Increasingly, accounting and advisory firms are looking at their business strategies with a view to driving higher growth and profitability. Developing an effective strategy requires addressing several important, and often difficult, issues. It also requires crafting a strategic plan that the firm’s partners will buy into and effectuate. Over the next few months, we’ll publish a series of blogs dealing with the different issues that require consideration when developing a strategic business plan. This blog focuses on how to develop a strategy that partners will embrace.
We strongly advise using a multi-step process in developing your strategy. The key watchword to guide your process is inclusion. By this, we mean inclusion at all levels: the Managing Partner, the Executive Committee, and the broader partner group.
We always begin with an extensive interview, lasting at least four hours, with the firm’s managing partner. Our interview focuses on all aspects of firm history, market opportunities — both industry and geography, service areas, successes, frustrations, economics, aspirations, people engagement, and culture. This gives us a strong lens into the firm’s strategic needs that helps to inform the rest of the process.
Second only to the Managing Partner, the Executive Committee members can provide critical input to the strategic process. Using what we learned from the Managing Partner interview, we tailor our questions for deeper understanding in critical areas for use during Executive Committee members individual interviews. Before conducting these interviews, we brief the Executive Committee, carefully reviewing our approach and questions to get them thinking about the issues we will be discussing in advance. The actual interviews last two to three hours and give the Executive Committee members the option to talk on or off the record. Once the interviews have been completed, we give the full Executive Committee a summary briefing of what we learned in the interviews.
Partner Focus Groups
All partners are invited to mandatory focus groups that last two to four hours. In these groups, the partners are asked the same questions as the Executive Committee members. Generally, six to eight partners participate in each focus group. Unlike individual interviews, each focus group allows for an exchange of views among partners. As we listen to the discussion, we get important input on both content and stakeholder management. In our experience, partners use these sessions to express what they know to be the best answers for the firm rather than taking positions that reflect only their self-interest. Making the focus groups an important step in the strategic process by setting the stage for later showing the partners how their views shaped the strategy.
Early in an engagement we ask to see detailed firm financial information, former strategic plans, information on partner evaluation & compensation and information on partner & staff development. We also ask to see staff survey results and, in some cases, actually conduct a staff survey to get current information. This data is helpful in designing the right strategy.
Developing the new strategy is done by a Strategy Committee composed of between eight and 20 partners. In some cases, all Executive Committee members sit on the Strategy Committee; and in other cases, an Executive Committee member chairs the Strategy Committee, and the other Executive Committee members do not participate.
Initially, the Strategy Committee will work in multiple workstreams, each staffed by a subset of the Strategy Committee. Each workstream focus on a topic, such as:
– Industries, services, and geographic markets
– Firm organization and governance
– Partner and staff development
– Firm culture and values
– Practice economics and measures of success
Once the workstreams conclude their work, the entire Strategy Committee works to develop a coherent overall strategy and execution playbook.
Review, Approval, Socialization and Launch
When the Strategy Committee has concluded its work, the Executive Committee carefully reviews the strategy, usually in a full day meeting with participation from the Strategy Committee. Once approved, the strategy is heavily socialized with all partners, often as part of a regular all-day partner meeting. Once this is accomplished, the strategy can be launched. The next launch step is typically briefing of all staff.
Needless to say, all of these steps have different variations, and the launch process itself contains many steps such as setting up a program office, leadership assignments and reporting.