How do you get every individual in a firm to care as much as those who founded it? The solution lies in ownership.
Literal ownership of a company is inherently motivating, as the livelihoods and reputations of the owners are at stake. Partners of a firm draw their motivation from this without much difficulty as they are highly vested in the growth of the firm.
But ownership in other forms can be equally motivating. Ownership of a project, a client relationship or a process can motivate members of a team to be more productive. It’s the responsibility of the partners in a firm to delegate ownership to their employees in a way that motivates them to embody the same vision that they hold for the practice.
“Your accounting firm is only as good as your team. Your team is only as good as you let them be. Start by including the entire team in simple things like what could you have done today to improve one of our client's businesses.”
What other things could you do to motivate your staff?
Placing control in the hands of others requires a leap of faith, but such delegation is necessary to get more work done. Your confidence in this ultimately hangs on the quality of your hiring process — attract talent that is motivated about achieving success and passionate about the type of work you do.
You need to trust that your team will put their all into it and that their judgement will be sound. Delegating well not only allows for a more productive firm but also grows the strength and experience of the individuals in your team.
Everything should be assigned to someone. When there is no clear owner of work it creates an opportunity for things to fall through the gaps. Confusion about who is accountable can lead to overlap, inaction or disagreement, which is harmful to building a productive, collaborative environment.
The simplest way to ensure agreement is to make ownership clearly visible. Open communication about ownership within the firm provides everyone certainty about their roles. If everyone can, at a glance, determine who to talk with about a client or piece of work, it’s easier to cover all bases in fewer strides, and avoid costly wasted time wading through emails or attending meetings just to stay in the loop.
Accounting teams are interdependent so a team with visibility into each member’s responsibilities will benefit from a macro view and be able to collaborate more smoothly.
Ownership and satisfaction are better motivators than money. Yes, you may get out of bed in the morning for financial reasons, but your performance is also driven by satisfaction — both personal recognition and the success of a team are powerful motivators.
In businesses with entrepreneurial mindsets, people tend to be given a lot more freedom in their roles. The concept of the ‘entrepreneurial gap’ is where you give people more accountability than they have direct resources to accomplish. The entrepreneurial gap is commonly coupled with an incentive system – a cash bonus, or simply the emotional incentive of social currency. It creates conditions where employees are challenged to find a way to meet their goals outside of what may be within their ‘span of control’. Helped by greater visibility within the firm, it encourages a healthy, collaborative and supportive environment where individuals and teams can thrive.
For the entrepreneurial gap to work well the goals of the team need to be aligned. The problem in many accounting firms today is that team goals, for example billable hours, do not align with the client’s perception of value. Accountants could challenge themselves to go above and beyond by managing feedback and surveys from clients with the aim of achieving total client satisfaction. They could also be inspired by opportunities to grow in their roles through continued education. A strong vision for what the firm wants to achieve is critical to motivate people to ‘own’ their roles, as well as work with others across the firm to achieve results.
You may have heard the story of the NASA janitor who, when asked what he was doing by President Kennedy during a visit to the space center in 1962, replied “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” An employee can take ownership of an individual role in a way that aligns with the bigger picture. NASA’s culture positioned all employees as holding an integral role in what they wanted to achieve. The collective ownership of this lofty goal spurred the creativity and innovation that made the Apollo space program a success.
That may feel a far cry from your accounting firm, but the message is that having collective ownership will motivate and inspire teams to work together to achieve greater success for the firm. When you’re all on the same page, you’ll have more confidence in your colleagues and staff, creating a more positive work environment where teams are inclined to work together to keep deadlines and keep clients happy.
You can achieve big things too with shared goals and an open collaborative culture. They key to making this scenario a reality is visibility of ownership. With a clear view of task owners across projects, each individual feels more accountable for their work, and sees how and when the pieces fit together. This way accountants can organize themselves to be more valuable, feel more energized and make better progress as a team.
To compare the challenges your firm is facing acquiring, training and retaining staff with accounting practices from around the world, download The talent challenge: insights from Karbon’s 2017 talent survey.