With the slow economy still making times—and dollars—tight, it might seem counterintuitive for a CPA firm to take its staff to the beach for an annual retreat. But handled correctly, such off-site activities can be effective investments of time and money. Here are some ideas for making the most of a retreat:
Set the right date. Mid-May through mid-September is optimum. It’s after tax season, and activities can be held outside.
Invite the whole office. Breard & Associates, a Northridge, Calif.-based CPA firm that’s been holding annual retreats for 17 years, takes all 13 of its employees to the meeting, leaving interns at the office to answer phones. Including everyone costs more but boosts office morale and “buy-in.” It also allows management to hear fresh ideas from more perspectives. This format works for firms of as many as 30 people.
Don’t skimp on time. Breard’s retreats start on Tuesday evening, enabling participants to be ready to work Wednesday morning. The events end midday Friday, providing time for staff members to return home for the weekend.
Don’t skimp on accommodations. Breard spent $500 per employee to hold its retreat this year at a beachfront resort in Oxnard, Calif. The setting helped to build enthusiasm for the event.
Run the conference with your people. Facilitators are costly and don’t understand your employees as well as your staff does. You will accomplish more with staff members leading presentations and sessions. Make sure you prepare a detailed schedule.
Kick off with a “State of the Union.” Start out with a talk that focuses on the past year’s accomplishments and sets a context for a vision of the future.
Break into small discussion groups. Encourage brainstorming with small group sessions. You can, for example, hold small conferences on the beach to discuss topics.
Strive for honesty. Have employees participate in an annual “Good, Bad and Ugly” exercise, where they are encouraged to submit anonymous comments about the firm, its policies, its management and one another. The submissions are then discussed.
Conduct a SWOT analysis. After focusing internally with the “Good, Bad and Ugly” exercise, turn your staff’s attention outward with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) drill, which examines how the firm can better compete.
Include a Management of Accounting Practice (MAP) session. This enables staff members to benchmark your firm against similar firms via a national survey such as the AICPA’s PCPS/TSCPA National MAP Survey (tinyurl.com/6zon4ge), which is what Breard uses.
Implement results quickly. Once you’re back at the office, implement new goals as quickly as possible. This will solidify staff eagerness to repeat the experience. Pick a staff member to put together a to-do chart of action items from the retreat. The chart shows the due dates for each item, which employees are responsible for each item, and any notes that will help with implementation. The staff member who compiles the chart then reminds the team about the items once a week. After six weeks, hold a team meeting to discuss progress.
Do retreats work? They have for Breard, which has implemented numerous improvements, including the establishment of a toll-free phone number, the installation of a massive flat-screen TV to track firm jobs and the introduction of paperless audits.
—By Kevin Breard, CPA, ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) managing partner of Breard & Associates in Northridge, Calif.
More from the JofA: