Accounting Excellence

Secrets of excellence: Practice culture


The 2020 Accounting Excellence award winners spill all their secrets in how to reap a rewarding practice culture within your firm.

24th Jun 2021
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Especially during the events of the pandemic, culture has been at the heart of maintaining a successful practice. Ensuring your staff’s wants and needs are met is the driving force behind your team being able to deliver quality service to clients.

Learning and development initiatives at firms have had a sharp rise in the last five years - 34% of last year's award entrants invested in these people strategies, up from just 20% in 2019. This year's crop of entries are likely to push those figures higher, as firms scrambled to keep culture alive (albeit remotely). 

Recognising the intense pressure and mental drain brought about by the lockdown restrictions, firms rushed to support their employees with care packages, virtual gatherings and wellbeing days.  

As lockdown restrictions ease across the UK, firms are now formulating their back to work plans and figuring out how they can merge the flexibility and freedom of remote working with the need to re-establish their culture.    

With this year’s Accounting Excellence Awards around the corner, our 2020 award winners explored how they boosted their practice culture within their firms throughout the past year.

Don’t forget to enter your practice in the 2021 awards for the chance to win across 20 categories of practice success! The deadline for entries is 25 June.

Warren Munson, founder and managing director of Inspire - Accounting Excellence Medium Firm of the Year 2020 winner

Warren Munson

It’s all about the people. From an internal perspective, it's the most important thing. We are currently revisiting our culture to make sure everyone’s engaged and aligned with each other.

We just sent out a staff survey that outlined our spirit, essence and beliefs. We want to make sure that these sentiments all still resonate with staff now in a post-Covid world.

We feedback constantly - we've introduced something called Friday Pulse, a third-party piece of survey software. Every Friday, the team sends a score signalling how happy they are. We collate that information, review it, and then have weekly team meetings to discuss the score. Has it improved, has it gone down, and why? It all comes back to having an open and honest dialogue about how people are feeling.

Our culture as a firm, really, is to delight our clients. By giving all of that feedback, people understand how we're doing. We’re very open with our own performance and results. A lot of firms talk about having that trusted relationship with our clients, but it’s also really important that we have a trusted relationship as a team.

Pamela Phillips, co-founder and managing director of de Jong Phillips - Accounting Excellence Small Firm of the Year 2020 winner

Pam Phillips

We boost practice culture by being flexible and living by the value of fitting work around your personal life. Everyone's got different things that they need to work around - it’s really important we prioritise that.

We also make sure to have social activities. Fortnightly, we finish work early and have a beer together on zoom. That really helps build a good atmosphere in the team.

We’re really client focused - the whole team gets to see and be part of that. We do a lot for our clients, and by making sure everyone is part of the whole picture they feel like a valued member of our team, but also a valued member of their clients’ team.

All of our people are client facing, so we want everyone to buy into the same values and reflect those values when they're interacting with clients. It makes work more enjoyable if you have a positive culture. It's also really hard to recruit accountants at the moment, so when you have got good accountants you want them to want to stay. Having a good culture helps that.

Jaye Snell, founder of Exe Bookkeeping and Payroll Services - Accounting Excellence Bookkeeping Firm of the Year 2020 winner

Jaye Snell

People really value the human touch. We value being approachable, whether that’s internally or externally, and being willing to go above and beyond to make sure that the clients have what they need are all necessary.

Having that approachability with our staff and being able to offer them flexibility really benefits practice culture. The hierarchy within the practice is quite flat - I don't like to think of people working for me, I think of them working with me. That creates a bit more of a positive atmosphere. It’s quite fluid and things are constantly changing.

In terms of lockdown measures, my staff have been given the scope to do what's comfortable for them. So if they don't feel that they're ready to come back to the office, we’ve made sure they’ve got access to everything that they need to be able to continue to work from home. We stay in constant communication, whether that's via video calls, or text messages, or even just picking up the phone. Everyone just needs to feel comfortable.

Sian Kelly, managing director of Inform Accounting - Accounting Excellence Client Service Award 2020 winner, Digital and Innovative Firm of the Year 2020 winner

Sian Kelly

Practice culture is a top priority. It's about the work environment for the staff, and getting them on board with how we approach customer service.

Culture influences the customer experience - it’s so important to be on top of the client relationship. That's why in our model we have a dedicated account manager for every client, so they’ve got one point of contact who they can develop a relationship with.

During lockdown, we've done online team events twice a week. We also have team meetings three times a week just to run through any issues and check if anyone's struggling with anything.

For a long time when lockdown hit, we did that every single day because there was so much constantly changing and we needed to send out different mailers to clients and brief the staff on how they could support clients. It’s very much an open door policy - no question is a silly question, because we don't want people to be scared of learning and asking and getting the right answers for clients.

Sarah Sallis, director of The Accountancy Office - Accounting Excellence Sole Practitioner of the Year 2020 winner

Sarah Sallis

Practice culture is a top priority for us. The whole culture of the organisation reflects heavily on everything else - it reflects through the staff, and then that reflects onto the clients.

We try to make our environment and culture very informal and flexible for staff. In turn, that conveys to our clients. We're not a typical high street firm, where everyone's smartly dressed in suits and at the desk by nine o'clock. We work very flexibly and offer off-the-clock consultations and late night appointments. 

That is heavily conveyed to our staff - if they ever need to have an appointment or something then they’re more than welcome to pop out and do that. Everybody's free to fit their work schedule around their own commitments.

From the technical aspects, we are very much evolving in terms of our culture and our reliability on software. We are in the process of formalising our onboarding process, because it’s really important to our culture that we are making sure we’re utilizing the IT side of things as much as we can.

Don’t miss your chance to register for our Accounting Excellence 2021 Awards!

There are 20 categories within the AE awards, recognising accounting firms, individuals, teams, projects and industry vendors within the UK. All categories are judged by an impressive line-up of experts and influencers covering a range of specialisms from within and outside the accounting profession.

Click here to enter your practice now. The deadline for entries is 25 June.

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