Jennifer Wilson

Spark Ideas for Change in Your Firm

Three practice management ideas revealed.

January 31, 2011
by Jennifer Wilson

We all wonder what the New Year will bring, but one thing is certain — our nation, our cities, our businesses and our personal lives will change. This column divulges three practice management tips for 2011 to spark ideas for change in your firm.

Idea #1 — It's All About People (Again!)

The economy will continue its slow but steady rebound in 2011. The rebound will drive the need for people at firms, and the mistakes that many have made in reducing their emphasis on culture and team and lessening their investments in people programs will begin to see the results of these decisions as turnover starts to occur in meaningful numbers. This turnover could begin as soon as May 2011. 

Firms that stayed the course with people, have invested in people development programs and have encouraged a more open culture and collaboration between levels will be in a better position to compete.

To fortify your focus on people and team, consider these ideas:

  • Assess and then improve the degree of alignment between partner behaviors and your firm’s spoken vision and values. There is still too much “do as I say and not as I do” behavior and discord within partner groups. Your staff notice and are truly disheartened.  
  • Open up communication at all levels. Encourage straight talk about what more can improve in your firm and then improve it.
  • Make sure your best and brightest know how important they are Reinvest in your people, not just with your words, but with your actions and investments. Give young people an opportunity to step up based on merit, not tenure. 
  • Embrace workplace flexibility and invest in the technology to enhance communication across distance.
  • Build an organization designed for your future leaders by studying generational differences and then.
  • Invest heavily in social media and cast as wide a net as you can, firm-wide, to build your online network and communities. You will need them later when the next and bigger people shortage emerges.

Idea #2 — Partners Are People, Too!

Firms are honing in on one of their most important growth drivers: partner performance and accountability. It’s one of the most popular topics in managing partner groups I’ve facilitated and we’re so happy to see this because partner performance and “tone at the top” truly does drive the performance and morale of the team.

Some ideas to enhance partner performance and accountability:

  • Support honesty and straight talk about partner performance (eliminating sacred cows and supporting upward evaluation feedback).
  • Create one-size-fits-one written role descriptions and three to five measureable goals for each partner.
  • Tie partner compensation to both the “street value” of each partner’s role and also to their achievement of their annual goals. 
  • Allow those who contribute the most to earn the most and those who do not to earn less. 
  • Part ways with partners (and others) who do not or will not contribute to achieving the firm’s agreed upon vision for the future.

Idea #3 — Target Your Business Development Efforts

On the practice development side, firms who make investments in a particular industry or service area niche will continue to command more money. 
Make investments to be positioned as expert and:

  • Identify the right talent to be the “famous people” in your niche then put those people forward to speak at conferences on your specialty.
  • Create your own niche-specific content for your blog, write articles for journals and ensure you have niche-specific sections on your web site.
  • Undertake benchmarking surveys in your industry segment and publish papers and articles on your findings
  • Join associations in your chosen segment and then attend events, network and develop deep referral relationships within these groups.

In addition, undertake a targeted account strategy and:

  • Develop a list of at least 25 desired clients for each industry and service line in your firm. 
  • Forge relationships with the decision-makers at each of those targets through direct, overt contact or by asking your referral sources for an introduction. 
  • Use LinkedIn and other social media platforms to gather intelligence about your target client companies and their people, which will help you figure out a “warm way in” and will aid you in developing rapport and relatedness.


By focusing on your people, your partners and your targeted industries, services and clients, your firm can see significant growth and positive change in 2011!

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.