Sports analogies and tech stacks with Dawn Brolin, The Designated Motivator

  • A carefully constructed tech stack is the secret to a winning tax season. Choose each software service carefully and ensure that apps integrate with each other for optimal functionality.

  • A periodic firm assessment helps accounting leaders ensure that day-to-day practices reflect long-term goals and intentions. Developing and fine-tuning a game plan supports healthy practices, happy clients, and engaged employees.

Consider this iconic movie scene from the baseball classic ‘A League of Their Own’.

Coach Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, marches up to Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis) as she loads her car. Unlike her teammates, Dottie plans to quit playing right before the World Series, explaining to her coach, "It's just too hard." 

Jimmy replies with one of the most inspiring quotes in sports film history: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

Dawn Brolin, accounting firm owner by day and softball coach by night, is no stranger to the essential role that a coach plays in the game. She approaches her accounting much like she approaches her love of softball—with intensity, passion, and a good sense of humor. 

Dawn has a knack for inspiring athletes as the self-proclaimed ‘Designated Motivator’ for Eastern Connecticut State's softball team. When she's not on the field, she's using her softball skills to motivate her fellow accountants. 

Dawn recently joined Karbon's Co-Founder and CEO, Stuart McLeod, on an episode of the Accounting Leaders Podcast to talk about her love for the game, how to motivate employees, why firms need to develop game plans, and what tech stacks have in common with starting lineups. 

As the author of The Designated Motivator: Unlock Your Superpower to Change Your Life, The World and Everyone In It and the soon-to-be-released The Designated Motivator for Accountants, Dawn talks through strategies for firms to take home the ‘W’ and maybe even a championship title. 

Tech stacks and starting lineups

Before you can even hit the field, you need a strong starting lineup. Dawn views her tech stack a lot like how a coach looks at their roster. 

“When we have a successful lineup, we can win a national championship every single tax season,” Dawn says on the episode.

When building her tech stack, she thinks of each service that an app provides as an individual position. “Once you get the positions down, then you can figure out who plays those positions the best.” 

Just as a coach carefully builds a team of talented players, so should accounting leaders approach the curation of their tech stack

“Each position plays a critical and key role,” Dawn stresses, warning not to overlook even simple software selections. “It doesn’t matter if you’re warming up the pitcher in the dugout or if you’re a pinch-runner; you’re just as important. In every accounting firm, you’re as strong as your weakest link.” 

But even if you’ve stacked your team with great players, you need teamwork for everything to come together. Dawn encourages accountant firm owners to also look at integration. Understanding how your apps talk to one another is key to creating an efficient and optimized tech stack.

Why you need a designated motivator for your firm  

When Dawn first came on board as a coach for the Eastern Warriors, the team struggled to set ambitious goals for their upcoming season. 

Dawn wasn't having it. She knew they needed some motivation—a gap she was happy to fill. 

Dawn quickly found her role amongst the coaching team and dubbed herself as ‘Designated Motivator’. It's a role that she takes seriously, both in the dugout and in the accounting world.

But what exactly is a designated motivator? Dawn explains to Stuart:

Whether it's in your firm, on a team, in your family, your church, or your friend group, [a designated motivator is] somebody who can actually look into the soul of the person and say, 'Listen. Do you understand the potential you have?' [They take what someone is pursuing and create] intentional transformation at warp speed.
Dawn Brolin, Powerful Accounting, Inc.

But motivating an athlete is much different than incentivizing an accountant. 

How do you figure out what drives employees? Dawn believes it's pretty simple: ask. 

Stuart notes that motivation isn't always money-driven. "The common thread that we're finding is that accountants love helping their clients become successful," he explains. 

Dawn agrees, adding that it’s important to understand what specifically drives your individual employees. Once you've identified your team's main objectives, sort them into pools of people. Then provide different incentive structures to fit each group's unique needs.

There's a difference between different employees, so it's hard to create a global motivation plan.
Dawn Brolin, Powerful Accounting, Inc.

An employee who values flexibility will respond to different incentives than a single, working parent trying to support their family. 

Recommended reading: Work-life balance means different things to different generations. Here's why that matters and how to manage it.

Assessing your game plan 

Dawn believes that accounting leaders need a game plan. She outlines this in her upcoming book, The Designated Motivator for Accountants

First, those at the leadership level need to ask themselves, "What's my 'why’?" 


  • Why are you in accounting? 

  • What is it about accounting that drives you? 

  • Why did you get into the business, and are you doing the type of work that you set out to pursue initially?

Next, Dawn suggests firm leaders name their three favorite clients. "Then ask yourself, 'Why these three clients?'" she advises. 

Finally, consider the opposite: "Who are your three least favorite clients?"

For Dawn, the exercise is about looking for patterns and stepping back from the day-to-day to understand what you most enjoy about your work and what fills you with dread. 

Often, firms begin with good intentions and only a vague strategy for the future. But without a clear plan laid out, they end up doing work they didn’t initially set out to do. 

Are there specific projects you do but you don't actually enjoy? If so, maybe it's time to refer those services to accounting firms that want those responsibilities. 

"You can't be good at everything," Dawn reminds listeners. She's in the habit of referring work to other accountants for the tasks that she doesn't enjoy. "That's being efficient and doing the things that you love." 

Is there a particular type of client that drives you up the wall? Get rid of them. Not only are they draining you of energy, but they're probably also frustrating a lot of your talented employees. 

"I know for myself when I take on stuff I don't love, I end up having sleepless nights, thinking, 'Why did I say I would do that?'"

When you like your work and focus on your strengths, you set yourself up to win.

Leading your firm without a plan is a surefire way to end up in a pattern of unappealing work with frustrating clients. A firm assessment can help identify what's working and what needs to change.

Then, once you've assessed and adjusted, you can return to meaningful and engaging work surrounded by satisfied customers and happy employees. 

Even when things are hard, keep playing. That’s what makes it great.

It’s been a long and challenging season for accountants everywhere. And as a result, they’re feeling burned out like never before

But both Dawn and Jimmy Dugan serve as reminders to never give up. The game is worth it. Perhaps you need to step back, assess your firm, or reprioritize your game plan—but above all else, don’t quit the game.  

And if you need a little extra encouragement, Dawn will be in the dugout, cheering your name.

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