High-functioning firms


High-functioning firms have leadership teams that assess situations, develop strategies, and make and execute decisions with relative ease, speed, and success. Others, however, function with a drag that pulls against their momentum, causing the business of leading, managing, and executing to take longer and produce less-than-stellar results. High-functioning firms seem to share the following eight attributes:

  Operate with vision. The most successful firms pay attention to market trends and demographics. They seek new ways of operating, better technology, smarter processes, and better talent. They are committed to driving the firm forward, improving, and reaching a future “destination” that will be better for the firm, its people, and its clients. Leaders encourage many viewpoints when defining the firm’s vision, and they thoughtfully enroll their entire team in achieving it.

  Build trust. High-functioning firms operate with a level of trust that speeds decision-making and raises confidence in risk taking and change management. The leaders operate transparently, with nothing to hide. They build trust by keeping their word and not overpromising, by admitting mistakes, and by sharing the good and the bad with their people. High-functioning leaders follow agreed-upon governance procedures.
  Treat each other with respect. In high-functioning firms, people respect one another’s unique talents and abilities; diversity and different perspectives are appreciated and sought out. Humor is present, but isn’t used to jab or belittle anyone. When there are problems, people do not gossip and instead discuss the issue directly with the person with whom they have an issue. Yelling is never acceptable.
  Encourage people to take responsibility. High-functioning firms encourage their people to own their mistakes and failures. Blame is not assigned, and throwing someone under the bus is considered extremely unacceptable. Instead, people acknowledge things that could have been done differently, and teams are encouraged to learn and emerge from failure better than they were before. When things are difficult, people are encouraged to ask themselves, “What can I personally do to improve this situation?”
  Value humility. When wins occur, people at high-functioning firms look for ways to acknowledge all of those who contributed. Seeking glory is not the norm. People allow others to recognize their contributions and trust that “credit” will be given appropriately.
  Act with generosity. High-functioning firms encourage their people to place the needs of the firm, the team, and the client ahead of individual ambitions. They compensate their people well and tie rewards to successful outcomes. They encourage their people to think beyond their walls and give back to the community.
  Strive for positivity. Culturally, high-functioning firms expect to succeed, but they also expect setbacks. They face challenges with grace and resolve. People are encouraged to maintain a positive perspective when things don’t go their way. Complaining is not prevalent or accepted. Problems are acknowledged but followed with ideas for change that will improve the situation.
  Value communication. At high-functioning firms, leaders think strategically about the messages they communicate and who should receive them and when. There are many avenues for collecting and delivering feedback. Performance feedback is valued, and time is spent making it meaningful. Upward feedback is encouraged. Firm leaders receive performance appraisals. Project postmortems are held, and firm-improvement suggestions are requested.

Editor’s note: This checklist is adapted from the article “The Eight Attributes of High-Functioning Firms,” CPA Insider, May 19, 2014.

By Jennifer Wilson ( jen@convergencecoaching.com ) partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC.

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