Driving success in your firm through effective goal management

Why and how CPA firms should conduct project reviews.

April 19, 2012
By Nancy Wilkinson, Regional Manager, Professional Services, Halogen Software

Accountants and auditors are a fortunate group. They always seem to be in demand, regardless of the state of the economy. Needless to say, for accounting firms, the pressure is always on to attract and retain highly skilled accounting professionals. While implementing talent management best-practices is important for any type of organization, they’re particularly critical for accounting firms, which rely heavily on strong client relationships and billable hours to derive their revenue.

The ability for firms to build “strong customer relationships” is closely linked to how engaged (or not) and how motivated employees are to deliver excellent service. One talent management practice that can lead to greater employee engagement is goal management.

Goal management is more than just the annual assigning of goals and reviewing of employee performance. It's about getting every employee to use and develop their talents, skills, and experience to help the organization meet its overarching goals. It’s also about building a strong corporate brand and culture that makes your firm an attractive place to work — a highly sought-after employer of choice.

It all begins with goal alignment
Goal alignment ensures that your entire professional team is working to support your firm’s goals.

Employees need a context for their work and need to feel that their work is valued by their employer. One of the best ways to do this is to clearly link employee goals to higher level firm goals. This is called organization-centric goal management.

In an organization-centric goal management model every employee's role and every employee goal is tied to your firm’s overall strategy, not just to their manager's success. This means if there are conflicting priorities, a decision on how to move forward can be based on a higher- level common goal. Without alignment, everyone manages their own personal goals (in isolation). Although employees may be successful in meeting all their personal goals, their work may not actually be contributing to the success of the firm overall. In fact, this approach might even be at odds with your firm’s organizational goals. Goal alignment helps to ensure that everyone's individual contributions move the organization forward in the right direction.

The organization-centric goal management model also provides continuous line of site into how individual contributions impact the overall organizational strategy.

The Advantages of the Organization-Centric Goal Management
  • Goal setting for everyone in the firm can begin as soon as the high-level organizational goals are created.
  • Goals can be linked across the firm, allowing for more breadth of contribution and a more detailed understanding of the intricacies involved in achieving the goal.
  • Goal links are not affected by changes in staffing or organizational structure, because high-level goals belong to the firm, not to an individual.
  • Employees at all levels of the organization have clear visibility into how their work impacts firm success, enhancing their accountability and engagement.
  • Executives can easily see individual goals that are linked to firm goals and can monitor progress on these.
  • Changes to business priorities can be managed easily and do not restrict employees from working on common goals.
  • The focus is on firm success rather than individual success.

Taking a systemic approach to goal management
For goal management to work, it needs to be ingrained in your corporate culture.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “there is no ’I’ in team.” Goal management won’t be effective unless your staff is focused on the overall success of your firm. Everyone must see themselves as part of a larger team. With systemic goal management, the whole team succeeds or fails; no individual division or department can succeed at the expense of another.

Keeping it SMART and collaborative
When assigning employee goals, make sure goals are SMART and can actually be achieved.

In order to engage employees and foster accountability, you should have your employees set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound). When you take a SMART approach, it helps remove subjectivity from the goal setting process, and ensures all employees in your firm have a shared set of expectations. The real aim is to specify the “who, what, where, when, and why” for the goal and ensure shared understanding and expectations. All of these elements are critical for helping align goals throughout your firm.

Your staff should also feel in control of and accountable for achieving their goals. The best way to ensure this is to directly involve employees in the goal-setting process. This way, goals aren’t handed down from on high, but created in concert, which gives employees a sense of increased ownership in your firm’s success.  It also ensures employees clearly understand what’s expected of them, because it opens up a dialogue between them and their manager so they can ask questions, seek clarification or voice any concerns.

Making the dialogue continuous and regular
Effective goal management is an iterative, ongoing process.

Goal management requires a regular continuous dialogue between partners, management, and employees that includes: feedback and coaching, prioritizing of tasks and activities, and employee development and career planning. This ongoing dialogue helps to ensure that individual and firm performance stay on track, and allows everyone to adjust their goals as needed to keep pace with evolving business and market requirements.