Does the perfect accounting firm exist? Or is it an unattainable goal, a mirage that moves further away the closer you get?
The answer is yes, to both. The perfect firm doesn’t exist in static form. It’s not something that can be created and left alone—the industry moves too quickly. But it does exist in an ever-changing way. By striving for perfection, you’re achieving it. The work may never be done, but if your firm is learning and growing the right way, that is the perfect accounting firm.
At Karbon X 2022, Stuart McLeod, Co-Founder and CEO of Karbon, proposed what he considers learning and growing the right way. By watching for what works (and what doesn’t), he has distilled the three distinct but equally important components of a perfect accounting firm: purpose, culture, and systems.
The driving force for your firm—purpose—is where your team draws inspiration.
It begins with the partners and leaders and flows all the way down to the newest recruits. If you’re passionate and you believe in your mission, it becomes contagious.
Your purpose should be a simple, broad message your team can get behind. And once you have it, everything else will fall into place.
For example, as a firm you might:
If your firm has a clear, universal goal to strive for, you’ll find people collaborating and forming lasting bonds that will strengthen your firm’s culture and improve your team dynamic.
Purpose is the first step to the perfect firm because without purpose, you don’t have a team. All you have is a collection of individuals ticking boxes to get to the end of the day—people whose day ends at 9am and begins again at 5pm.
For your purpose to gather momentum, you need to build the culture that carries it. Regularly reevaluating your culture and how you can improve it is a valuable exercise, no matter the size of your accounting firm.
The path to positive workplace culture can be broken into three components, too: empathy, celebration, and respect.
People won’t feel compelled to join you in your mission if you don’t support and listen to them. Being empathetic is crucial when building good company culture.
If a member of your team is affected by a problem, put the effort in to try to understand it. And if you can’t understand, find someone who can to help. People are complex creatures. Having a one-size-fits-all approach to managing your employees ignores their differences—the differences that make them so great. To nurture individual talent, you need to nurture individuality as a whole.
Celebrate success, no matter how big or small. It shows people they’re valued. It doesn’t take much, either an acknowledgment directly, or in a company-wide forum.
A client wants to belong to a firm where people are happy. It’s reassuring and makes them feel good about spending money on your services.
Positive workplace culture is about mutual respect and trust. Nobody wants their every move scrutinized. That’s not the way to earn people’s loyalty. Instead, trust your people and they’ll trust you. It’s simple. That way, you can work together towards your purpose with everyone committed, happy to be there, and ready to deliver extraordinary outcomes.
There’s nothing more frustrating than turning up to work, feeling excited about the day, completely in sync with the mission and culture (ticking every box on the way to a perfect firm), only to encounter antiquated technology or processes.
“Bad systems destroy morale, but good systems help build it.”
If your company has a repeating problem that is always fixed by a seasoned employee, and they never document the process, what will you do when they leave? The solution—and maybe even the diagnosis of the problem—will disappear.
Ad hoc processes are the enemy of a healthy business, and more specifically, the enemy of scalable growth.
If you find yourself saying to new employees, “this is the way it’s written, but I do this instead, because of X, Y, Z.”, something is wrong. If something isn't working, then update your approach to a process that works.
A good measure would be if you can pass a document to someone on their first day with your firm and they can follow the process to a successful outcome.
The same goes with technology. You don’t need to invest in new technology as soon as it hits the market, but it should be a priority to make sure your tech works for you and doesn’t create unnecessary information silos.
Using efficient systems will help you deliver strong outcomes for your clients. Plus, you’ll show professionalism by keeping up with industry trends and technological advances.
Using technology that works for your firm is necessary because to become more profitable you either need to:
a) raise your prices, or
b) become more efficient with what you’ve got
Constantly raising prices won’t endear you to your clients, but being more efficient will.
You want to deliver high-quality services as a firm. If you do, you’ll build a good reputation, you’ll feel proud of what you accomplish, and your people will be proud of where they work.
Nothing grows a firm faster than great people providing a great service.