It’s one thing to have a strategy to grow your firm. It’s another thing entirely to seamlessly implement your strategy to your timescales.
In this article, Heather Townsend, brand ambassador for the Practice Excellence Programme and founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club, explains how to seamlessly implement your strategy for growth.
Why is it so hard to move from strategy to execution within a firm?
It should be easy, shouldn’t it? Decide on your strategy, set your course and away you go. But it never happens like that in reality. There are many reasons why it is so difficult to get your whole firm working towards your new strategy. And, of course, the bigger your firm gets, the harder it is to turn the tanker and set sail for this new course of action. Let’s first look at some of the main reasons why owners of small (and large firms) find it so hard to implement their strategy.
The all-consuming day job
Most accountants tend to focus on the here and now. What’s on their desk right now. Given that much of their responsibilities focus on delivering the here and now for clients, it’s difficult to get them to consider the future and how their role may change. Of course, many growing firms just don’t have the capacity or bandwidth to do anything different to what they are doing now. Firefighting or on the cusp of firefighting isn’t a stable enough foundation to introduce change into a practice.
We are not good at implementing or communicating change
Implementing a new strategy equals change. There is no getting away from it. Why do most change initiatives fail? Because the leadership of the change initiative just doesn’t spend enough time gaining the hearts and minds of their people. Far too often leaders of practices just don’t communicate well enough what they want to happen and why. Sometimes they don’t communicate at all what they want to change, so it just stays in their head.
We don’t have enough focus throughout the practice on what we want to change.
People can get very jaded and tired of change initiatives. It’s hard to do things differently. Therefore, without enough leadership and management focus on implementing the strategy, it’s all too easy to slip back into the way we have always done things.
Multiple and sometimes competing agendas
Have you noticed that professional practices often have multiple and sometimes competing agenda? Particularly if you have or are in a multi-partner firm. If everyone in the firm is not focused on achieving the same end result, is it any wonder that we fail to execute our strategy?
Trying to do it all yourself
The bigger your firm gets the harder it is to single-handedly implement your strategy for execution. The whole firm needs to do its bit to implement your strategy. Unfortunately, many firm owners take the burden of implementing their new firm strategy all on their shoulders. Unless everyone in the firm takes some responsibility to implement the firm’s new strategy, it takes much, much longer than it needs to.
What are great ways of helping your firm move from strategy to execution?
As we’ve already discussed in this article, this is a piece of change management and needs to be treated as such. It needs strong communication and both leadership and management focus.
One of the ways you can get your strategy implemented is using the ‘making it happen’ meeting rhythm.
So, why use the ‘making it happen’ meeting rhythm? Very simply:
- It ensures everyone is focused on the organisational priorities
- It helps communication flow across the firm and cuts down rework
- It translates the firm’s strategy and plans into execution
- It helps the leadership delegate responsibilities for moving the practice forward
Very briefly the ‘making it happen’ meeting rhythm is a regular meeting schedule for your firm to ensure that the right stuff is always being focused on. There is much more to the ‘making it happen’ meeting rhythm, but for the purposes of this article, I’m highlighting the key elements, which ensures that your firm will implement your strategy to your timelines. It starts with an annual leadership team meeting.
What happens in the annual leadership team meeting?
This is where the leadership team achieves the following:
- Identify where the firm would like to be in 12 months and what 3-5 top priorities that the firm needs to focus on to get there
- Identify a potential “one critical thing” for each quarter of the year ahead, and the first quarter’s “one critical thing”.
One critical thing
The “one critical thing” is what the whole firm is going to focus on each quarter of the year. It could be a number based thing; for example, improve our profit margin from 10-15%. Or it could be a physical thing, such as systemise all our core processes. By having a “one critical thing” for everyone in your firm to focus on it galvanises everyone into action, stops initiative overload, and hopefully reduces the likelihood of multiple and competing agendas throughout your firm.
The annual staff meeting
This meeting should follow fairly quickly after the annual leadership team meeting. It has many purposes, not least to celebrate the success of the previous year. One of its purposes is to:
- Introduce the firm strategy and plans for the year and get the employees buy-in to these plans
- Announce the “one critical thing” for the next quarter
Part of the staff meeting needs to be devoted to helping the teams in the business identify their 3-5 rocks. These rocks are the things they as a team will prioritise to help the firm achieve its “one critical thing” for the quarter.
The quarterly leadership team and employee meetings
In many ways, these are the equivalents of the annual Leadership team and employee meetings. Their purposes are to agree on the “one critical thing” for the quarter and then identify the 3-5 rocks per team in order to achieve the “one critical thing”.
The monthly leadership team meeting
This meeting is about reviewing the firm’s progress against its “One Critical Thing” as well as a more general review of the “numbers that matter”, i.e. KPIs for the firm. Any challenges or barriers to achieving the firm’s “one critical thing” are root caused and plans put in place to remove these challenges.
The team weekly meeting
Every team in your firm will meet for a weekly meeting. Part of its purpose is to review the team’s progress against the 3-5 rocks it identified. Its these weekly team meetings which help the whole firm be focused on implementing your strategy for growth.
Keeping your whole firm focused on what really matters to execute your strategy isn’t easy. By having a regular schedule of meetings with tightly managed agendas and focusing your firm on achieving the “one critical thing” for the quarter it becomes so much easy to implement your strategy to your timelines.
Practice Excellence Week is AccountingWEB's landmark festival of excellence, inspiration and celebration for the accounting profession. If you would like to hear more about the programme, please visit the Practice Excellence website or email [email protected]
About Heather Townsend
Heather Townsend is a brand ambassador for the Practice Excellence Programme, and the Founder of ‘The Accountants Millionaires’ Club’. In 2015 the ICAEW decided she was the number one online influencer for the accountancy profession. She is the author of 4 books, including The Go-To Expert, and ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (co-authored with Jo Larbie).
Heather is always up for a challenge. Perhaps that is why she has built a track record of helping accountants grow the size of their practice by 50-200%, often in under two years. Often helping them make partner or equity partner in the process.
Heather is a high profile member of the accountancy profession in the UK. She has worked with over 300 partners, coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. Heather's clients have included: 7 out of the Top 10 UK practices, including all the Big 4 firms.
In 2016 her and her team of coaches have coached:
1) 7 people successfully to partner
2) Professionals from all of the Big 4, from every major continent in the world
As well as helping accountants make partner, she still spends 40% of her time helping small firms, typically under £1m GRF:
1) Create profitable revenue streams from advisory services and reduce their reliance on revenue from compliance services
2) Radically increase their profitability, even if they are a cloud based practice, often helping them achieve a net profit margin of 40%+
3) Double or even triple the size of their practice within 3 years
4) Win bigger and better clients
5) Grow the right team around them so they stop working stupidly high hours and spend quality time with the people they care about
Her articles appear regularly in the UK national and trade press, including The Financial Times, Accountancy Age, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Heather is also in-demand for her speaking and has recently returned from the South African Accountancy Academy conference.