm’s culture is defined from the top. Employee behavior is often a mirror image of what they see from their leaders. So take a moment and think about the characteristics you and other senior members of the firm portray. Do you serve as good behavioral examples to your juniors? Or are there some improvements to be made? Also, consider the traits displayed by your best employees. What makes them so good? 

By noting the ideal characteristics you want from the firm’s leaders and employees, you will be in a better position to encourage and reward that kind of behavior so as to make a culture out of it. 

4. Document How Things Are Done 

The most successful firms are clear on what they stand for. To achieve this, create a document that entails how things are done at your practice. Include your mission and vision statements, in addition to the things you learned when you were defining your purpose.

Some ideas include: 

• How the firm interacts with clients
• How the staff interacts with each other 
• Your decision-making processes
• The ideal traits needed in the firm
• Training and development opportunities 
• Charitable works your firm is involved in 
• Social events and traditions

Ensure this document is available to everyone in the firm and is constantly being updated. 

5. Reinforce the Culture 

Ensure both you and the team are always referring to your documented culture for guidance. It should help you through all aspects of your operations. As such, it will help you know whether prospective clients or employees are a good fit for the firm. 

Furthermore, make sure new employees are on board with the firm’s culture, so they know what is expected of them. 

Nevertheless, when looking to build a strong culture, it shouldn’t be just about what the employees can give to the firm. Rather, they should genuinely want to do it. As such, ensure that you reward your staff with incentives. These should include vacations to cool off: Research shows there are numerous benefits to taking breaks from work. 

About Edward Mendlowitz

edward

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is the author of 24 books, including How to Review Tax Returns and Managing Your Tax Season.

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Oct 3rd 2018 19:09

Very useful article and tips for sme firms. Definitely it will add value

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