Planning with team
Planning with team

3 Ways to Convert Your Staff Into Innovators

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There are obvious differences between coaches and players on a team; those same differences need to be recognized and appreciated in a tax and accounting firm. The coach comes up with the big ideas, and the players, whether happy about it or not, implement. Imagine the disaster that would ensue if roles were switched. Owners complain that their staff isn’t innovative enough, but unless you listed and harped on “being innovative” in their job description, doing the role they were hired for gives them security any day over new ideas.

If you already have staff who didn’t get the memo, it can feel like pulling teeth to get them to innovate. Here are three tips from myself, my team and Accounting Firm influencers (join our Facebook Group) on how to change your firm’s culture … after you administer the laughing gas, of course.

Craig Hausz: We’ve implemented the Entrepreneur Operating System. We developed our Core Values and Client Niche, and base our hiring decision on whether the staff “Get It, Want It and have Capacity for it,” with ”it” being their job description. From there, we have specific weekly meetings based on each staff person’s quarterly “rocks” and then go over each current issue within the firm. After tax season, our weekly Level 10 meeting agenda is focused on improvement.

#1: Bring Out Their Strengths by Embracing Your Vulnerability

Let’s get real here, real fast. When was the last time you admitted to a client or employee that you don’t know? Hopefully, daily, followed by “but we will find the answer.” Think of a mentor who pushed you to be the best you could be. Would they admit vulnerabilities, and did that help or hinder your relationship? Why would any of your staff step out of their comfort zone if their boss can’t?

Cheryl (our Accounting manager): “It depends on the leader being open to listening versus shutting them (the staff) down. Addressing a leader’s own insecurities can dramatically strengthen the entire team.”

When I told the Meyer Tax team in the summer of 2016 my next big idea, it was like a football hit them in the face – and I could only guess this from the cricket silence on our conference call. I wanted to completely convert from hourly to value billing, only work with clients we could find an ROI in tax strategies for, and oh, by the way, sell 60 percent of our clients within three months. The immediate reaction was fear. Would they have enough work? I knew it was a scary thing, but they trusted me to lead them in a new direction. Today, they are begging for another project manager because of the number of new clients we have! Note that I told them about the plan before it happened, not after the fact when they had no input or molding of the process.

Cindy (our office manager): “We trust that we can share things with each other and we won’t get laughed at; it’s two way (communication), or maybe sometimes there’s laughing, but it’s together and not at each other!”

#2: Appreciate All Ideas, Even the Bad Ones

Jennifer (our project manager): “I’ve worked plenty of places where I would never bring up constructive criticism because I knew I wouldn’t be listened to. With Jackie, I am completely confident bringing up even things that aren’t sexy to say, such as potential pitfalls found in our extension system the day after extensions were finished. At the end of the day, I know Jackie wants the best for our clients. It’s never her way or the highway.”

Does that mean I’m going to implement Jennifer’s idea? No, and frankly it was the last thing I wanted to discuss that day, but it did spark a wonderful discussion about Form 4868 instructions (now outdated because of Direct Pay), and how to best protect the firm and our clients. Some companies, such as Intuit® ProConnect™, take it to the extreme with a Failure Award to make failure a respectable component, strengthening the company through was what learned, but ultimately not successful. As a smaller company, we keep different team boards in Ring Central Glip to jot quick notes on ideas, changes and software updates in the heat of busy season.

Caitlin Bottoni, CA: “Fostering an environment where ideas outside of normal procedures are welcomed with open arms is HUGE. It always seemed to me that firm protocols are to teach staff the way things are done – and that’s that. Staff should be encouraged to evaluate how they are doing what they are doing and speak up if they find something about the process that isn’t effective or efficient.”

#3: Spend Time Together and Be a Good Listener

It becomes harder in our virtual world to connect with staff on a personal level, especially when they are located across the country. One-on-one meetings are a must solution. The topic? It’s all about them, how you can support what they’re doing, ideas they have, things you can improve on and other similar topics. Otherwise, meeting up at conferences, such as QuickBooks® Connect, is a great way to reward staff for jobs well done, while also spending some quality time hearing about things from their perspective. I’ve known one of my staff for over a decade, and I learned so much more about her last November at QuickBooks Connect than I ever did over those 10 years, infinitely strengthening our relationship and trust level.

Editor’s note: In this article, Jackie touches on her staff working remotely. If you’re still on the fence about moving to a cloud-based practice, read “Remote Employees May Be the Cure to Your Staffing Woes.”

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