4 ways to strengthen culture in your firm
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4 ways to strengthen culture in your firm

3 years ago · 2 min read

Fall has finally arrived. The change in season is the perfect time to evaluate your firm’s inner workings and maybe even switch up your routine. Are your staff and clients happy? Are you fostering a work environment where staff feel energized, supported and have growth opportunities available to them?

People need the right blend of opportunities, challenges and accomplishments to achieve optimal success. And when the environment is right, growth can flourish. We asked three successful firm leaders how they’ve nurtured their firm’s cultural climate. This is what they said:

1. Define your desired culture and core beliefs.

Andy Armanino, CPA, managing partner of California-based Armanino LLP, leads his firm on the concept of providing a unique level of client service that makes a difference in clients’ lives. By promoting internal behaviors to staff that support his firm values including: positive energy, empowerment and being “wickedly smart,” Armanino has developed a strong firm culture for more than 1,000 employees.

Gabrielle Luoma, CPA, of GMLCPA in Tucson, Ariz., says she started her firm with the vision of continuously creating more value for both clients and staff. Luoma says it’s important for clients to know the firm is focused on giving them the value and attention they deserve rather than just billing a certain number of hours. This builds a whole new level of trust with clients – something very important to Luoma.

2. Foster a climate that allows innovation to take root and grow.

Armanino challenges his staff to really listen to clients to gain a new perspective of their needs. “When you combine a desire for a deep understanding with smart people, innovative solutions just come naturally,” he says.

Luoma’s staff of 15 all work remotely. She gives staff the freedom of flexible hours and unlimited paid time off. Luoma says her staff have proven they’re dedicated to providing value to both the firm and their clients. And in turn, staff see the value in their work and want to produce innovative and quality results.

3. Grow people rather than products.

Supporting your staff through continuing professional education (CPE) is one part of fostering an environment where growth can flourish. Erin Roche, CPA, of Elliot CPA Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., says they require technical staff to complete double the CPE required by their state board. But they make sure staff aren’t “punished” for taking time to complete CPE by coming back to large piles of work in the office.

4. Develop leaders and successors.

Team leaders at Elliot CPA Group are expected to participate in community leadership. “We ‘brag’ to staff about these community leadership roles and look for ways to get them involved,” says Roche. As staff become more visible in the community, not only does the firm benefit from increased exposure, individuals experience new leadership opportunities and have a chance to grow professionally, too.

Armanino says he doesn’t worry about handing over the reins of the firm to the next generation because of the leaders they’ve developed. “I know that I need to follow my own advice and the firm will be in great hands.”

Culture is important in firms of all sizes. No matter your current climate, a change – even just a small spark – could be exactly what your firm needs to recharge its batteries and spark engagement with staff.

The AICPA recently launched a new podcast on small firm culture. In the series, you can listen to small firm leaders across the country talk about how they run a successful practice in today’s rapidly changing environment.

It’s also beneficial to your firm to support staff on their journey towards achieving CPA Exam success. The CPA Culture of Support Toolkit has more information and unique ideas on ways you can best support your CPA candidates.

Lisa Simpson, CPA, CGMA

Lisa is Vice President — Firm Services for the AICPA. She leads the Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) team in the development of practice management tools that address topics most important to firm owners. Lisa and her team develop and foster relationships with firms of all sizes, including through the AICPA’s Major Firms Group and Group of 400 initiatives as well as networking groups for small firms. Lisa began her career with EY gaining audit and tax experience in her six years with the firm. She then worked for a small firm in Lexington, Kentucky for five years. Lisa has 20+ years of industry experience as well, having served as the CFO for non-profit and for-profit organizations before joining the AICPA in 2012. Lisa graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and is licensed as a CPA in NC and KY.

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