How to create a stellar accounting firm culture

minute read

Last Updated September 29, 2023

Category Culture


What would you say if I asked you, “What matters most in your firm?”

The bottom line, perhaps? Or maybe it’s the services you provide, or the technology you use.

While these are all important pieces of the puzzle, there’s really just one thing that matters most: your people.

People matter most. 

And that’s why your accounting firm culture has to be rock solid—because your people are central to your firm’s success. While that may not have always been an accepted truism, in today’s world, culture weaves its way through every aspect of your business. Whether it’s the way you treat your employees, the colors you’ve chosen for your logo or the applications you use, culture is ever-present.

Your company culture can not only determine your revenue growth, but it can also have a huge impact on employee retention. If you don’t put the time and effort into your firm’s culture, chances are you’ll end up with an unhealthy environment…and staff looking for a way out.

But the good news is that even if your firm culture may be teetering on unhealthy, you can fix it. What’s the solution? In addition to committing time, energy and money, you can implement a concept we call Smart Team Management. So, let’s dive in.

Defining Smart Team Management

You may be wondering, “What is Smart Team Management, and what does it have to do with my firm’s culture?” Don’t worry—I’m going to explain it all.

Smart Team Management enables today’s accounting firms to build a healthy and sustainable work environment, ensures teams are working at optimal effectiveness and reduces staffing challenges. It helps firms execute their business model, keep their staff engaged and happy, and offer clients an unparalleled experience.

Let’s break down the three main points a bit further. With Smart Team Management, you can:

  • Build a healthy and sustainable work environment. This includes leveraging tools and technologies to keep lines of communication open between owners, partners and staff, as well as setting clear expectations and providing consistent performance feedback. It also includes appointing a Team Culture Leader who will take responsibility for your firm’s culture and facilitate firm events and retreats.
  • Ensure teams are working at optimal effectiveness. This means you’ve set specific and measurable goals for each team member that center around the firm’s priorities. Instead of measuring the time spent in the office, you’re measuring output. And it also includes consistent communication to keep staff encouraged and updated on goal progress.
  • Reduce staffing challenges. This includes developing a clear—and competitive—plan for employee compensation, benefits and perks. It also includes creating a quantifiable culture using benchmark tools (i.e., employee satisfaction surveys) to measure progress, as well as incentivizing your team to help attract and retain top talent.

Implementing Smart Team Management is the first step in creating a healthy accounting firm culture. It creates the building blocks that help support your people, which is what matters most in your firm. But it can’t exist without the Four Cs. So, let’s talk about those next.

Explaining the Four Cs of culture

If you’ve wondered how you can determine whether your accounting firm culture is healthy, Rootworks has a solution: Apply the Four Cs—Clarity, Candor, Connection and Consistency. The Four Cs are at the heart of Smart Team Management, so let’s take a closer look at each one.

  • Clarity is knowing your firm’s WHAT, WHO, HOW and WHY. It’s knowing what products and services you want to sell, who your ideal clients are, how your business operates and why your work matters.
  • Candor is making sure your team can offer honest perspectives without fear of negative pushback or consequences. It’s keeping your team involved and part of important conversations, especially those that impact their daily work.
  • Connection is when your team feels seen, heard, acknowledged and valued. It’s when you’ve created an environment for them to thrive and you publicly show encouragement and appreciation.
  • Consistency is (consistently) creating clarity, building candor and establishing connections. It’s when you dedicate time to making small, incremental changes that keep your employees engaged and part of the conversation.

As you begin applying the Four Cs, remember that an incredible firm culture doesn’t just happen overnight. Don’t get discouraged if you try something one day and your culture doesn’t magically become healthy the next. Be proactive and intentional in creating a rhythm within your firm, doing small things consistently. Because consistency adds up…and eventually, your culture will begin to thrive.

Growing your accounting firm culture organically

I’m going to be frank with you: When you decide to create a healthy culture, it has to be organic. You must make an effort—because your team will sniff out a manufactured culture from a mile away. What do I mean by that?

If you tell your team, “We have a healthy culture!” but don’t do anything to back it up, they’ll know. If you say you have a healthy work-life balance but expect butts in seats from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, with no exceptions? You’re saying you have it, but you’re not doing it. That’s not a healthy culture.

You have to grow a great culture organically—it’s the one thing your people crave.

I want you to picture an apple tree. You have no control over what will pop out of that tree. Maybe just leaves, or maybe, if you’re lucky, it will bear fruit. Either way, that’s out of your hands.

What you do control, however, is what’s going into that tree. You can’t force an apple to grow, but you can certainly control the nutrients and the water to promote that growth.

Think of your firm’s culture as this apple tree. When you provide the proper nutrients (e.g., Smart Team Management, the Four Cs), the fruit will grow.

There’s no timeline on when it will happen, but when you do the work, and you consistently provide the nutrients, the fruit will come. And when that fruit comes, you’ll hear your staff say, “I love it here!”

Creating an irresistible accounting firm culture

A healthy culture doesn’t just appear out of thin air—it takes consistent time and effort. When you focus on what matters most…and you implement Smart Team Management, apply the Four Cs, and make an organic effort, a healthy culture will come.

To learn more about creating a stellar accounting firm culture, join the Rootworks team and me at Empower, May 1-3, 2023. Register now!

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