Aligning for Change: Vision and Strategy

I can’t tell you how many firm owners who, when I ask, “What’s the vision you have for your firm?,” respond with, “I don’t really know.” I usually follow up with, “If you don’t know, how are you going to navigate all the change that are coming at you? If you don’t know, what strategy are you going to execute to achieve your goals? If you don’t know, how do you prioritize your next steps?”

There have been two times in my 30+ year career that I believe were nearly as significant as the times we are in right now: When I implemented the first computer in our office in 1985, and when I learned about the internet. In both cases, I thought the events were significant, but the time it took for them to realize their full impact was longer than I expected.

The innovations I’m seeing today appear to be coming faster and with more immediate impact than in the past: things like the smartphone, artificial intelligence, the cloud and even the millennial generation. These shifts are changing everything, and it’s happening all at the same time. The millennials are changing the workforce, the cloud is changing vendor technology solutions, and the smartphone is removing friction and completely reinventing the client experience. As for artificial intelligence, I can’t even begin to comprehend the enormity of its impact.

How will you align for all this change that’s coming your way? The first question might be, “Do I actually need to?” That’s a valid question. I would explore it from the following perspectives:

  • Near-Term Horizon (five years or less) — If you’re on the glidepath to retirement, you can probably ride it out, do what you’re doing and essentially coast to the finish line. That is, unless you want to get to value for the sale of your practice. If this is the case, you’ll need to engage.
  • Long-Term Horizon (more than five years) — If you’re in it for the long haul, change is inevitable if you and your firm are to remain relevant. The amount of change necessary will depend on which of the next two scenarios best represents your vision.
  • Status Quo — You’re happy with your lifestyle, culture, clients and business model. In this case, your approach is going to be one of consistency, while incrementally improving and modernizing the technologies used inside your firm and with your clients.
  • Next Generation Accounting Firm — You desire more freedom, a better culture, different client mix and a better business model. In this case, your strategic approach will require some significant shifts.

Understanding your vantage point is an important first step. I’m sure your staff would appreciate knowing your perspective as well. No matter your direction, I believe this five-step plan will be useful in moving your firm forward:

  1. Vision — Define the vision you have for your firm.
  2. Core Values — Clearly articulate what your firm stands for.
  3. Balance Sheet — Take a snapshot of where your firm stands today in aspects of vision, culture, client mix and business model.
  4. Strategic Objectives — Create your one- and three-year strategic objectives.
  5. Project Execution — Create a list the projects that, for the next six months, will support your one-year strategic objectives.

Let’s do a bit of a deeper dive into each step:

Vision — This one is critical for setting the tone. Why are you really doing what you’re doing? Dig deep on this one. What impact are you hoping to have in the world, and what dent are you looking to make? The following is the vision statement we live by at Rootworks, and it might give you a little direction as you think about yours: Rootworks Vision Statement:Inspire and empower entrepreneurs and their teams to improve their businesses with focused intention to enrich their lives and the lives of others.”

Core Values — This one is hard work, but well worth the time invested. Core values should drive the decisions you make as you evolve your firm in the future. For example, one of our core values is the word “Modern,” expressed in this phase: “We anticipate future needs and create smart solutions.” Imagine how this word and statement drives the innovation inside our business. Our employees get aligned behind this word. The word finds its way into every discussion we have internally and externally. This is how important core values can be to your organization.

This list of Rootworks’ core values to help you get started:

  • Elegance — Style, design and simplicity in everything we do.
  • Relationships — People and relationships matter most to us.
  • Inspiration — We encourage others to be the best version of themselves.
  • Modern — We anticipate future needs and create smart solutions.
  • Freedom — We aspire to be the best version of ourselves.
  • Drive — We are dedicated to being world-class in all we do.

These core values are a tall order for us, but they do drive everything we do.

Balance Sheet — If you’re going to improve, you must be able to assess where you’re starting from. At Rootworks, we’ve designed what we call The Modern Firm GPA. You got it — GPA stands for Grade Point Average. How well are you doing, on a scale of 0.0 – 4.0, with what we call The Modern Firm Framework. The Modern Firm Framework encompasses the three pillars of operating a successful company: working ON your business, working IN your business and working WITH your customers.

Our Modern Firm GPA is designed to measure the three pillars of your business. This measurement will give you a snapshot — think of it as your balance sheet — of where you stand today. Your snapshot will help you define the strategic objectives for your one- to three-year plan. For more information, or to take The Modern Firm GPA, click this link for a free download of The Modern Firm Guide.

Strategic Objectives — It’s almost 2018; where do you want your organization to be in 2020? This is what I’m spending much of my time considering: Where do we want to be in 2020? What goals do we have? Take the time to clearly define the goals you have for your organization. Maybe, they are something like this:

  • Revenues to reach $1M/$3M/$5M.
  • Every technology solution in the firm will be cloud-based and connected.
  • We will be serving only ideal clients.
  • We will implement a value billing model.

You get the picture; be as clear and measurable as you can be.

Project Execution — This is where the rubber meets the road. What are you going to accomplish over the next three to six months towards your strategic objectives? What projects and tasks need to be tracked to reach that new revenue goal? What software technology project needs to go on the list to begin getting you to that goal of all cloud-based solutions?

This entire process is not complicated; it’s rather intuitive. But, that doesn’t mean you can skip it. This is how successful organizations execute. This is how you get a team to rally behind you to move towards a common direction.

I hope you take the time between now and Thanksgiving to begin your execution plan. I can tell you, I’m working daily to get mine ready for a great start to 2018.