Partners, owners and/or managers of accounting businesses need to work on business strategy from time to time. These sessions can be hugely productive or… frankly… a waste of time. In this article we look at some best practices in strategy meetings which will help you get the best outcomes.
Panalitix is fortunate to facilitate the strategy meetings of numerous clients, so we’ll share some best practices here.
Every Strategy Meeting should have a Specific Purpose
The purpose will vary… but here is a list of topics that may be the focus of a strategy meeting:
- The vision. The ‘why’ or the reason the business exists. Every business should work this out… but no point discussing this if it’s already clearly defined.
- The business goals. What numbers do we need to hit? (E.g. revenue, profit, average hourly rate, etc.) What else do we want to accomplish (e.g. bringing in a new partner, launching a new service, starting a new office, etc.)? When will we do this?
- Market analysis. Your market is always changing. Clients develop different needs, the competition shifts, regulations change and business processes evolve. Successful leadership teams have a keen sense of these developments. What are your strengths and weaknesses and what can you offer in this changing market?
- Succession. All businesses go through ‘succession events’ including: taking on partners, exiting partners, mergers, acquisitions and so on. These events can be delicate and require focused discussion.
- Specific pain points. You may feel that the partners are working too hard on the wrong kind of work. Or that you are not generating the right leads. Or that your practice management systems need to be replaced. Or that workflow processes need substantial revision. A strategy meeting might involve properly defining this issue and developing a solution.
- A specific business theme. It might be Attracting New Clients, Managing Existing Clients, Team Development, Product Development or Process Optimization. Focus on an area where you see specific opportunities and you can make a difference.
- Developing a plan. A business working to a plan is more likely to succeed than one making things up along the way. It takes time to define targets, the priorities, tasks, roles, responsibilities and timeframes… but a plan helps keep the business on track.
- Bonding. Sometimes a business can benefit from the leadership team simply spending time together and getting to know one another.
Don’t try to accomplish too much!
To be clear the above list is NOT our recommended agenda for strategy meetings. On the contrary, we encourage firms to focus on just one or two of these ideas to make real progress.
Work on the partnership as well as the business
Underpinning an accounting businesses are the partners or owners. Over time, the goals and aspirations of these partners will change. Sometimes the partners have a different work ethic and are from different generations. No matter how well you run the business, a weak partnership will present challenges. In the worst case, there will be conflict which doesn’t benefit anyone. Part of strategy is ensuring the partners communicate and have common goals.
Set a clear agenda (and circulate it in advance)
Give attendees the opportunity to think through the topics for discussion. Much more can be accomplished when people are prepared.
Choose the attendees carefully
In most cases, all the partners will attend. A partner about to retire may be excused from a strategy meeting. In some cases, there may be value in inviting a manager(s) because of their specific knowledge or to gain their buy-in. Inviting a trusted advisor (even a client) can add value.
Part of the challenge is to get out of ‘day-to-day’ mode and analyze with a fresh perspective. The venue (and schedule) are important.
Use a facilitator
Getting people to ‘think differently’ may mean changing the regular communication style. Often, one partner will dominate the proceedings and others won’t speak up. A good facilitator will get the best outcomes from the meeting through an understanding of the different personalities present.
Detail the actions from the meeting
No point having the meeting if you don’t record the decisions made and the actions to be taken. A simple framework we like to use is:
1. Describe the action. What are you going to do? Start with a verb.
Example: To classify our clients
2. Describe how you’ll do it. The scope, roles, metrics, tactics, timeframes, and any other relevant information. Start with ‘in a way that’.
Example: In a way that requires each partner to classify their clients based on the criteria X, Y and Z so that we can increase communication to “A” class clients before the end of the fiscal year.
3. Describe why this is important. What are the benefits? Start with ‘so that’.
Example: So that we increase client satisfaction, client retention, and upselling of tax planning services to achieve increased revenues of $xx.
There is important work to do in these meetings but the atmosphere should be positive and more can be accomplished when people are enjoying themselves. A strategy meeting can be combined with various activities unrelated to work. Here are some examples of activities taken on by our clients outside the meeting room.
Surf, swim, or just take a walk on the beach
Climb a mountain
Go for a walk in the forest
Play a round of golf