Firms who have transformed from traditional workflows and compliance services almost always have a compelling vision that guided their transformation.
A vision statement is an aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve in the future (typically one to three years). The purpose is to provide a clear guide for prioritizing resources and aligning action plans. A compelling vision can galvanize and inspire a group of people to accomplish amazing things together. The absence of a clear vision can result in people pursuing misaligned agendas and feeling frustrated with a lack of progress.
A vision statement is not your mission statement. While related, a mission statement should be more enduring, more strategic, and clearer about why you exist as a firm. A vision statement should be inspirational enough to transform the firm from its current state to the ideal state in the next one to three years. Steve Jobs’ vision statement for the original Apple iPod was “a thousand songs in your pocket.” His vision provided the inspiration, without defining the ‘what’ or ‘how,’ that the team designed over the next few years.
Here are some suggestions to create a compelling vision for your firm.
- Engage your team. Visioning is a firm exercise, so you’ll want to tap into the wisdom of your entire team. Engaging the team ensures alignment with the final vision when you are ready to move from vision to action. Diversity of thought will also help expose some of the blind spots that are holding you back. If you don’t have a team, get a team, because if you were capable of transformation by yourself, you’d already be a butterfly. Join an active community of forward-thinking peers- either online, in an association, or local group of practitioners.
- Define your why. Accountants are great at communicating ‘what’ we do, but many firms miss the opportunity to communicate why we do what we do. Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why- How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” (https://youtu.be/u4ZoJKF_VuA) is a great resource to ground your team and collectively explore why you exist as a firm. Once you define your ‘why,’ the rest of the visioning exercise will flow easier. Make sure you assign a scribe to capture everyone’s feedback as part of your visioning exercise.
- Define your current state. Be critical. Unpack everyone’s workflow challenges, team frustrations, the value of each client service offered, billing model challenges, communication challenges, the value of client deliverables, and the impact the firm makes on the lives of clients. Identify the barriers that prevent your firm from engaging deeply to make as great a difference as possible, which sometimes includes limiting assumptions or beliefs.
- Design your ideal state. Be bold. Think big and start from the client perspective. List the services that would delight clients. Brainstorm processes clients would love to eliminate and list the workflows employees want to automate. Talk about the work that is exciting and list the work delivers significant value for clients. Define your ideal client or niche industry. Brainstorm the ideal outcomes for the firm and clients. Finally, think through how the firm would like to be rewarded for the value you deliver. During brainstorming, no idea is a bad idea, and more is better, so dig deep. Group your current and ideal state insights into logical buckets like employees, clients, services, processes, deliverables, and business model.
- Create your compelling vision. A visioning exercise can take a few hours to a full day. Once your team has grounded on your why and has a clear picture of the current and ideal state, you are ready to craft your vision statement. If you keep it short and inspirational, it will be easier for the team to memorize and implement. Confirm your new vision statement aligns and supports your firm’s mission statement.
Let’s explore some examples of vision statements. Intuit’s mission is to ‘power prosperity for small businesses and families’ – which are your clients. That is short enough to memorize and inspirational enough to guide every employee in the work we do. While we mostly focus on financial outcomes, prosperity includes far more than just better financial results. The same applies with your clients. We use vision statements to align product roadmaps and help us prioritize the work we do. The vision statement for QuickBooks is to ‘be the center of small business growth.’ Notice we don’t mention bookkeeping or accounting or compliance work, which is what QuickBooks does. Instead, the vision statement drives the prioritizing question by every employee, ‘does this action help small business grow?’
Amazon’s vision is “to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” That is a really, really big vision, but one that Amazon has crushed with a vengeance. In fact, half of everything sold on Amazon comes from small and medium businesses who now have a first-class marketplace to sell their products. In other words, Amazon is willing to host competitors to realize its vision.
Great achievements usually begin with clear vision and most leading firms started with a compelling vision that helped create shared vision for the team to transform the traditional practice, the services, the workflows, the deliverables, and the business model to make a greater difference the clients. A compelling vision gives the team purpose and inspiration, which you will need to stay faithful to the journey when you encounter the inevitable challenges along the way.
In the next installment, we’ll examine how leading firms update their service offerings to lead with tax planning and advisory services.
Author Bio: Jim Buffington is a CPA and leads the ProConnect Customer Council, supports Intuit’s E-file Security initiatives, and acts as the Customer Liaison for Intuit ProConnect, where he learns best practices from leading firms to share with the profession. Before joining Intuit, he was in public practice for a dozen years as a partner in an East Texas firm preparing oil & gas tax returns. Jim used Lacerte & QuickBooks software in practice, and loves improving processes and technology to drive productivity and better client experiences. Jim’s passion is helping Tax & Accounting Professionals lead with planning and advisory services to help power prosperity for businesses & families. You can find him teaching Tax Pro courses or in TaxProTalk, a video series for ProConnect customers. Jim is an Aggie, he has been with Intuit ProConnect for 17 years. Connect with him on Twitter @jimatintuit