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The Final Curtain Pull

By Joey Havens

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Yes, we have an elephant hiding behind the curtain. We have been building to this point in our blog series on insights from 20 CEOs and COOs from top 100 CPA firms. Do you want to guess who or what might be the biggest obstacle, the greatest challenge for firms to transform, retool and become #FutureReady? Go ahead, take a guess before you read ahead.

When we concluded our strategy sessions, critical thinking and sharing of challenges, it was unanimous that we all have the same challenge as our biggest obstacle to being future ready. The same big elephant is slowing each firm, each initiative and the pace of overall change and in some cases—killing all of our progress. This is a big and very influential elephant, not one that you want to lay down in front of if you get my drift. Take it from me, I have some tracks on my skin to prove it. Ha!

You’ve probably heard It more than once, but the biggest enemy of future success is our past success. So it’s no surprise that individual partner mindset that is mired in the pull of legacy success is the elephant behind the curtain. Even when we know or become aware, we rationalize things away because of that legacy success or the mindset that we have paid our dues. And the ones who need to retool the most are usually the most resistant to the change. We are all for it, it sounds great until we understand what it means for us individually. Then the pain gets real and feet begin to drag. Until we own this as partners, managers and as firms, we have no chance to retool for the future.

So what do we do to help the elephant disappear? The insights I gathered from the wisdom of these leaders is that it must be an all-in approach where we poke the elephant, feed the elephant, love the elephant and pull the elephant all at once. Some of the comprehensive approaches included common sense combined with some very creative ideas.

Partner Mindset Initiatives by Firms

  1. Education and Training on changes in the profession, hard trends and what the future of our business looks like.
  2. Constant Messaging around WHY we must change including the simple exponential impact of technology on our profession.
  3. Compelling Vision for success including how we will be future ready.
  4. Coaching on how to make changes which might include individual coaching sessions with a professional coach.
  5. Alignment of early adopters with resisting/slower adopters.
  6. Alignment with change management expertise to help move partners and teams forward.
  7. Matching partners with non-CPA and younger leadership who tend to be early adopters and help lead change and challenge the status quo.
  8. Goals/Dashboards that reflect the measurement of the desired change rather than historical KPIs.

The uncomfortable part of these initiatives are the ones that might fall into the category of pulling or prodding the elephant. It might start with more intervention, input and direction to provide clarity in goal setting. As partners have to retool and develop new skills, how do we provide clarity in what this looks like and what is expected?

The biggest prod of all and unfortunately necessary for some partners (I would not be surprised if this is 20 to 25% of partners in most firms) is a very direct connection to compensation and ownership. We simply must be quicker and more determined to reward those that lead the change and to reduce rewards for those who are clinging and slowing us down. Not fun for anyone, but leaders recognize that if you do not take a comprehensive approach that includes compensation and ownership, we simply cannot move fast enough away from what made us successful in the past to embrace our future success.

I will close with some sage advice I got from Gordon Krater, Active Partner and retired CEO of Plante Moran, “Joey, I simply could not get partners to change behaviors while we were stuffing their ears full of cash.” #FutureReady