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Why Growing Advisory Services Needs the Right Stuff

May 1st 2018
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In the sixth article of a series on how you can take the right steps to truly add value to your clients and transform your firm, author, CA and Founder of Spotlight Reporting Richard Francis explains the importance of hiring the ‘right’ people for the job and how to go about doing so.

It’s a simple fact: without the ‘right’ people, all of your advisory ambitions are that much harder. Building and shaping a team with ‘the right stuff’ will perhaps be your biggest challenge.

Accounting may not be quite as path-finding as the early years of the Space Program as depicted in the film The Right Stuff, but building the right team of professionals to deliver great advisory services is just as essential for success. 

You won’t get far with just number crunchers on the crew - you need your team to have imagination, empathy, a dollop of charisma and a firm focus on outcomes rather than outputs…As Yeager said: “At the moment of truth there are either reasons or results”.

It’s About Them

The advisory accountant with ‘the right stuff’ is:

  1. Articulate and keen to interact with live humans
  2. An active and empathetic listener
  3. Technologically-aware
  4. Eager to share insight (in a digestible format)
  5. Determined to ‘make a difference’

This might sound like a challenging laundry list of requirements - and it is - but good practices will find good people.  And good people attract other good people, especially where the employer offers valuable work, stimulation and a future plan that the employees buy into.

Being able to converse with people, listening to their needs and wants and reacting with empathy and expertise is a much under-rated and under-done aspect of accountancy.  Listening, anticipating and reading body language are core skills.  If you want the client to be on a journey with you, you need to be very in tune with what the client needs to succeed.

Perhaps the hardest resource to obtain in the market is an insightful accountant. In other words, an accountant for which the numbers are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. 

An accountant who will enjoy a mash-up of accounting data and non-financial data; for whom a dashboard of three or four charts can often convey more clarity, insight and value than twenty pages of financial statements.

Of course the quest for ‘truth’ and ‘opportunity’ in data can be learned to some extent, especially with business intelligence software alongside you to deliver up quality content.  It is in the interpretation of the reports and forecasts, for example - the “aha!” moments - that the true advisor distinguishes themselves from the automaton.

The gold standard is to achieve a mix of people skills and analytical skills - with a determination to ‘make a difference.’ This last attribute requires vision, courage and perseverance. 

  • Vision: Because we are helping clients to move beyond their present circumstances to a ‘happy place’ of improved performance, smashed KPI’s and goals achieved. 
  • Courage: Because this will at times be a fraught and scary position to adopt for both your clients and your colleagues. 
  • Perseverance: as this will sit well with some clients and achieve results some of the time; not every day or every project will be a home run.

Vision, courage and perseverance are not always attributes associated with accountants or the profession but they should be.

It’s About You, Too

How you attract talent with ‘the right stuff’ is increasingly important. The days of prospects being grateful for a job are over – the market is expecting great things from employers too.

If you’re serious about attracting the best talent and the kind of ambitious, articulate professionals who command the most attention, you should be looking at your firm through the lens of the candidate:

  • What does your brand say about you? 
  • Is it fresh and engaging, or dour and traditional?
  • What do existing employees and clients say about your culture? 
  • Do you walk the walk and embrace open communication, diversity and advancement? 
  • Are you advisors and passionate about client success, or a compliance-focused numbers factory?
  • Is your existing team an ‘A’ team or ‘B’ team?  The old saying of A’s attracting other A’s and B’s attracting C’s is largely true.
  • Is your in-market content strong?  Everything is searchable now, so your practice should be reflecting its vision and future-view through compelling, client-centric content;
  • Do you have fun and enjoy what you do!

Millennials in particular (although not exclusively), are increasingly focused on culture and career progression at pace. Being able to demonstrate flexibility, an investment in people, and strong communication channels all make your brand more attractive to candidates and to the existing team.

Being Flexible

Accounting skills - especially at the number-crunching end of the spectrum - are generally easy to find.  There are excellent outsourced operations all around the world, work-from-home part-timers, contractors and other options that mean you can redeploy your best resource and/or minimize the number of traditional number crunchers on your team.

Good employers in service-based industries in particular need to consider how greater flexibility can be a winning proposition for all involved.  It’s another way that will demonstrate that you have the ‘right stuff.’

Hiring the right people with the right stuff - including charisma and the ability to communicate - are two pillars of the “Wow” approach. The third pillar is training, from induction through to the development of a mix of technical and soft skills.

Wow's approach is illustrative of the need for firms to:

  1. Hire differently than in the past
  2. Expect more, especially in terms of non-technical performance

Hiring differently can mean a number of things:

  1. Hiring those from a non-accounting background
  2. Outsourcing your 'number crunching' so that the client-facing work can be done by your core, 'people-orientated' team
  3. Starting with technicians, but deploying a training and development programme weighted towards soft skills such as sales, marketing, account management and mixing in value-add staples such as data analysis, planning, opportunity identification and assessment and strategy.

Some of the soft skills that Wow looks for includes:

  • Listening/empathy
  • Engaging/conversant
  • Opportunity-identifying/proactive
  • Analysis/observant
  • Client-facing
  • Relationship-builder

This extract is part of a serialization of Richard Francis CPA's new ebook Transform! - his playbook for helping accounting firm managers and owners to value and seize opportunity in this exciting time of industry change. Richard is founder and CEO of Spotlight Reporting, an award-winning performance reporting and cash-flow forecasting toolset designed to empower accountants to have great client conversations and deliver real impact.

Richard’s next article will focus on how to build a community around advisory services.

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