Building a strong accounting firm culture

You might have meticulously thought-out goals and an incredibly inspiring vision for your accounting firm. But, no matter how much planning and hard work you put in to meet these, the ultimate deciding factor is your team.

Your vision and goals are next to useless if your team does not work in unison toward that vision. To achieve that unison, you require a strong culture.

A team culture is the set of beliefs and behaviors that govern how a group interacts. Culture is the force that guides all the actions of your employees, aligning them to a shared purpose and values. 

What creates a strong culture?

Detailed in his book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle studied groups that performed in the top 1% of their industry for at least a decade (maintaining this status with a variety of personnel) and who were admired by industry experts. 

The studies showed that consistently, the top-performing teams were those that had the greatest level of cohesion. Top performing teams focused on the big picture goals at hand instead of personal status and infighting.

While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.
Daniel Coyle in 'The Culture Code'

A successful culture means aligned employees who both understand your strategic goals and how their work contributes to those goals. Employee alignment takes the same basic steps: clear and regular communication, hire the right people, and model from the top.

Benefits of a strong culture

A strong culture is a massive benefit for your entire firm and will lead to increased profits with fewer headaches. But it’s not only about the financial aspect of a culture. It’s nearly impossible to calculate the overall impact of investing in culture.

  1. A strong culture helps you attract talent: You want the most talented people to work at your firm. But so does everybody else. To get those talented people to find you, you need to stand out. You have to create a culture where your employees go out and recruit their talented friends. 

  2. A strong culture saves time and money in recruiting: As mentioned above, a strong culture leads to your team recruiting for you. Even more importantly, a strong culture helps you keep good employees, which saves a huge amount of money that comes from turnover.

  3. A strong culture makes people happier: If you create a culture of collaboration, purpose, and a work-life balance that’s enjoyable for your employees, you’ll have a better work environment. If you’re going to have an accounting firm, why not make one where people love to work?

  4. A strong culture helps you keep clients: It’s not only good for your team, but a great culture also helps you serve clients better. With a strong culture, you’ll have more positive interactions and a collaborative approach to problem-solving. This will help provide a great client experience, which will reduce churn.

How to build a strong culture

But a strong culture doesn’t happen overnight. A culture is formed over a series of steps repeated consistently over time. However, your culture is also not set in stone. If you feel there is a gap between what you want your firm to look like and what it really looks like, take the steps now to correct your course.

Vision

This is your firm’s purpose. What do you deliver to your clients that differentiates you from your competitors? Why would someone want to work at your firm?

Vision creation is not a one-person job. Brainstorm these questions with your management team. Remember: the goal of the vision is to unify your employees through buy-in. For example, your vision could center on excellent customer service.

Values

Values tie your vision to habitual actions. Try to limit the number of values (around 3-5) and keep them short and action-oriented. These values are the habits you want to create in your employees.

If your vision is excellent customer service, your values could include employee equality and continued learning. You could implement these values by asking all employees to participate daily in a Slack channel devoted to learning. This allows junior employees to interact with the management team in a collaborative way as well as provide accountability.

Lead by example

Your job as a leader is to set the bar for your team’s culture. If you provide values in your organization and blatantly disregard these expectations, your team will follow suit.

For example, you may say in your team’s bio that you provide four-weeks paid vacation and will expect your team to fully take this time to disconnect from their work while they are away. 

If you want this to be part of your culture, but you are emailing the team every day while you are on vacation, then you’re sending a mixed message to your team. They may think by staying in touch while on vacation, they are doing what their leaders would prefer.

People

Finding and keeping talented staff is one of the biggest challenges—not only for accounting firms—but for all businesses. The key to success in building culture is finding the right people who will buy in to your vision and work hard to bring it to fruition.

Jim Collins recommends in his best-selling book Good to Great to “start by getting the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus.” Maintain this standard by “let(ting) a seat go unfilled–taking on extra work as needed–until you have found the right person.”

To dive deeper into the topic of building your team, check out our free Talent Playbook.

Communicate openly

Slack and GlobalWebIndex 2019 State of Work report found a direct correlation between monthly team strategy meetings and employees rating the company as “excellent” in a number of categories including morale, productivity, and communication.

It’s important to be as transparent as possible about the state of your firm. Your employees need to know where the firms as a whole stands in order to feel ownership of their contribution. Client and revenue growth are statistics you can share with your team that increase commitment and morale.

Celebrate wins

“Celebrate” isn’t synonymous with “extravagant” or “cheesy”. It also doesn’t mean that all the work is done. Celebrating means acknowledging big and small wins that contribute to overall success. 

Recognizing a win lets your employees know that you notice and value their hard work. It can be as simple as playing an upbeat song every time the company gains a client. This highlights your team win in a small, inexpensive way.

Find ways to celebrate your quarter, year, and individual employees.

What’s best for your team?

Finally, developing a winning culture is not only helpful as it helps your business. Even more importantly, you should be working to develop a culture of healthy, thriving employees. A business that helps people enjoy and take pride in its work will see happier clients and less friction in the workplace.

Work to create the type of firm you’d want to show up and work in every day. If you do that, you’ll attract great talent, and the enthusiasm will be contagious to your clients as well.


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