13 more signs your firm is outdated

If you want the policies and procedures of your practice to play well with NextGen talent and clients, then you should probably avoid the old school behaviors outlined in this article.
By Jennifer Wilson

It seems I struck a nerve with my original 13 signs article last October. Thanks for writing to share your stories about outdated approaches in your firms and, in some cases, for defending your firms, too. I am always grateful for the feedback and new ideas!

A part of my career journey has been identifying and talking about the things I see CPA firm leaders do that put their firms at risk of alienating NextGen talent and clients. What keeps me up at night now is the nagging feeling that we're not changing fast enough, and that our outdated ways are acting as repellent — driving the best and brightest into other professions.

So, I've returned to present 13 more signs that your firm is outdated, each of which we've encountered — up close and personal — at firms in the past year.

Which of these is still happening at your firm?

1. Your firm isn't seriously considering cloud applications because you don't trust the technology or don't believe your clients will use cloud solutions.

2. You haven't yet moved to paperless systems, and your team is providing paper deliverables (like tax returns) to clients or shuttling or shipping paper-filled boxes between offices.

3. Your employee handbook hasn't been updated because everyone is too busy, so it includes words like "Walkman," "facsimile," "BlackBerry," and "PDAs."    

4. Your flex policies refer to "working mothers" without recognizing that flexibility programs are also desired by men and those without children.

5. Firm leaders still complain about people being on their mobile phones "during business hours" yet get impatient when employees don't immediately answer business calls, emails, or texts late at night or on weekends.

6. Your partners don't interact much with staff below manager, so they don't really know many young people, making leadership feel remote and possibly out of touch.

7. Your firm leaders routinely skip or reschedule internal meetings in favor of client or prospect meetings, signaling that clients are more important than talent or running the firm well.

8. The firm's reward systems incent chargeability and book of business, so managers and partners hoard work and clients instead of delegating so they can focus on developing their people and growing the business.

9. You don't yet have a centralized scheduling system for work distribution, so partners still assign work directly to staff, leaving your best and brightest overburdened while less capable team members carry a "light" load.

10. Your tax group is run more like a production line, cranking out a high volume of tax returns in two peak production periods each year, rather than providing difference-making, proactive business advice to clients. Even though tax leaders know they need to shift their model, they don't because it feels hard to change and they're not sure where to start.

11. You aren't offering clients online payment options or offering multiple payment methods because up until now, they have always paid by check. You also aren't using e-signature options for all forms that require signature, including proposals, engagement letters, and employee offer letters.

12. Your firm's website isn't mobile-responsive, your firm leaders aren't active on social media, and they don't yet value the thought leadership and networking power of digital media and online communications.

13. Your firm is not actively discussing ways to change your fundamental business model related to capacity, efficiency, technology, and fees with ideas like gig and remote workers, LEAN processes, bots, true advisory services, and value pricing.

Wow, there's a lot there! And as I wrote this list, I realized we have work to do in a few of these areas at my firm, too. My point in pulling this list together isn't to shame you, but to help you realize that these things are noticeable to your NextGen talent and clients. These items make NextGen talent and clients wonder whether our firms and our profession are the right fit for their progressive, flexible, efficient, change-everything selves.

Consider asking your team members for feedback on this list and the original 13, too. Prioritize two or three changes you can make this summer, before the next busy season takes hold.

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 To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at

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