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Graeme Tennick accepting his Small Firm of the Year award at |  AccountingWEB |  How a coaching mindset drives success for firms
Accounting Excellence

How a coaching mindset drives excellence

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Coaching and data-driven decisions are the key to helping clients realise their personal and professional goals. Accounting Excellence award winner Graeme Tennick from Tennick Accountants reveals how embracing coaching has transformed his firm.

28th Mar 2024
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Graeme Tennick (pictured above holding the Small Firm of the Year Award) is the first to admit that doing a set of accounts and tax returns is not really where he excels. “My passion is business,” he said, adding that it’s in coaching clients where he can make a difference and help them be the best they can be. 

Tennick Accountants picked up the regional North of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland Small Firm of the Year Award and then the national “Grand Prix” prize at the 2023 Accounting Excellence Awards. The judges were particularly impressed by the firm’s introduction of coaching and personal development initiatives into its client care. 

Coaching is such an integral part of Tennick Accountants that the firm owner lists “qualified coach” as one of his accomplishments in the same breath as “chartered accountant”. 

Bringing the numbers alive

So what is the secret to coaching? He describes his approach to coaching as “bringing the numbers alive”. The firm starts by clarifying where they are now, where they want to get to, then from there, they support them in getting there. He’s able to do this through asking clients the following emotive questions.

  • Are you happy with how many mealtimes and bedtimes you’re missing with loved ones?
  • Are you happy with where your business is today compared to where you hoped it would be? 
  • If you were to pass away tomorrow would you be happy with the life you’ve lived that’s left behind?

These questions come from Tennick’s own first-hand experience, but more so, from his firm’s strategy to leave the world and all those that come into contact with them better. “I’ve got two girls and I want the girls, my wife and our family to be proud of the impact we’ve made,” he said. 

He added: “We come from a business-first background as most of our staff have families that have businesses outside of the accounting profession meaning we can empathise with the real struggles owners are facing.” 

Integrate coaching into your firm’s culture

The firm has faced its own struggles. But integrating a coaching mindset into the firm’s culture proved to be crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“[The struggles of Covid] really had a huge impact on what made us be what we are today as a firm,” he said. 

In January 2021, shortly after plunging into another lockdown, the firm still had 115 tax returns to file, while team members were dealing with some incredibly tough personal circumstances. Tennick realised that they needed to change course. He galvanised the team and arranged a virtual cocktail-making class for clients. 

He vowed not to have another January like that one, and the following year they had less than 50 tax returns left to file, and he went skiing. “We needed to practise what we preach,” he said. This year, the firm had only nine or 10 tax returns left to file in January. 

Coaching in action

The firm’s coaching sessions focus on the “magical triangle” of finances, operations and retirement. 

The successes of this approach include two separate businesses being able to grow their profits while still taking a day off every week to spend with family and another client was able to retire five years early with £200,000 more than they were expecting. 

For Tennick, coaching is personal. Before he even starts with clients, he starts with himself. He said he’d feel like a hypocrite if he was asking clients to follow a process that he doesn’t believe in or follows. 

He starts every year with a vision board. He does the same with clients. After he’s looked at their business, he uses business advisory software Clarity to plug in their numbers and see what their “potential unrealised is”. 

He inspires his clients to visualise their potential through reflective questions and vision boards and he then calculates the numbers they’d have to hit in order to achieve this vision. Each time he is pushing for certainty from his clients that they’ve bought into the process and that the vision has lit a fire inside that will get them out of bed in the morning and on-task. 

Tennick used a similar process to win the 2023 Small Firm of the Year Award at the Accounting Excellence Awards. After reading the book Vivid vision by Cameron Herold, Tennick was inspired to create a documented vision for the future of his business and set the steadfast goal of winning an Accounting Excellence Award

He shared this first with his team and then, in an event he organised in January 2022 for the firm’s 10th anniversary, he stood in front of all his clients and declared that Tennick Accountants will win an Accounting Excellence Award within three years. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cultivate a coaching mindset across the firm

Winning an Accounting Excellence Award is one example of the number of “big, hairy, audacious goals” Tennick and the team set themselves. 

The next step is to reverse engineer the end goal, and plot the steps they need to take to achieve. From there, they segment the goal further by individual team members within the team, and then they’re held accountable each and every step of the way. 

Staff are also part of the firm’s strategic meetings so no matter their level, they all have a hand in shaping the firm. 

“By way of doing that, whether the individual in our team has a coaching mindset or important skill set, it’s about the processes to be able to process the structure that actually enables you to move forward with change. It then gives us the platform to see where each person excels,” he said. 

With goals for clients and the firm, Tennick tracks progress on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. 

The role of coaching in his firm is growing in importance, too. They’ve invested heavily in the skill set, having introduced coaching qualifications across the firm and brought on a dedicated personal development officer, who works with the firm and individuals on how they can better understand the challenges ahead. 

The power of accountability in coaching

Recognising that not all clients can afford the full advisory treatment, Tennick has also a community-driven approach to coaching. The Academy programme takes businesses facing similar problems and provides group support. 

The Academy meets once a month in a group environment, and together they go through the numbers and revisit the actions from the previous month and then agree actions for the month ahead. The group setting brings a sense of accountability to the businesses, while also providing a support network. 

As a further incentive, the business owner gets some of their money back if they hit their target. 

However, Tennick noted that he is strict that those joining the group must have the right mindset. “I have had clients who have committed to this, but then I pulled back and said: ‘You’re not doing the action, so let’s not waste one another’s time and money. Let’s just stop and then we’ll just stick with the compliance piece.’”

Leverage data for informed coaching

Underpinning the firm’s investment in coaching is data. The firm has built out Power BI in-house. This enables them to determine efficiencies and inefficiencies across the firm for whatever time period.  

The firm’s embracing of Power BI came following the hiring of a data analyst and software lead in 2022. It’s their job to drill into the data. Conscious of all this data at his fingertips, Tennick’s approach is still to set out first with a client what they want.  

“We are flooded with information but starved of knowledge. We have never had access to so much data ever,” he said. 

“We didn’t have up-to-date information before the cloud came about., whereas now we’ve got daily information. We’ve got access to some absolutely amazing software. There’s almost too much.” 

So he’s laser-focused on what they’re trying to achieve with each client. That’s why the starting place for using data with coaching is to go back to the basics of bookkeeping. “It’s the bedrock to data which gives us better discussion,” he said. 

The team is able to see what’s actually happening under the hood of their client’s business and that links directly with the goals on their vision board. Whether it’s helping their customers pay sooner or getting access to finance at a cheaper rate, the combined savings could be what helps that client achieve that Florida trip they discussed with the team. 

“Combining and data brings the numbers to life at a business level and adds context so that all of a sudden, the client and I are on the same page. That’s the power of coaching and that’s the power of data in fixing the problem.” 

Could you be next Small Firm of the Year winner? Enter the Accounting Excellence Awards and you could lift the trophy like Tennick Accountants did last year. The awards are open until 14 June. 

Replies (1)

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By Rob Swan
29th Mar 2024 08:44

Excellent article!
What every accountant should be - IMHO.

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