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Jennifer Wilson

Does Your Firm Have a Vision for Its Future?

Use these six steps to develop yours.

January 30, 2012
by Jennifer Wilson

I often encounter firms that lack unity and passion. In almost all cases, their growth has stalled and their leadership team has lost energy. When firm leaders are unable to formulate and articulate a clear vision, their ability to make decisions and drive change becomes hampered. This article provides four benefits to defining your firm’s vision and divulges six steps to developing yours.

When you develop a vision for your firm, you’ll benefit from:

  1. Increased inspiration and engagement. When your team has a clear picture of where you will steer the firm, they gain excitement at the prospect of being part of the firm you envision and become motivated to help you get there.
  2. Clarity of direction. Your vision will identify your key focal points and your planned “end destination” in five years. This is like putting destination coordinates into your firm’s GPS, allowing you to chart the course for your firm’s strategies and tactics. With a clear vision, you’re more likely to take direct routes to achieve objectives. Without it, you’ll meander and end up someplace, but it might not be a place you or your team really wanted to be.
  3. Definition of scope. When you define your vision, you define what elements of your business will be your primary focus, which allows you to zero in on those aspects and place additional resources and attention on developing them. Doing so also allows you to define which elements you’ll place on the back burner, helping you focus your leadership on the most important initiatives.
  4. Enhanced unity.  When you define your firm’s vision for the future, your people can then unify their energy and resources behind making your vision a reality, versus pursuing their own pet projects or ideas. 

To develop your firm’s vision for the future, consider taking these steps:

  1. Designate members of a vision committee.  This group should include partners and younger up-and-comers.  It should also include key administrative managers. In smaller firms, the group may include your entire partner team. In larger firms, you’ll want to include key department heads and those you think are able to brainstorm about possibilities without putting their selfish interests ahead of the firm’s greater good. If the group is more than seven to 10 people, appoint a small steering committee to review meeting outcomes and help speed up decisions.
  2. Establish ground rules. Allow the group to raise any possibilities initially as long as they are done respectfully. Place no subject off limits and encourage people to question the status quo and to talk about perceived “sacred cows.”
  3. Establish scope for the vision. Your vision is a dream for the future that you can clearly define so you know when you’ve reached it. Ideally, you’ll develop a vision of where your firm will be in five years. It should be as specific as possible and define:
    • What your firm will be known for or how you’ll be special, unique and different in the future.
    • What your primary industry and service specialties will be and how large each will have grown.
    • Who your ideal target clients will be for each industry and specialty and in which geographical location they’ll be.
    • How large the firm will be in terms of total revenues, number of partners, number of staff and number of offices.
    • How the firm will be led and managed and what forms of succession will have occurred.
    • What the firm’s marketing, staff, IT, finance and operational programs will look like.
    • What, if any, types of merger or acquisition activities will you have undertaken.
  4. Do your homework prior to formulating your vision. Conduct competitive analysis in each of your key markets to understand what your competitors do now and evaluate market opportunities that may make sense to pursue. Undertake an honest SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of your firm and its initiatives. Survey some or all of your people. Bring these inputs into the vision committee meetings and review them prior to defining your plan.
  5. Think big, take risks and make tough decisions. Developing a vision requires a willingness to dream about the future and identifying a stretch outcome through which your team can get very energized. Take risks and make assertions that may seem bold but not outlandish. Decide what is in and out of your firm’s scope. You can’t pursue all paths without diluting resources, working on a lot and accomplishing very little. Have the courage to place your “best bets” for industry niche and service-line success and focus in on a few key initiatives.
  6. Integrate your vision plan into the day-to-day business. Communicate your vision to all partners, if they weren’t involved in its development, and provide ample time for questions and feedback. Make appropriate adjustments, but stand firm on bold decisions if the vision committee feels strongly about them. Share the agreed-upon vision with all staff members and help them see how they can contribute to achieving the planned outcome. Tie firm, departmental and individual goals to vision. Discuss the vision in all-hands, departmental and individual coaching meetings. Measure your progress against the five-year vision annually.  Make adjustments as needed each year. 

Conclusion

Take the time to do the big thinking.  When you do, you’ll differentiate your firm, unify your leaders, engage your people and drive real growth.

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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.