Aligning Business Strategy to Release Natural Talents at Creative Accounting Group
The Accounting Firm has been around for thirty years and experienced significant growth; all gained through the quality of their work and referrals from happy clients. They started out with one accountant (Martin) who specialized in looking after small to medium businesses, handling their tax and compliance work but also getting into personal tax returns for the business directors and helping with financial planning. As the client base expanded, Martin hired more accountants to handle the workload and also diversified into processing personal tax returns for non-business clients.
Creative Accounting Practice – Natural Talents: Patience Factor
In the last couple of years, workload has built up to the point where the team is under stress and the quality of work has slipped; in particular for business clients. The personal tax return business is demanding more time and some of the team are unhappy and want to leave the practice. Martin had feedback that some of the younger team members have no idea where they fit into the direction the business is taking. Gen Y kids need to see a road map for their advancement. In addition, there were issues with the lack of standardised processes but also “problems” with deteriorating personal relationships between team members and poor communication. This was how Martin, the firm’s owner, described the situation to me as a series of “problems”.
Martin thought that the issue was about fixing processes; he was looking at the issues with a technical problem solving lens. Focusing on the workflows was logical but the real issues were adaptive.
Martin was taken through the Appreciative approach and Drucker’s idea about discovering and building on our strengths, thereby making our weaknesses irrelevant. The adaptive change process starts with the first questions around who we are being and facilitating a team conversation firstly around individual and team talents and only then moving to what we do well.
Team members took the Business DNA Behavioural Talents assessment on line and a team talent profile was created. The profiling enabled Martin’s team to engage in a first time conversation with each other around their individual strengths and struggles and what engaged them when their talents were being used and appreciated by others on the team. This led to a deeply authentic conversation.
Most of the team members have a natural need to fit in and are highly diplomatic. Their strength is loyalty to each other but under pressure they won’t speak up or tell people how they feel, in case this rocks the boat. So nearly all the members were upset about the deteriorating work situation but no one would speak up about what was happening or how they felt! But when we explored these talents in the room, people started to open up; especially when the team developed a Covenant around the key behaviours they wanted from each other in the future e.g. speak up. Martin had been the most frustrated member of this group. He felt that he wasn’t understood because of his need for fast pace, task and logic, whereas the other accountants were actually talented around forming deep, caring, personal and intimate relationships with clients.
The talent conversation led to healing and improved communication, based on respect and appreciation for each other’s differences and an understanding that they shared common DNA. They discovered that as a team they are happiest when they do work which engages their natural talents around a need for:
What the accountants actually discovered is that they at their best when they work with clients who share the same talents and values as they do.
These are powerful insights into both the systemic and intrinsic make-up of the practice at its best. They informed the team about who they really were naturally, what type of work they were best at naturally and why they were engaged intrinsically, from who they are. The accountants then shared their Appreciative Inquiry stories about the times they and clients have been most engaged. The reflective conversation discovered a direct synergy between when the team’s talents were used for most of the time and high levels of engagement. Basically this is all about when the team is able to focus their talents and energy on working intimately with their business clients, not the personal tax return clients. As one team member said “how can I feel satisfied when I see a personal tax return client for 15 minutes each year?” This team has a need for long term and deepening relationships with clients.
This led to conversations around the type of business they are really in and what they want to do more of (a greater range of business advisory services for specific business clients) and what they will stop doing – i.e. personal tax returns. This is such a breakthrough because Martin had expanded into personal returns as was a logical thing to do but without the understanding of how this did or didn’t align with the strengths and DNA of the team’s natural wiring and best of client experiences.
Being naturally determined, Martin didn’t want to give up the personal tax return business and the others wouldn’t challenge him because it wasn’t their natural make up to confront. By focusing on the talent discovery conversation and then the DNA of what works for the team, everyone on the team was able to come to a shared understand and agreement about what was their core business and as a team focus and align their business to what is important and meaningful for them as a group but also what it means to engage individual members.
Team members are now speaking up at meetings and they have worked through a way that will engage Martin’s s need for pace and logic. The team has developed a 10 year vision and plan for the business which will “align their strengths, thereby making their weaknesses irrelevant”. Only then, has the team sought to ask the question “what technical changes do we need to make to our processes in order to support the adaptive vision of working to our strengths for most of the time.”? This team is becoming engaged because it is realigning and extending around their strengths.