What do the leaders of modern accounting firms have in common? They’re focused on growth! And as you well know, growth doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen without proper change management.
So what changes are required for growth? Depending on the firm, the changes required can include anything from adopting new cloud-based technologies and supercharging your marketing program to enhancing the client onboarding process and upping your website and mobile game.
But not so fast. While any one of these actions may be necessary to support healthy business growth, if you don’t have a top-performing team in place, it can quickly derail you. Staff represent your biggest asset. They serve as both the front line with clients as well as keepers of your systems and processes. So, when you hire the best talent, it helps bolster operational efficiency, supports scalability, and frees partners to get out of the day-to-day and focus on higher-level strategy.
“Proper staff development is critical to support firm growth because it’s the strength of your staff that will make or break you.” - Jeff Phillips
How do you build a staff for the modern era? That was the focus of our webinar, How To Develop Your Team in a Growing Firm with Jeff Phillips, CEO of Padgett Business Services and Co-Founder of Accountingfly. Jeff shared insights how your team can be your greatest asset as you build your company. Read on for insights, tips, and best practices we pulled from his webinar, designed to help you build a team that supports your growing firm.
Modern accounting firm required
Finding qualified staff continues to be a major pain point in the accounting profession. Good people are scarce and everyone is fighting for them. So, how do you attract the best employees to your firm? You start by offering a modern experience.
To attract next-generation candidates and retain your best people, running a modern business is key. Consider a few core elements of a modern accounting firm:
No manual data entry: Modern firms run within an automated, streamlined cloud-based technology ecosystem. To attract qualified, progressive staff, you have to ditch old-school manual processes.
Real-time, proactive advisory relationships: Cloud-based technologies offer real-time views of client data, which enables proactive advisory relationships.
Better value and margins: The ability to offer higher-value advisory services (when you operate within an advanced technology ecosystem) leads to better service value and higher margins.
An environment of trust: Give your staff room to do their jobs…no micromanagement required.
A healthy, progressive culture: Developing a strong work culture helps keep your best people around longer as well as attracts top candidates. Your culture should exude positivity, trust, flexibility, and a modern feel.
“A modern accounting firm is a prerequisite for attracting and retaining a strong team.” - Jeff Phillips
The modern talent stack
Modern accounting firms also have a well-planned and well-structured team. The traditional firm hierarchy can no longer support rapid growth—one where partners maintain a strong presence in daily operations and are entrenched in technical work. Firm leaders must be far more intentional these days about how they build a staff to maximize impact.
Overall, you’ll want to structure your firm so it’s poised for growth. And that means figuring out the right seats and then putting the right staff in those seats. When this happens, it lifts leaders out of the day-to-day to focus on…well, leading.
A modern talent stack includes three key elements: 1) visionary/integrator (CEO/COO), 2) a production team, and 3) a support team. And it looks a little something like this:
This type of structure allows partners/leaders to keep their focus on strategy and vision fulfillment—while their team runs the day-to-day.
It’s also important to note that today’s workforce looks drastically different. New-age workers are predominantly millennials, span multiple industries, and have expectations that are modern-focused. Consider that today’s pool of candidates:
May not be accountants
May not work in your market
May not want full-time work or are looking for seasonal-only
May be projects-based
Require a flexible work environment and will expect the ability to work remotely
May not be long-term (and that’s okay)
Are technologically savvy
It’s critical to understand who makes up the candidate pool if you are going to successfully attract them to your firm.
8 best practices to develop your team
Now that you understand the necessity of running a modern accounting firm and building a modern talent stack, it’s time to dig into the details.
The following 8 best practices serve as a guided roadmap as you build your dream team.
Best practice 1: Craft and repeat a clear vision
Everything starts with your vision. So important is the firm’s vision that you need to take the time to write it down and consistently live it within your firm (lead by example). Your vision informs your staff on where your firm is going, why it exists, who it serves, and what it will do in the future.
Be sure to over communicate your vision, train staff to help fulfill it, and build a culture that supports it. Communication of your vision is key to retaining high-performing staff.
Best practice 2: Improve how work and communications get done
Take the time to implement change that improves workflow and communication processes. The goal here is to enhance efficiency by reducing busy work like checking emails, participating in multiple meetings, and adhering to numerous check-ins.
Consider a few workflow hacks:
Encourage staff to record questions during the day and ask them in batch to reduce workflow interruptions.
Meet only when needed (e.g., to answer batch questions) or when leadership is required on projects.
Put email rules in place. For example, enforce a 24-hour response-time rule for internal emails. This will limit the number of times staff check and respond to emails during the day.
Improving basic processes will get staff out of busy work and into higher-value tasks that improve the bottom line.
Best practice 3: Hire better talent
Move upmarket in your talent and hire staff that can run your firm—even when you are not there. This pulls leaders out of the technical work and allows them to focus on vision fulfillment.
To attract the best talent, be open to hiring remote staff, part timers, and those outside of the accounting profession. Also be sure to position your firm to stand out from the crowd, which means being able to recite your vision and sell the value of working in your modern accounting firm.
Best practice 4: Implement a structured onboarding process
Most firms spend a lot of time to ensure a rich client onboarding experience. The same attention must be given to your employee onboarding process. Remember, onboarding represents an employee’s first major interaction with your firm, so make it a frictionless and positive one.
Here are a few ideas to ensure a structured and stellar onboarding experience:
If you have more than one new hire coming onboard, bring them in as a cohort. This offers an immediate connection to fellow colleagues and promotes a feeling of inclusion.
Have new staff complete paperwork online prior to their first day.
Put new staff on a training track right out of the gate. Get them learning and keep them interested.
Offer a new hire gift box from the firm or a hand-written welcome note from firm leaders (or both).
Pre-schedule introduction meetings between new staff and team leads (and other key team members). Promote a feeling of comfort by letting staff know who is who and who does what.
Ask new staff for feedback so you can continually enhance your onboarding process.
Best practice 5: Delegate to win
Work to improve your delegation skills every day. Why hire the best and smartest talent if you’re just going to constantly tell them what to do...or do it yourself? Creating a high-performing team requires that staff feel empowered to do their work and suggest/make process improvements. This is where a strong training program comes in. When staff members are properly informed, it empowers them to lead and you to let go. And when you let go, you win.
Best practice 6: Train repeatedly
Develop a training calendar and stick to it. When you train your staff throughout the year, you empower them to take command of their work and their role. Commit to developing in-house training on your technology stack, workflow, and even such areas as security and culture. To balance your time, you can also outsource some training to reputable sources.
“One of the main reasons top talent leave firms early is because they weren’t trained properly.” - Jeff Phillips
Best practice 7: Build in accountability
Accountability should be a primary component of your firm’s culture—because where there is great accountability, you will find a highly productive workforce. It’s important to note that accountability starts with leadership. It requires leaders to offer clarity around staff roles and the firm’s vision so that team members understand exactly what they are accountable for. It also requires having the right systems in place to help staff achieve accountability with projects, tasks, and duties (e.g., practice management software).
Best practice 8: Codify processes
The goal here is to build a system where your people can thrive. That means developing workflows that are streamlined and efficient—workflows that allow your business to scale. Then make sure your staffers are trained and thoroughly engaged on those workflows. Best practice is to record core processes, reinforce them consistently, and share them with your team on a regular basis. Also ask for feedback periodically to ensure continual improvement.
“You need a playbook on how things are done in your firm. Someone needs to be in charge of the playbook and work to consistently improve it.” - Jeff Phillips
Move into modern…
The tax and accounting profession has evolved immensely over the past several years. Remote workspaces are more prominent. Cloud-based technologies dominate firm tech stacks. And higher-value advisory services rule.
What hasn’t changed is the staffing shortage. Firms continue to feel the pain of this ongoing issue. Yet, to grow, you need staff. And to grow successfully, you need high-performing talent.
The best practices laid out in this article serve as a roadmap to help you build a strong team—a team that supports growth, scalability, and long-term success. Take the first step to building a high-performing, growth-bolstering team by applying one or all of the tips offered here.
Ready to grow your firm for the modern era? Watch Jeff's webinar ondemand today: How To Develop Your Team in a Growing Firm, and follow our Scaling Growth webinar series to hear from today’s industry thought leaders who have been there, done that, and are sharing what they've learned along the way.