Our profession has in front of us the greatest opportunity for increased relevance and abundance that I have seen in 40 years. Demand for our services, skill sets, and leadership have never been higher. We can simply look at the growth percentages from the latest 2022 large firm reports and see that firms are growing at much faster rates due to this increased demand.
We have growing opportunities to have an impact on client businesses with consulting and advisory services, as every sector of business is dealing with digital transformation and changes to their business model. The opportunities in client advisory services (CAS) and the related growth is well documented. Our opportunity to lead in the development and reporting on ESG remains a field that we need to plant many seeds for harvest. In short, our future is one of abundance if we can adopt new mindsets.
Our biggest challenge is people. We must be better at attracting talent to the profession and retaining them once they're here. So how do we overcome challenges in hiring and nurturing the next generation to get to this place of abundance? Here are some ideas and thoughts on changing our mindsets to secure our abundant future view:
By being honest with ourselves. The path to our future of abundance starts with embracing the reality of our present state. Our "good" culture is not good enough today. Cultures seldom serve everyone with the same experience, as we allow too many behaviors that destroy trust and a sense of belonging. These destructive behaviors include toxic partners/managers who bully team members, ignore feedback from team members, and prioritize clients and growth over people; a lack of fairness in the workplace; a lack of flexibility to manage careers and personal lives; unsustainable workloads; and insufficient reward, recognition, and appreciation. There also are simply too many leaders who view people as simply a plug-and-play staffing model. They assume since we have always been able to secure people to fill jobs, then we always will. This is a very slippery slope, as people are making different choices, and the skills we need are greater than ever to fuel this future growth. We have not invested adequately in leadership development and succession in most firms.
Intentional evolution involves holding a mirror up to the firm's culture and being honest about the reflection — truly looking deep for the inconsistent experiences and toxic behaviors. Innovation, exponential change, and growth happen when we push away all of the false narratives and self-protection tendencies to own our reality. Even magnetic cultures must start every day looking for ways to #beBetter.
By having the courage to get outside our comfort zones. We also have the normal tendency to over-protect our cultures, whether due to ego or our self-image, or a desire to stay in our comfort zones and avoid the sheer pain of change. We think incremental in a world of exponential. In many ways, it's like the game of football. The entire offense is taught to protect the football. A quarterback can become so obsessed with not throwing an interception or making a mistake that he misses most of the opportunities for big plays that win games. The quarterback should value the football, but he also must put it at risk to make the big plays.
By experimenting. This protection mode is costing us opportunities to win big. We should value our present cultures, and we should protect them from bad behaviors and actors. However, they will not evolve into what we need today if we don't test them, experiment constantly, and evolve them with sweeping change that energizes our teams for high performance. This mindset of experimenting will also bring new opportunities to us as we evolve our business models to succeed in an exponential world with changing client needs and values.
By trusting our people. What stands between us and our abundance is the courage to be vulnerable and the intentionality to serve and care for our people to grow a sense of belonging for our team members.
The defining moment for any culture is when leaders demonstrate the courage to lean in and trust the inherent good in people. This trust — this vulnerability — is the beginning of building stronger teams with a strong sense of belonging. Trust creates more trust in a self-fulfilling prophecy: By trusting, we are trusted more by our people.
By intentional connecting. Work cultures can quickly become magnetic as people feel valued and cared for. This sense of belonging always leads to discretionary efforts to build something bigger than ourselves and results in excellence in client service. Why people work affects how they work. Leaders who are intentional in ways to demonstrate connection and caring will create a sense of belonging that leads to full potential and high performance.
There are no perfect cultures and no perfect people. We are not seeking perfection. We are working to be better than we were yesterday.
By building meaning. People want to be inspired and are actually searching for more purpose and meaning in their work. When we provide a compelling vision, it provides energy when the going gets tough — and it always does. Seeking to understand team members' values and purpose as you help them connect to the organizational mission is part of being intentional. Helping people see the impact and importance of their role and work is key to connecting the dots for meaning.
Each of us can pick up the rope and help others see the value, the joy, and the fun that comes from being in our profession. Accounting is a profession where you can truly find the greatness within you to help elevate others and have significance in the lives of team members and clients on a daily basis. It happens when team members share how their ability to flex and manage their schedule helps them be better parents or tend to pressing family needs; when clients share the priceless value they see in your helping them navigate a succession or business transition; and when you see the stress and worry leave a client's or team member's face as you provide assurances and confidence in their choices and direction.
We touch so many lives in so many ways. We can make it part of our story that could help us win the people battle and keep our profession on the winning track.
We started with the question, "Will we capture a future view of abundance?" The answer lies in our ability to adopt a people-first mindset as our top priority. We must lead, live, and tell a better story.
— Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA, is the executive partner at Horne LLP and author of the forthcoming book Leading With Significance: How to Create a Magnetic, People-First Culture. To comment on this article or to suggest a topic for another article, contact email@example.com.
Editor's note: Joey Havens will present a session titled "Leading With Significance" at ENGAGE 2023. ENGAGE will be held June 5–8 at the ARIA in Las Vegas and live online. Learn more or register here.