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Practice Tip: How good are your people?

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11th Feb 2005
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When all is said and done an accountancy practice is as good as the people who work in it. That's why they're the first thing you have to SWOT when planning for a firm.

Be realistic. You need to assess your people in two areas:
1) technical ability
2) soft skills.

You'd be wise to start with the technical appraisal. This requires a candid assessment of technical competence split between:
a) accounting
b) tax
c) IT
d) regulation
e) verbal communication skills
f) written communication skills
g) management techniques
h) business planning
i) company and other commercial law;
j) others you think relevant.

If you have an appraisal system you might already know this, but most small firms don't use such methods, and even if they do rarely extend them to the partners. So in itself this process might not be that easy. For example, telling your partner that they write an appalling tax letter firstly because they haven't updated their tax knowledge since they qualified in 1987 and secondly because they haven't a clue how to communicate in writing requires a certain degree of tact, considerable goodwill on all parts and the acceptance that they might think exactly the same of you. And this, I assure you, is the easy part.

Soft skills are much harder to assess. They cover:
1) management ability
2) people skills
3) client relationships
4) temperament
5) attitude - especially in areas which expose the firm to risk such as regulated areas of discrimination (simply because if they make a mistake you might end up paying for it)
6) motivation.

Again, these can cover a multitude of sins and each can lead to a wide range of areas of review. It is precisely because of that that you may wish to consider Mind-Mapping techniques for undertaking this task, as I have recommended before in these tips.

When doing all this do remember though that this is just the first stage of the process. Exposing all your flaws is one issue - but counting your strengths is the other one. And then deciding what to do with the resulting view that this provides is the bit where skill comes in.

In that context remember is that diversity is to be welcomed. Of course, you'd prefer that the diversity was set against a background of technical competence, but the latter is in many senses the easiest thing to correct in any firm. Commit relatively modest amounts to training and great leaps forward in competence often result. The same is not true of personality differences. These are deep, ingrained and often impossible to alter.

With regard to personalities what you're trying to find out is whether:
1) each person is doing the task that best suits their personal skills
2) if they're not, whether they should be changing what they do.

Again, I offer you a technique to help you appraise whether this is the case of not. I have found nothing more useful than the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to explain all the different types of character in life you are likely to meet. Of course anything that puts all people into one of just 16 boxes is bound to be a bit broad brush, but let's be candid - few people can remember the content of 16 boxes at one time, so a combination of four different indicators with two options for each is used by Myers Briggs to allocate people to those boxes.

Having an understanding of these types might help in these ways:
1) you might understand more about yourself
2) you might understand why people are so infuriating to you, and quite acceptable to themselves
3) you might be more tolerant as a result
4) you might see how the differences people offer help to build a team that can operate more effectively than one built solely in the image of its leader (which I expect is you, in all probability) however strong the tendency amongst all managers might be to seek people just like themselves to fill all available positions.

So, if there's something you might want to do before embarking on this process, it's to have a read about Myers Briggs first. Bash those words into Google and any number of options will come up. Happy reading!

Richard Murphy
[email protected]
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. In addition to accounting, writing and lecturing Richard develops and markets software tools and guides to help accountants in practice systematise their operations.

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By The Minion
11th Feb 2005 12:07

we've done this already..
we profiled everyone in our office and now we know why people don't always listen (they are dominant types who don't think you have any valid input) etc.

We took it one step further and profiled our clients. Now we don't push the "in your face" tax planning to the ultra conservatives (we push fee insurance instead).

It definitely works!

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