How to keep your team accountable to their commitment to your accounting firm

Any accounting firm owner looking to grow their firm knows that successfully leading a team is key to achieving this.

The back of two people in deep discussion, pointing to a lpatop screen.

In scaling a services organization, growing with a team is your only option. Though hiring is a key consideration when bringing a team into your firm, once you have someone on your team, it is imperative that you lead the relationship in an accountable way.

Inviting your team into accountability 

As my mentor Peter Block always says, “You can’t hold people to anything. You can’t hold people accountable.” Instead, Peter advises that our goal is to invite people into accountability.

It’s a commitment both parties make. When we hire someone, we welcome them to the firm, go over their job description, and describe the core values and mission by which we all agree to live by together. It’s a community commitment of sorts, to be bound by the same mission. Everyone is walking in the same direction, and we all agree to it when we are hired. 

This is how we invite a team into accountable places, and it goes two ways:

  1. The team member is responsible (and has agreed) to fulfill their role as detailed by their job description. They agree to do this consistently and at their highest level of valuable output. 

  2. As the leader of the firm, we are responsible (and have agreed) to lead with consistency according to our mission and core values. We agree to honor and respect our teams, teach and train them, and pay them consistently as we promised. 

Of course, there’s more to the employer/employee relationship, but these are some of the foundational agreements we have entered into and are accountable to. 

Again, both the employee and the employer have entered into this accountable relationship. This is a voluntary relationship, can be ended at any time, and is not coerced. And the accountability goes both ways.

How to navigate accountability when the agreement has been broken

The reason we make our accountability clear among our team is because either party may not always fulfill their side of the commitment. There are many reasons the accountability relationship could be broken, such as: 

  • Personal/emotional trauma, stress, or serious emergencies

  • An owner ‘using’ the firm for their own personal gain

  • Distractions from doing the difficult tasks required of a leader/owner

  • Distractions from doing the work/abiding by the commitments required of a team member

When the ‘accountability relationship’ has been broken or breached, a leader must act to right the agreement or the firm will suffer.

At Blumer CPAs, the firm my partner and I have been leading for over 20 years, we have devised a series of steps we walk through with our team to bring them back to the agreement we all made together. 

It’s important to note that the following is specifically in relation to team accountability. Owner accountability has a whole different lens and components.

Here are the 4 steps we follow when a team member’s accountability requires correction:

Level 1: Lack of clarity

My partner and I will meet with the team member privately and make the assumption that we have failed to lead them with clarity. We’ll pull up their job description, which is the detailed view of our accountable relationship, including their responsibilities.

Level 2: We are here for support

If the team member’s work continues to suffer, and they continue to be distracted from fulfilling their role, then we will meet again privately to make sure we were not unclear in Level 1. 

Then we will let them know that they have to get back on track and we will provide any support they need to help them do so.

At this point, we will have our Project Manager begin huddling with the team member for 15 minutes on Mondays and Fridays providing support until the team member is able to catch back up and get back on top of their work. 

We explore many things here and ask questions like:

  • “What do we need to know so we can help you?”

  • “What is really going on that is preventing you from performing your role?”

Level 3: The date to get back on track

If the team member continues to fail in performing their role, we will again meet privately to remind them of the agreement they have made. 

This is when we ask question like:

  • “How are you tracking with agreed-upon commitments?”

  • ”Are there any roadblocks that we as leaders can help you remove to get back on track?”

At this point (Level 3), the employee's job is usually in danger, so there is increased urgency to get back on track. As a result, this is when we agree on a deadline for when they need to catch up their general recurring accounting tasks by. This is also to ensure we are all on the same page. We will offer another week or so (but not much longer) to get their work caught back up (or even shorter amounts of time, depending on the situation).

Level 4: The final conversation

This is the last step before a team member is removed from the firm. 

This is a difficult conversation, and one my partner and I avoid at all costs. Up until this point, the team member has been coached and supported, and we have sought to explore where we failed as leaders too. 

To convey that this is the ‘end of the line’, we say something along the lines of: “We have talked to you many times and sought to help you, and you continue to struggle. So this is the last conversation we will have about this issue.”

This level is a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) and often means the team member will be removed from the firm soon after. Unfortunately, it’s rare for team members to make a turn after a Level 4 conversation. This is simply our process to document our steps and to prepare for the disruption of a team member being removed. 

Many team members actually self-select out of the firm as we ‘tighten up’ the accountability at each level. Not all organizations work through the employee/employer accountability relationship, so it may be new for some team members to experience this level of expectation around their role. 

They may not be able to get back on track, and so this process ensures that you know you’ve done everything you can to help them fulfill their role.

Prepare for emotion

Accountability relationships are fraught with emotion. Both sides can define them in different ways, and it’s hard to get the definitions right. Leaders can get it wrong, and so can team members. That’s why we needed a defined set of levels and a process to keep us on track.

Leaders must go through this to keep the firm healthy and to make sure everyone is on the same page moving forward, so that nothing gets in the way of fulfilling the important purpose of the firm. Feel free to send us your stories of accountability to if you need any help.