When I became managing partner of Brown Smith Wallace in January 2016, the No. 1 question our employees asked me was: “What is your vision for the firm?”
I am an accountant by training, a businessman through experience and needed to add strategic planner to the mix. We talked ourselves out of the “do it yourself” tendency and looked outside the firm for some guidance. In doing so, we learned that a key foundation to the process is to involve all employees. Firm partners and I spoke with interns through principals to get input on the state of the firm and the direction it was heading. The common theme we heard from our team was: “How can I help us get there?”
Here’s what we learned from this process that might be helpful to others.
Discover What Drives Your Organization
Culture and growth were the two biggest strategic takeaways from these conversations. Our people see our culture as something to be proud of and our potential for growth as something we can strive toward.
In May 2017, we relaunched our firm’s mission, vision and values by fine-tuning the elements that have always made us who we are as a firm, and we committed to being “The Firm for Growth.” Our discussion revealed that growth extends to every aspect of the firm – career experiences, talent, clients, community impact, niches and expertise, and revenue.
Of course, to boldly make this claim about growth, it had to be based in reality. We have grown over 30 percent in the past three years and, just last week, we learned that we are now the 91st largest U.S. accounting firm (up from 96 last year) according to Inside Public Accounting (IPA), a leading industry publication.
Identify Your Key Challenges
We confirmed that recruiting and retaining talent are critical to our being able to be “The Firm for Growth.” To help our clients grow, we have to continually add talent with expertise in many areas of accounting, advisory, auditing and tax. Recruiting talent is a growing concern for all organizations, particularly in the accounting industry. So, the competition for talent requires out-of-the-box thinking and creative initiatives.
One approach we have taken is that we are one of only five St. Louis-based companies and the only St. Louis-based CPA firm to have a profile on the TheMuse.com, an online career resource that offers a behind-the-scenes look at job opportunities. Our profile features video interviews with our staff that give applicants a glimpse at life at Brown Smith Wallace.
The firm also hosts IMPACT, a summer leadership program that gives accounting students an exclusive opportunity to participate in simulations, strengthen their leadership skills and prepare for their first internship.
We also offer independent, non-exclusive employee opportunities, which allows us to form relationships with innovative subject matter experts who enhance our client service.
Sustaining Growth Means Keeping Good People
Recruiting doesn’t stop when someone is hired. A recent Journal of Accountancy article discussed different initiatives accounting firms, including Brown Smith Wallace, are employing in order to retain their most valuable asset: their people. Our turnover rate is 7-8 percent in the tax and audit practices; other firms with revenues of over $10 million experience an average turnover of 13.4 percent.
The firm invests in several initiatives to develop its employees personally and professionally – flexible work schedules, unlimited vacation time for managers and above, NEXT (a program for up-and-coming firm leaders), a firm wellness program, community involvement opportunities and Brown Smith Wallace University (the firm’s continuing education program). Our people vouch for our work/life balance and family-friendly culture as evidenced by several awards recognizing us as a top workplace both locally and nationally.
Continuing the Advancement of Women is Key to Our Growth
In our profession, women comprise the majority of professionals. As part of our women’s initiative to attract, retain and advance women leaders of today and tomorrow, in 2014, four female partners launched The Bridge. This is an event series designed to be a vehicle for networking, fun and professional development for Brown Smith Wallace women and St. Louis businesswomen. Accounting Today cited The Bridge as an example of game-changing women’s initiatives at CPA firms. More than 2,800 women have attended our six breakfast networking events and two annual shopping events, The Bridge BOOtique, featuring local, woman-owned businesses.
The Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance and the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants recently named Brown Smith Wallace to the Accounting MOVE Project’s 2017 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women list. Women make up 57 percent of our staff, including 35 percent of our leadership (at firms across the country, female professionals only make up 19 percent of firm leadership).
Living the Mission
In addition to serving our clients and fostering development in each other, supporting growth in our communities helps everyone succeed. On our recent annual Day of Caring, we assembled more than 850 meal kits for Operation Food Search after collecting nearly 3,000 food items. Throughout the day, I witnessed the passion we share for impacting our communities and saw our vision for growth in action spreading beyond our firm. It was evident that each person in our firm not only understands our vision and mission but lives them out every day.
These are the lessons my partners and I learned or clarified during this initiative. There may be others to capture in pursuing your organization’s vision. We found the process extremely valuable.
If you want to discuss our strategic planning process and how it could apply to your organization, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314.983.1267.