Is Your Firm’s Quality Sustainable in the New Economy?

May 30, 2018

Sustainability has become increasingly important for many as we look toward the future. Simply put, it is all about the ability to meet our current needs and those of our customers without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. While these discussions are generally focused around energy, environmental practices and consumption, there are many parallels CPA firms can draw upon in considering the sustainability of one of their most important assets, quality.

Let’s be clear, a long standing commitment to quality has resulted in accountants regularly being among the most trusted professions. But in this new economy, where the next generation prepares to take over as current leaders retire, will the profession be able to sustain this tradition of quality for future generations?

As you and your firm explore issues such as collaboration, flexible work environments, AI, blockchain, diversity and inclusion, don’t forget about your ongoing commitment to quality and how it could be impacted in this rapidly changing workplace. If not, you could be putting this foundational pillar of your firm and the profession in jeopardy.  

What can your firm do to sustain its commitment to quality?

The summer months are often a good time for CPAs to gather with their team and consider key issues to help the firm achieve success in the future. Although this one may sound like a daunting task, some proactive steps now can help your firm be well on its way to quality sustainability.

Here are six steps you and your colleagues can take to help ensure quality continues to find its proper place in your firm. Each one contains questions to help jumpstart the conversation. Don’t forget to note important talking points that emerge from your conversations. These points can be central to future conversations and action plans.

1. Revisit firm leaders’ ongoing commitment to quality

If you expect something to be embraced throughout the firm in this new workplace, especially something as important as quality, it needs to start at the top. No, not just lip service because it’s a hot topic but a true commitment that will be actively supported through words and actions.

  • Are your firm leaders committed to rethinking quality and how to sustain it going forward?
  • How will firm leaders support this renewed commitment?
  • Who is responsible for overseeing quality control in your practice?

Want some tools to help you with this process? Check out the Tone at the Top Action Plan a part of the PCPS Invigorate the Focus on Quality Toolkit to help guide you.

2. Reconsider how quality fits into the firm’s culture going forward

Once leaders have recommitted themselves to the sustainability of quality in your firm, reconsider how quality will fit into your culture going forward.

  • How will quality fit into your firm’s culture in the new economy?
  • How will new employees be introduced to the firm’s commitment to quality?
  • How will firm leaders encourage employees to deliver on its quality promise going forward?

Want some resources to help you with developing and strengthening culture? Check out the Staff Development & Culture section of the PCPS Firm in Motion e-Toolkit for easy to use tools you can put to work right away in your firm.

3. Review the firm’s quality practices for the new workplace

Your firm’s quality practices are more important than ever. If it’s been more than two years since your firm reviewed quality practices, it is time to take another look.  

  • Are your firm’s quality practices relevant for this new economy?
  • What will quality look like in your practice going forward?
  • What new considerations around quality are important for your firm to address?
  • What changes in your quality practices should you consider to bring them up to date?
  • Are additional quality practices needed as you prepare for a larger remote workforce?

AICPA Audit and Accounting Practice Aid

Take advantage of this practice aid to help develop the policies and procedures for your firm’s system of quality control. Use these questionnaires, which are now utilized by peer reviewers, to start thinking about the design of your quality control system and your firm’s compliance with the system.

4. Evaluate clients and prospects who are potential quality disruptors  

Your firm’s ability to deliver quality can be dependent upon the clients it serves. This means identifying clients that may be taxing the level of quality your firm is able to provide. Just after busy season is often the best time to do this, as recent interactions with many clients are fresh on your mind.

  • Do you have clients who disrupt the firm’s ability to provide quality services?
  • Are there other clients who have potential to disrupt the firm’s ability to provide quality audit services?
  • How do you address these situations with staff?

To increase quality, reduce engagement risk and improve profitability the Client Continuance Evaluation Tool can help you determine whether you are working with the clients that are a right fit for the firm.  

5. Reconsider how the proposal process fits into the quality equation  

The proposal process can be powerful in helping you identify potential clients who will fit nicely as your firm considers its quality equation.

  • How do you evaluate potential clients to make sure they are the right fit for your firm?
  • What questions should you ask prospective clients during the pre-proposal process?
  • What factors do you consider in determining whether your firm can provide high quality and profitable services to a prospective client?

There are a number of tools you can put to work in your practice as you reconsider the proposal process.

Use this tool to consider factors in determining whether your firm can provide high quality and profitable services.

Review this checklist before proposal meetings to help ensure you’re prepared for successful discussions with potential clients.

Take a look at some common client pricing objections and the related considerations and talking points when responding.

Post this resource on your website to help potential clients explore the proposal process, with a focus on choosing a firm that emphasizes quality services.

Create or enhance your proposals with elements that articulate your firm’s commitment to quality work and the unique experience and expertise your team offers.

Provide this tool to potential clients to assist them in evaluating proposals from CPA firms. This tool reminds clients that low cost should not overshadow value and audit quality. 

6. Reconsider how to get the most out of your peer review

Your firm’s peer review can provide a wealth of insight to help your practice sustain its level of quality.

  • Does your firm need assistance in selecting a peer review provider?
  • Are you getting the most out of your firm’s peer review?
  • Is your peer reviewer offering guidance to help your firm consider its quality control as the firm looks toward the future?

There are a number of tools in place on the AICPA’s website to provide guidance in helping your firm get the most out of its peer review.  

Use this tool to help your firm locate and select the right peer reviewer for your firm.

Use this resource to get advice for finding a quality peer reviewer to make the most of the firm’s peer review.

This guide will help your firm consider ideas on adding more value to your peer reviewer relationship.

You can put these resources to work as peer reviewers will be increasing their emphasis on the most common cause of material non-conformity, lack of documentation. Help prepare your firm with these helpful tools. 

Here’s to taking purposeful steps now to help sustain your firm’s quality commitment for the future.