Tips and ideas for developing a culture of innovation in your accounting firm

Today, staying competitive and elevating your firm’s growth requires embracing innovation. And it starts with developing a progressive culture open to innovation and change.

But what does being innovative really mean?

Innovation can be as simple as discovering a new tool or uncovering an improved process that saves time and increases staff productivity.

It’s all about thinking outside the box, creative problem solving and pushing boundaries.

But that doesn’t mean you need to push every boundary there is. That can get overwhelming quickly. If several areas of your firm need an innovative spark, start with one, be purposeful and focused

Effective innovations start small. They are not grandiose. They try to do one specific thing.
Peter F. Drucker, management thought leader

Understand your motivations. What does innovation mean to you and your firm?

As your firm’s leader, it’s important you understand how innovation will help drive your firm’s success. That way, you can lead from the front, carving a path for your team to follow.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Set your intentions. Don’t just jump on the innovation bandwagon because you feel you need to. Start by asking yourself honest questions about your motivations:

  • What does innovation mean to you?

  • What are your goals for innovation?

  • Are you looking to improve your firm’s efficiency, attract bigger clients or improve your bottom line?

  • How will you measure success?

  • Why do you actually value innovation?

2. Communicate your vision and goals. Transforming your firm’s culture into one that is led by innovation isn’t possible without buy-in from your team. They need to see your vision and understand how they’ll play a part in it. If they can’t, they simply won’t share your motivations.

3. Walk the talk. Be prepared to lead by example and show your employees what an innovative organization looks like. For business owners, it’s often difficult to break away from old habits. A great way to demonstrate your determination to become an innovative leader is by breaking the cycle and completely rethinking one key component of your firm’s operations.

The next step is to cultivate and nurture an environment that supports innovation. Establishing this foundation is essential for firm-wide success.

If you’re feeling stuck or unsure of how to develop a culture of change in your firm, here are some approaches to help you get started.

Firstly, don’t underestimate the power of your firm’s culture

Culture isn’t just another word for your team’s happiness. It doesn’t suggest you have a ping pong table in your office or that you finish early on Fridays.

It runs much deeper than that. It considers why your firm exists, including the values, beliefs, objectives and priorities that guide every aspect of your firm’s activities, team behavior and executive decision-making. Your firm’s culture is important—really important. 

Developing a culture of innovation in your firm can be daunting if it doesn’t exist today. If you have an established firm with long-term employees, expect at least some resistance to change.

Once change or a particular initiative is underway, your team should know you support them and are willing to step in or step back as needed.

Encouraging your employees to try new things is an important step in creating the right culture. By nurturing this, you’re allowing your team to work through problems and challenges and take ownership of discovering solutions.

How to develop an accounting firm culture that encourages innovation

Involve your staff early and often. Once innovation is embedded within your firm’s goals, missions and vision, you should involve your team to join the journey. Don’t be afraid to ask them what’s not working during their day-to-day. Now is the time to lay it all out.

Meet employees where they are. Some will be natural innovators with great ideas, and others may be better at figuring out an execution plan. No one should be left out of the process.

Always encourage collaboration. Create and foster an environment of openness for all ideas and contributions. The best teams are positive and supportive and build on each other’s ideas. Everyone has something unique to bring to the table.

Empower staff to own the outcome. Be sure your team takes ownership of executing innovative solutions. The job doesn’t end with an idea—that’s only the beginning. Make them accountable for executing their solutions.

Reward creativity, ideas and success. Don’t be afraid to inject some fun into how your firm approaches innovation. Consider creating teams and awarding the best ideas, the most creative approaches, and most well-rounded plans.

Avoid the fear of failure. Innovation means taking risks, and failure is a part of this. To innovate means to experiment, and with that comes wins and losses. Often, it’s the small failures that are the very thing that leads to a big breakthrough.

Keep it going. Innovation is not a one-time event.

Keeping your team energized and excited about innovation means keeping their creative juices flowing. This can be done in many ways and should be an ongoing part of your firm’s operations.

Some ideas include:

Leverage existing op-mechs

Add an innovation challenge to existing quarterly or bi-annual check-ins. These can be incorporated into all-hands meetings or business reviews. They can be company-wide or by specific departments with an innovation challenge focused on their needs and area of expertise.

Create a hackathon

The term ‘hackathon’ was coined in the late 90s. By definition, a hackathon is an event where a larger team of programmers and experts work together to collaborate on a software project. But the same idea can be applied to any business, including your accounting firm.

For example, you might want to reduce the friction between new prospects arriving at your website and booking their first meeting with you.

Tackling this challenge will raise various solutions, from creating an online booking form, implementing a streamlined calendar booking tool like Calendly, or something completely different.

The key is bringing together a team with diverse experience and skills for specified events (typically a half or full day) to work intensively together on a project. 

Successful hackathons hinge on:

  • A common problem you’re trying to solve.

  • Some guidelines, even if they’re rough. You don’t need to draw the lines on the basketball court for them, just tell them they’re actually on a basketball court.

  • Plenty of white space and empowerment to be creative.

Bring in an outside innovation consultant or expert

This expert can set up and lead a specific project or provide training and guidance for your staff. Alternatively, there are plenty of leading experts who have shared lessons you can leverage.

Tap into your staff

While it’s essential that every member of your firm adopts an innovative mindset, you may want to create a small team or appoint just a few folks to proactively innovate. This allows them to devote a percentage of their time to innovation outside of their core role and responsibilities.

Find out who your ‘natural’ innovators are and engage them as innovation catalysts and/ or coaches for the rest of your firm. Their energy—especially at a peer-level—will help drive engagement with the rest of the team.

An innovative culture attracts top talent

Every organization wants to be more innovative. The key is to know what that means for your firm and to make it happen. 

A thriving, innovative culture is not only critical to your firm’s bottom line, but also essential for retaining and attracting top talent. This is especially important for millennials who view innovation as a must-have.

Celebrate to motivate

Finally, make time to celebrate. Celebrate success—big or small—and although you might not want to, being grateful for your failures is an important part of practicing innovation.

It’s important to share what went wrong with your team, so you can work together to understand why things went wrong. And while you’re there, you might just spark a new breakthrough.

Developing a culture of innovation doesn’t happen overnight, but the payoff can be huge if you take the time to do it right.

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