Use SMART Goals to Get Your Firm Where You Want it to Go
Last year, the partners of a mid-sized accounting firm set a goal for the year: they wanted more clients. They encouraged their team members to “get more clients.” For the first quarter of the year, they spent a little more time sharing their website on social media, but that effort petered out during tax season. After tax season was complete, they renewed their efforts to get more clients by following up with some in-person referrals. That resulted in a couple of new clients.
One partner was satisfied and felt like that was all they could handle for now. The other partner wanted to keep pushing to get more. They never reached an agreement so one partner continued to push while the other did not. By September, the firm was so busy with the corporate tax extension deadline that the goal for more clients was pushed to the back burner. By December, it was forgotten completely. At year-end, it was brought up one more time and briefly discussed, but no one was quite sure whether the goal had been met or not.
Many accounting firm leaders have a vision of where they want their firm to go. They know they want increased revenue, more clients or more efficient systems in place. But, how can they get there? What directions can they give their team to steer the accounting firm in the right direction? How do accounting firm leaders know when the goal has been met?
Creating SMART goals is the way to get your accounting firm where you want it to go, how you are doing on the journey and how you can know when you have arrived (to celebrate!).
What are SMART goals?
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Each of these elements is necessary in crafting an effective goal.
Specific. Let’s say that your accounting firm wants to have better customer service. Improving customer service could be exactly what your firm needs to work on, but what does “better” mean? A 24-hour response time to client questions? Instituting an online client portal so the client has easy access to their information? Your goal should be worded so specifically that no one needs to ask, “What does that mean?”
Measurable. The goal needs to include something that can be measured, not just "I will survive tax season.” (Ok, that is measurable, but you know what I mean!). Include a number element to the goal so that the accounting firm can see progress throughout the year. For example, you may want 90 percent of your clients to be using QuickBooks® Online. The measurable element of the goal helps the team track towards success. You can break down a large goal into smaller goals to keep up the momentum and give opportunity to celebrate as the team begins to make progress.
Attainable. The goal should not be completely unrealistic, but it also cannot be too easy. Add two new clients next year? Who is motivated by that? Add 200 new clients next year (for a solo practitioner)? If your team knows a goal is not even possible, why should they even try? Be sure that you are creating "stretch goals," but that the mechanisms can be put in place to actually achieve the goals.
Relevant. A relevant goal moves the needle for your firm. Have a brainstorming session and write down every possible goal you can think of for your firm. Review the list and pick out the one, possibly two, that will make the biggest difference for your firm. The goal can be broken down into smaller goals, but that one goal should be so important to the firm that it creates a huge win and momentum swing when you hit it. Pour all your energy into it. Often times, if you have picked the most relevant goal, other areas of your accounting firm will improve along the way.
Timely. Every goal should have a timeline associated with it, not just a deadline – and do not make the timeline always end on December 31. (In fact, you may want to change your goal setting based on when you have busy season. May 1 to April 30 might be more realistic for you.) Again, goals should be attainable. Without periodic measurement, you are surely going to get frustrated when December 31 comes this year and again it is not achieved.
Communicating SMART Goals to Your Team
Once you have communicated the goals to your team, be sure they know why the goal matters to the accounting firm. How will it make the firm more profitable? How will it make their work more efficient and easier?
Also, let your team know what’s in it for them personally. Start planning the prize at the same time you are planning the goal. Perhaps, a day off, nice lunch or cash bonus. Give a half-day off the rest of the year. Make it something that will motivate the people on the team. Then, plan for even more than they are expecting. Have a special recognition for those who go above and beyond.
(For more tips on communicating with your team, check out this article here.)
SMART Goals for Your Life
SMART goals also work for your personal life. Do you want to run a 5K, read 12 books this year or spend two hours a day with your family without your phone in your hand? When you set SMART goals and start to see traction, you will find that the positive gains in one area of your life will create positive momentum in other areas.