CPA INSIDER

13 signs that your firm is outdated

If any of these items hit close to home, it’s time to consider moving in a different direction.
By Jennifer Wilson

I have been writing about the impact that Next Gen talent and clients will have on our profession for well over a decade. In a then-controversial, now-tame 2011 article, I began writing about firm strategies, philosophies, cultures, processes, and practices that were out of step with the changing times.

Fast forward to today, and I'm frustrated. Why? Because our profession — and the leaders within it — haven't progressed their firms as fast or as far as needed. Time is running short! Next year, according to Pew Research projections, Millennials will eclipse Baby Boomers as the largest living adult group in the country. In just seven short years, 75% of our nation's workforce will be born after 1980. That's the face — and needs — of both CLIENTS and TALENT that's changing.

Next Gen talent and clients want to work with firms that are strategic, transparent, flexible, remote-ready, truly collaborative, empowering, efficient, technologically advanced, and result-oriented. How are you doing in that regard? Also worth considering: Can most traditional firm leaders really judge this themselves, or does that judgment have to come from the Next Gen clients they serve or the talent they employ?

It feels like it's time to put another spotlight on outdated behaviors that are occurring. So, if you want to assess your firm's future readiness, think about giving this list of 13 outdated culture and talent practices to some of your Next Gen people and see how well they think your firm stacks up.

Signs your firm is outdated

1. The firm mandates work in the office on Saturdays during busy season (or mandates any specific timing or location for "extra" busy season work).

2. The administrative team or client accounting professionals are sometimes referred to as "the girls."

3. Firm leaders think that everyone who works remotely is more likely to cheat the system or be less productive than those working in the office.

4. The firm gives out annual awards to, or otherwise glorifies, the people with the most total hours worked and/or the most billable hours, and some leaders share their total hours worked like the Red Badge of Courage (when we know that hours worked may speak to effort but not necessarily results).

5. Harmony (even artificial) is valued over authenticity — so firm leaders choose nice instead of honest and stay quiet instead of addressing problems before they fester.

6. Information is disseminated on a "need-to-know" basis and leaders think most people don't need to know.

7. Key administrators such as those overseeing marketing and HR aren't invited to participate in firm strategy or management retreats.

8. The firm's IT strategy doesn't include video cameras and laptops for team members (to facilitate remote work and remote communications).

9. Firm leaders seem to operate from a mindset of "father or mother knows best," and they don't solicit feedback to be sure their way of operating still stands up. When they do get feedback, some leaders may retaliate — and this retaliation goes unnoticed and/or unchecked.

10. Even in the face of rising labor costs, partners make excuses to keep from raising client rates and fees.

11. Firm leaders want to censor the ideas their people are exposed to, trying to withhold trends and strategies that don't mesh with their thinking — forgetting one critical reality: the internet!

12. Leaders consider waiting to promote talented females to higher leadership levels to see if they're going to start a family and what will happen when they do.

13. Your leadership team takes forever to make and implement decisions — even simple ones like equipping people with laptops or cameras, or instituting a Dress for Your Day policy. Far too often, one partner can block a decision simply by dissenting. This kind of stagnation will lead to your change agents' growing frustrated and fatigued. And, sooner or later, they will make the decision to leave the firm.

So, what outdated behaviors did I miss?

There are a lot, because I ended up focusing the list on culture and talent — and not on clients. In a future article, we'll explore outdated client management practices (things like only taking payments by check) that may put your firm at risk as Next Gen clients rise up.

Meanwhile, which of the outdated behaviors struck a nerve with you or your team? What steps can you take to begin shifting one or two of these today?

Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at convergencecoaching.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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