insight magazine

Firm Journey | Winter 2020

People: The Driver of Your CPA Firm’s Success

Here’s why your team is the heart of your firm and the most important part of propelling it forward.
Tim Jipping, CPA, CGMA Owner, Journey Advisors & CPAs

I’m sad to say that this will be my last Firm Journey column for a while. I love sharing my ideas and experiences with you all and trying to help advance our profession however I can but, after a lot of reflection, I’ve made the decision to step back. Why? I need to focus on my own team right now. And I think you should ensure that taking care of your own team is at the top of your to-do list, too.

If you lead a firm (or any organization), this year’s events have likely reawakened you to the importance of your team. If you as the leader are the brain of your firm, your clients are the oxygen, and your team is the heart. The only way the brain continues to function and the oxygen continues to circulate is if the heart is healthy. Your team is the most important part of your firm.

If there’s anything I can impart in this column, it would be to focus on your firm’s heart. If global pandemics, operational disruptions, and shifting client portfolios have taught us anything, it’s that our firms are only as good as the teams they’re composed of. If you had the right people on your team back in March, I can almost guarantee that you grew in 2020. Think about that: You were likely growing before, but then were able to take off during a recession! That’s the power of a proper team. Here’s how to make sure your people are positioned to propel your firm forward.

Assess Your Team's Health

If you had an incomplete team throughout 2020, the concept of healthy growth for the year was likely wishful thinking. If that turned out to be true, I encourage you to take some time to evaluate your team structure, alignment, and individual member performance. This must be considered with the backdrop of where your firm is heading, not where you are right now.

To assess your team, ponder questions like: What are our strategic objectives? How does our team structure and composition align with meeting those objectives? What are the values of our firm? Do our current team members share the values of our firm? Where are our talent and expertise gaps, and where do we have an overabundance?

Establish Shared Values, Diverse Skills

If you’ve ever met someone that you seem to click with right away, it’s very likely you share common values. Conversely, if you seem to naturally butt heads with someone, your values are probably different. This doesn’t mean you don’t share any values, it’s simply where they land in rank.

I identified my own value ranking in an assessment a few years ago. The top five were perseverance, creativity, humor, kindness, and honesty. The quality of humility landed near the bottom of my list. It’s not that I don’t value humility, it’s that I value creativity and honesty more. So if I run into a person with more self-confidence, which can sometimes be perceived as arrogance, who I also find to be creative and honest, I’m more likely to connect with them easily and quickly— while someone who values humility above all else would likely not have an instant chemistry with the same person.

The values of a firm are what shapes its culture. A successful team is built of people that have their most important values in common and shape a shared culture. Once you have that foundation, the next step is building your team’s strengths.

Unlike their values, the strengths held by your team members must be varied and diverse. For instance, a team full of strong executors seems like a great idea, but without strategic thinkers they’d be directionless, and without influencers the strategic thinkers’ new ideas may never get off the ground. Teams made up of people with shared values and discrete but complementary strengths is the key to high-level success.

Invest in Your Future

I’ve said it before in this column and I’ll say it one last time: Now is the best time to bring on superstar talent to grow your firm for the future. The pandemic and resulting business disruptions have put many extremely talented CPAs on the job market, either due to layoffs and furloughs or because they’re questioning what they really want out of their careers.

Your firm’s success really does boil down to who you have on your team. As the great business writer Jim Collins says in his bestseller “Good to Great,” “The executives who ignited the transformations … first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.” If you get the right people on your bus and invest in them, there won’t be an obstacle, disruption, or pandemic that will keep you from driving your firm forward.

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