The “Just One” approach to strategic planning

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By Edi Osborne, CEO, Mentor Plus

Lay’s potato chips had it right when they said, “Nobody can eat just one.” Unfortunately, accounting firms often confuse their planning efforts with eating potato chips when they take on too many strategic initiatives at one time. It usually happens at a Partner Retreat in May/June when the strategic bucket is passed around the room and everyone throws in their input. And because partner groups like to be inclusive of everyone’s ideas, they end up with an overstuffed list of strategic initiatives that everyone will have had their fill of before summer comes to an end.

The firms that seem to have the greatest success implementing their objectives are those that have mastered the art of “less is more.” They understand the positive ripple effect of focusing effort around one key initiative as opposed to the “more is good” philosophy where everything gets elevated to a level of importance where, in the end, nothing is important.

Every planning retreat should begin and end with “This is the year of . . . “ Fill in the blank with “Just One” of these initiatives.

·                     Client Retention – keeping the ones we have

·                     Client Service Penetration – more services per client

·                     Client Mix Improvement – more A & B client, rehab C’s and fire D’s

·                     Internal Process development – kaizen style improvements

·                     Technology Mastery – get everyone on the team more proficient

·                     New Business Development – go get new clients

·                     New Service Development – expand current offerings

·                     Niche Strengthening – build up expertise and positioning in key niches

·                     Recruiting and Mentoring – attracting and growing the best and the brightest

·                     Acquisition and Merger – finding and integrating new firms

·                     Succession – New Partner Development

These are just a few examples of the types of initiatives that might merit a firm’s focus. With this many options, it’s easy to see why it is difficult for firms to narrow their focus. 

So how do you choose?

This is where a good old fashioned SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis can help. Get everyone on your team to complete a SWOT Worksheet. This helps to bring issues to the surface that may not be visible or seen as critical to others. If you still aren’t sure where to put your focus, interviewing some of your “A” clients can often provide insights about areas of weakness and opportunity.

However you arrive at it, the “Just One” approach ensures a higher level of accountability to a plan. Each person can build a personal plan for how they are going to support the “Just One” initiative. When everyone knows where to focus, the activities (or lack thereof from those who would drag their feet) become abundantly visible.. In the same vein, having a clear focus for everyone makes it easy to develop measures of success that can be monitored and shared with the team on a regular basis.

Here’s how the “Just One” approach works:

A lighting store owner, Stacy, is having cash flow issues. So one day she begins to post the average daily transaction value in the lunch room. Within a couple of weeks, her average sale increases by 10%. As she continues the practice of posting her “one” most critical measure, her average sale rises from $64 to $83. But when Stacy returns from vacation, she discovers her average sale has suddenly plummeted. Why? The number was no longer being measured or reported; “out of sight – out of mind.” She started reporting it again and saw an immediate impact on sales.

You might think this retail example doesn’t apply to an accounting firm. Not so. An accounting firm took the position that they were not going to waste anymore marketing time on schmoozing and prospecting. Instead, they devoted non-chargeable time to visiting their “A” clients on a regular basis (no charge). They focused on the average value of each of their client relationships. As a result, the firm grew its revenues by 40% in one year.  By focusing on that single measure, they opened up the door to significant opportunities for growth. They also reduced their cost of acquiring new work from an average of $6,000 per new client to next to nothing -- existing clients are 6-7 times more likely to buy from you than new clients.

The next time you sit down with your partners, share these examples and ask the question, if we were to focus on “Just One” activity in the firm, which would it be? If the room goes silent, ask, “What area of our practice is the most problematic?” “What opportunities are we not taking advantage of?” “Where do our clients experience the most pain?” “What are the greatest frustrations for our team?” If you keep asking the right questions, your “Just One” will become blatantly obvious.

Should you change focus every year? No. You should change focus only when you have achieved the goal you set or when a new issue becomes more critically compelling. But, take care not to jump off one horse to climb on another when the ride gets bumpy or the scenery too familiar. Have faith in the process and put down that bag of potato chips. The feeling of success that comes from accomplishing one very important goal feels far better than starting and not finishing a dozen others (and be careful –you might get hooked.)

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. Contact Mentor Plus for details: 831-659-PLUS (7587)

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