Could your firm’s structure use an update? Do it before you hire

Could your firm’s structure use an update? Do it before you hire

Hey. I’m Jaclyn, and I lead ProAdvisor Training and Certification at QuickBooks. It’s an honor to build the education that empowers our community to deliver bookkeeping, accounting, and advisory services to clients.

Having been of service to accountants for more than 7 years, I’ve experienced the evolution of Client Advisory Services (CAS) firsthand, and witnessed how successful firms differentiated themselves from their peers by taking a people-first approach.

The future of CAS is people-first is a five-part series that lays out the benefits of investing in your people, and empowering them to excel through a mix of professional development, mentoring, and community. My hope is that it inspires you to put your team at the heart of your strategy, and through doing so, enables you to deliver the meaningful services clients so desperately need.

Building a client advisory services (CAS) offering or perhaps even a CAS practice is top of mind for many of today’s accountants. According to the CPA Practice Advisor, it’s “one of the fastest-growing revenue-generating segments for accounting firms.” It’s also a subject that goes well beyond identifying prospects and implementing a new set of client-centered services.

So far, we’ve talked about why a people-first strategy is important to providing great CAS and the ways in which business strategy drives people strategy.

In my last article, I talked about craft skills—high-level competencies that feed into specific roles. These skills are the building blocks of your firm’s talent, and performance process and career growth for employees. Often, they can be grown through upskilling, particularly when a team member is keen to take on a new role or move up in your firm. But sometimes there’s a gap—a skill or set of skills no one in your current organization can fill. When that happens, the only option is to hire.

That brings us to the topic of this article: organizational structure. After all, isn’t step one of hiring a new individual knowing where you’ll put them? Getting your people and processes aligned before hiring ensures both a smooth transition and more stability for that new hire you’ve worked so hard to attract.

So before you put out that job req and bring a new team member into the fold, let’s take a moment to self-reflect and consider how a different structure might be more efficient for your firm and—by extension—your CAS offering.

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Recapping the traditional org chart

At QuickBooks Connect 2023, Marie Greene, CPA, gave a fabulous presentation on how accounting firms’ org charts typically look versus how they could or should look, and why. Here are some of the insights from her presentation relating to traditional and modern org charts.

If you’re a more traditional firm, there’s a chance your org chart looks like this:

Could your firm’s structure use an update? Do it before you hire

This classic firm model has been used for for many years, partly due to companies mistaking tenure for best practice. The shortcomings of this model are these: partners become bottlenecks, accountants take on too many hats, teams are overworked, and the model itself isn’t scalable.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much room for mobility within the firm. Presumably, the only direction anyone can go is up. There’s little opportunity for lateral movement or specialization, which is what contributes to the problem of one person wearing too many hats. As a result, firms with this model may struggle to retain talent, particularly if too much emphasis is placed on time—rather than initiative or job performance—as the deciding factor for promotion.

Compare that to the next two models, best suited for firms making at least $1 million and $5 million, respectively.

Modern org charts for firms with CAS goals

First, an org chart for firms making at least $1 million:

Could your firm’s structure use an update? Do it before you hire

This model, while less symmetrical, clarifies the roles of each team member. The firm owner is free to focus on the most valuable activities, while the COO and CFO are able to delegate functions to their specific teams. One benefit of this model is that it’s scalable and leaves room for mobility within the firmhandy when you’re building your client advisory services team), incentivizing growth and ongoing learning.

Larger accounting firms (those making $5 million or more), might consider a model that goes a step further, leveraging experts managing distinct teams. This model adds layers to the organizational structure in the form of individual managers for each client’s core team. A separate operational team handles run-the-business needs such as tech, HR, and marketing. This allows the firm’s owner to focus on the most valuable work. The firm itself can scale as needed because everything is set up for growth without losing that personal touch with clients.

How would a CAS offering look with a modern org chart?

Whether you plan on building a CAS firm or devoting a special team of accountants to providing those services, there’s a lot of benefit in switching to a less traditional organizational structure.

Looking at either model, you can clearly see there’s a dedicated person or team handling the parts of the business that aren’t exclusively accounting. These include marketing, operations, human resources, sales, and IT.

Within these positions, there’s a lot of room for individuals to grow and provide CAS-related assistance. Your tech lead, for example, will be in charge of testing out new apps, keeping track of releases, and training your team. A person in charge of client success and quality control can reach out to clients proactively, letting them know about your CAS offerings and giving clients the chance to voice any concerns with their current level of service.

As a result, your accounting team now has the support they need to truly devote themselves to providing great advice to your clients. It’s not their job to handle the marketing behind your CAS program—or the technology, for that matter. Instead, they can focus wholly on your clients and dive deep into their advisory services.

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A person in charge of client success and quality control can reach out to clients proactively, letting them know about your CAS offerings and giving clients the chance to voice any concerns with their current level of service.

If you know it’s time for a reorg, do it before you hire

Reorgs are necessarily messy. They’re designed to shake things up. Eventually, if the new structure is a success, the business thrives as a result.

But they’re also often unnerving. Team members who were attached to one manager may wind up with new leaders they don’t immediately appreciate. Then, there’s the learning curve. Employees who knew their role and how it fit into the overall business structure must now figure out, once again, where they fit in the new order.

So how can you, as the leader of your firm or practice, make the transition as seamless as possible?

  • Start by setting clear goals and defining what success looks like.
  • Second, communicate. Share the objective of the reorg and the process for running it with your team. Make it as fair, transparent, and reasonable as you can, so they have the opportunity to get behind—and possibly even improve upon—your ideas.
  • Finally, communicate these plans in person, and focus the discussion on how it will affect your team—not just the firm. 

Obviously, these are big conversations with the potential for big emotions. Hopefully, your team will accept and adapt to the new structure quickly. If you’ve taken the time to define your business target, you’ll know when you’ve reached a healthy place with your reorg. 

But all that stress and anxiety, however temporary, is a big part of why it’s important to complete your reorg before you hire. Lay a stable foundation for new team members and give them the best chance possible for loving their new role and your firm for many years to come. 

Is now the right time for a reorg?

As you look at your current org chart and consider your firm’s future, think about how your team members will respond to your CAS goals. If there’s not much room for mobility or distinction in your current structure, there’s little reason for them to react enthusiastically at the prospect of more responsibility. 

Knowing your team and how they feel right now—overworked or hungry for more—you can probably tell if it’s time for a reorg. And if it is, don’t be afraid to put a pause on hiring. Far better to bring your new hires into a happy, healthy firm than one in the middle of a major transition—no matter how necessary that transition might be.

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