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Practice Excellence: Ric Payne’s 20 observations

29th Oct 2012
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Principa founder Ric Payne gave the keynote presentation at the Practice Excellence Awards this year and revealed his top 20 observations from 30 years in practice. 

He explained that success was not about winning, but rather:

…the feeling you get when you know you’ve done your best in the progressive realisation of a worthy goal - it’s personal, it’s a journey and it presumes a goal.

He explained the only person you are competing with is yourself - always try to be the best you’re capable of becoming and use benchmarking to set the standard you seek to better. This is the Roger Bannister philosophy: since 1954 (up to 2000) 18 people have achieved this feat and the current record is 3:43 held by a Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999.

During Payne’s presentation he outlined his 20 most important observations from "30 years in the trenches".

They are:

1. Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care

2. Your clients are all the stakeholders associated with your business:

  • Customers
  • Team members
  • Shareholders
  • Business partners

You can choose all of these so make your choices count.

3. Bad clients drive out good clients - I learned this from Ron Baker and I learned from experience it applies to all client categories. Take care when selecting your customers and review your bottom 20% annually to systematically improve client quality over time. Client selection – a good client is one in respect of whom I can add value and who recognises the contribution I make. Take just as much care in selecting your team: hire slowly, fire fast - your partners and your business partners.

4. Understand and manage to the six fundamental human needs:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Connection
  • Growth
  • Purpose

5. Adopt four strategies to create happiness in your firm for yourself and your team – happiness is associated with improved productivity and engagement.

  • Be active – exercise to create dopamine
  • Be grateful – keep a journal
  • Be caring – volunteer
  • Be positive – see the past, present and future as a glass half full – introduce an Outlook Focus Group in your firm

6. Be a dreamer! The practice of your dreams starts with your dream - capture it on paper then proactively make it happen. Everything you see around you was once an idea in someone's head that was acted on – there are always two creations and they always follow this order - from concept to reality!

“If you want to change your life my friend you must change your thinking” - Dave Clark’s Time, The Musical.

“If you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right” - Henry Ford

Don’t allow limiting beliefs to limit your potential, for example, wrong clients, location, team, economy. Understand that we are hard-wired to take the negative view – it is a survival instinct but not a growth characteristic

7. Success in business and life is not about luck, it’s about choice, preparation and perseverance. People say “The harder I work the luckier I get.” A better saying is: “The smarter I work the luckier I get.”

SMARTER is the key word:

  1. Start with a specific goal in mind and write it down and commit publically
  2. Make it simple and measurable by chunking
  3. Action your plan with activity – small daily disciplines – write them down and commit to your coach/mentor
  4. Review your progress regularly – with reports to your mentor
  5. Time frame your actions
  6. Evaluate your progress – with your coach/mentor
  7. Revisit your goals and action plan

In one study, written goals, publicly disclosed, committed to a coach and  monitored with regular progress reports have an achievement premium of 68% over “just mental” goals.

8. The accomplishment of a challenging goal is not as important as what you become in the process of working towards it

9. Success leaves clues – observe what pathfinders have achieved and follow their lead

10. You'll never capture value unless you first create it. What you do with your time and talent determines the value you create. – always ask yourself: “Am I creating value by using my time and talent to best effect?” Understand the difference between importance and urgency and the fact that effective delegation is the key to growth. If you feel you can’t delegate you don’t have a team member challenge, you have hiring, training or ego challenge

11. When you can’t differentiate your products, you must differentiate the process by which they are delivered. Focus not on “what” you do but “how” you do it

12. Challenges are opportunities, look for them, embrace them and make the most of them. There are only two outcomes in life and business: successes and learning experiences

13. The ‘Law of the Farm’ applies to all businesses – you need to plan, plant, protect and nurture the profit from harvest in that order

14. Hire the best and let them take care of the rest. When you hire people you'll increase your workload in the short term. How ‘short’ that is, will be determined by the quality of the people you hire and the responsibility you give to them. Most teams tend to be dysfunctional. The key: create an attitude of trust, which leads to constructive conflict that promotes willing commitment, is reflected by acceptance of accountability and enables the firm to focus on results. Read Lencioni!

15. Creating an organisation that fosters intrinsic motivation is the only way to get exceptional performance from knowledge workers who seek autonomy, mastery and purpose. The command and control, carrot and stick management model that worked will in the 20th century industrial era does not work for knowledge workers.

  • Pay me fairly (Body)
  • Use me creatively (Mind)
  • Treat me kindly (Heart)
  • Give me a sense of purpose in my work (Spirit)

16. The value of the clients you lose because your fees are too low is far greater than the ones you will acquire when price is a decider for them. The client value equation is the ratio of value created to price paid – work on the numerator not he denominator

17. Clients who come to you for price will leave you for price. Good is the enemy of great - you’ll never grow your business from a zone of comfort – put real pressure on yourself, create a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), for example 25-30% revenue growth. £350k-620k per partner. Grow your profit NOT your revenue. Profit is THE measure of the value you have added over the cost of all inputs

18. You will never achieve your potential if you settle for doing average work for average clients with average people. Average is average, pure and simple

19. Personal development comes before practice development. The most effective people I have observed exhibit in varying degrees Covey’s seven habits plus one.  Make them yours:

  • Be proactive - if you don’t take responsibility for your future someone else will
  • Start with the end in mind – have a vision
  • Organise and execute around your priorities
  • Always look for win-win
  • Seek first to understand
  • Synergy is the only way to grow an organization
  • Sharpen the saw
  • The 8th Habit – find your voice and help other find theirs

20. One more thing (again) Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Make every client feel he/she is your ONLY client and if you shudder at the thought of a client being your only client fire him/her. This is the X-factor.

Ric Payne is founder and chief executive of Principa – an organisation that turns the challenges facing small and medium-sized business communities into opportunities for forward thinking accounting practices and business consulting firms.

Replies (4)

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
30th Oct 2012 10:19

PEA was worth attending for this talk alone

I am so pleased to see the above summary - but do bear in mind that it is only a summary and that a great deal of thought lies behind each and every one of the points that Ric made.


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By Paul Dunn
30th Oct 2012 13:19

Strange request perhaps


Ric's Principa email no longer seems to work. Can you pass on a correct one for him to me please?

Many thanks

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
31st Oct 2012 07:28

I've emailled you Paul


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By futureb00ks
15th Nov 2012 12:47

Tightening the belt


Service-based businesses can move quicker than retail businesses to cut costs and change their businesses because they do not have to optimise manufacturing processes or control inventory. Here are a few suggestions we have for our clients to reduce costs in 2012.

Renegotiate contracts. Examine renegotiating rates with external suppliers who fulfill large, frequent orders for your business. They will want to retain your business and will be more willing to negotiate on price compared to salary makers in your business.

Pool or share resources. You may in fact be able to renegotiate working arrangements with fulltime staff by first checking with other friendly businesses in your industry, and discussing a roster system to share people. This lessens the financial burden for both businesses, without necessarily cutting the salary of the employee.

We posted more here:

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