5 Areas of Focus for Firm Transformation

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By now, most firms know they need to change in some way, but how?

As firm leaders read articles, attend conferences and talk to peers it seems they are looking or hoping for the solution that will magically transform their firm. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution.

However, you can take steps to determine the right course of action for your firm. As with any other tough project, you need to make a plan and do the work.

If you’ve been waiting for others to figure it out so you can follow what they’ve done, it’s time to stop playing follow the leader and start taking action. Everyone is going through the same process, but you need to identify the strategies that are right for your firm.

You’ll take parts of what you learn from different sources to develop a plan that works for you. It all starts with a vision and a strategic plan built to support the firm’s three- to five-year vision. Both need to be in writing.

If your firm’s leadership can’t take the time to consider the firm’s direction, you may end up in a place where you won’t want to be. Only after developing your vision and documenting your strategic plan can you determine which steps to take next.

Transforming your firm requires an integrated approach. Your efforts will fail if you focus on only one area.

With that in mind, here are the five areas of focus for charting the course of your firm’s transformation as well as questions to consider while creating your plan of action:

1. Technology

Do you have a written IT strategic plan as part of your vision? Too often, firms have an IT budget but not a plan.

Budgets are of course necessary, but the value of an IT plan comes from the planning process and getting your firm to think differently about the future, be innovative and transformative. An outside facilitator for the planning process can significantly accelerate the process and ensure a focus on strategy and innovation rather than tactics. Ask yourself:

  • How are you incorporating emerging technologies into your short- and long-term plan? 
  • What emerging technologies should you be implementing now?
  • Which should be on your radar for the near future?

These questions are the beginning of your IT strategic plan. As a first step, it is important to demystify emerging technologies with education and awareness and then determine how these can become tools to accelerate positive results in your firm. If there is a person in your firm who is interested in this area, he or she could be an asset when it comes to research and training others.

Are you leveraging your existing technology? It is essential to take the time to make sure that you are getting the most out of the technology you’ve already invested in. When we work with firms, we often discover that in addition to new technologies to explore, there are functions and features of their existing technology they can leverage.

Consider an IT assessment to evaluate your use of technology and areas of opportunity. Connect with your solution provider to make sure that you are taking advantage of enhancements and staying up to date.

2. Process

Are you continuously evaluating your processes to ensure they are effective? A common stumbling block is when old processes are used with new technology. Processes need to keep up with changing dynamics and applications.

Are you focused on just efficiency or on overall process effectiveness? Optimal processes are ones that are consistent, efficient and provide a high level of quality and profitability. Make sure you aren’t just speeding up tasks that don’t produce quality work or provide value to your clients.

Are you evaluating processes in all areas of your firm? Tax and audit are obvious areas to work on improving process effectiveness, but don’t stop there. Look at your processes for billing, client onboarding, new hire onboarding, business development, consulting services, etc.

3. Talent

What kind of skills will be needed in your firm within the next three to five years? It’s no longer enough to rely on technical skills alone.

The skills to continue to push your firm forward include the ability to share vision, think big, build teams, make tough decisions, focus on the big picture, take risks, delegate effectively, give and receive trust, motivate others, develop business, and hold themselves and others accountable.

Are you going to develop talent in the firm, hire new talent or both? These skills don’t always come naturally, but you can help foster them in your people by getting them involved in committees, client relationships and a forward-thinking peer community.

What is the timeline for training and what resources will be used? Our profession associates training with CPE, but in today’s environment, training needs to be much broader in scope.

You will need to invest time and money into conducting needs assessments, developing curriculums and classes, identifying resources, conducting training and measuring results.

4. Leadership

How will these changes impact leadership? Transformation requires strong leaders who can provide courage, commitment, capability and confidence.

Is leadership on the sale page with the direction? Firm leaders need to see the need for transformation far in advance of when they can prove it to those who are happy with the status quo.

What new leadership needs to be developed and how are you doing this? Too often, current firm leaders complain that younger generations aren’t interested in becoming a partner. The problem isn’t a lack of motivation or ambition.

It’s that they can’t picture their future in a firm that isn’t transforming to remain relevant. Create a vision for your firm, and you’ll find the next generation will have a strong desire to be a part of its long-term success.

5. Growth

First off, what kind of growth are we talking about? Growth can be organic or from mergers and acquisitions. Many firms are doing both. Either way, it requires a commitment to people, planning and processes.

What niches are you developing (if any)? As technology and process create capacity in your firm, don’t simply fill the space with more of the same. Use that capacity to develop niche areas that can help differentiate your firm from the competition. 

Who is leading business development and what is the process? As your firm starts focusing on providing a wider range of services to clients, client service will become a team sport.

It’s a good idea to have one person in charge of business development efforts, who can focus on the big picture, ensure leads are moving forward and pull in the right people at the right time.

Final Thoughts

There is no magic solution to firm transformation, but you don’t have to find the answers alone. Look for opportunities to learn from peers and solution providers.

The original post appeared on the Boomer Consulting site.

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About Arianna Campbell

Arianna Campbell

As a Director with Boomer Consulting Inc., Arianna helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. 

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Mar 9th 2019 02:00

I agree that firm owners usually want immediate results which are considered as a magic solution. This usually comes with a price and it isn’t cheap. The easy way out would have its repercussions and it is a risk that business owners need to be willing to take in the long run. Changes are to be applied over a gradual pace in order for the results to be stable and long-lasting.

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Mar 11th 2019 08:01

I actually hope that the government is able to come up with some sort of board or body that could help the small guys to transition. There are a lot of mom and pop businesses that have been around a long time that just wouldn't know where to start when it comes to moving their business into one that targets the changing demographic and style of the present market...

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