Does Firm Culture Still Matter?

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Who you are and what you stand for as a firm can mean a lot of things, but if you aren’t explicit about what exactly it is you are about, you may as well say nothing.

I know, this is a bold statement, but over the years I’ve heard the term “firm culture” tossed around so freely that I daresay, when pressed, firm leaders will be challenged to have a legitimate answer when asked what it actually is.

This discussion came up as recently as the AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE event in early June, chatted about it during breaks, at cocktail hour, and even in a pointed session, “Building an Irresistible Employer Brand in a Competitive Talent Market.” It centered around the idea that if you don’t entirely know or aren’t explicit about what your firm culture is, you will have difficulty attracting and possibly even retaining talent.

In an era where the so-called accounting ‘pipeline’ is dwindling, no firm can afford not to know what they stand for. And yet, to my earlier point, so many firms tout their culture as what separates them from other firms, with very few being able to explain in any detail what that “culture” is.

So let me give you a few thoughts on what I have heard actually works to help identify what your culture is. Moreover, how to know when it’s working or not:

  • Every interaction with your firm should leave no doubt about who you are and what you stand for.
  • As a firm leader, can you definitively answer what exactly differentiates you from other firms?
  • Also, if you don’t know, if you ask your people, will they be able to answer?
  • Do you know why a new candidate would choose your firm over any other?
  • Is your firm’s culture by design or by default?

From what I’ve seen, where it works, is that firm ‘culture’ can be a myriad of things, but it all ties back to its principals, its values, and its goals. For example, if you value life/work balance, be able to express at least three ways you’re doing this. Or, if social/community outreach is your thing, list what you have done over the past year within your community.

Get the picture? Details count, and so does having your people be able to uniformly state what the culture actually is. As I stated above, if you don’t know, ask. In fact, you should be regularly engaged with your team, whether it’s a staff of three or 300. Get feedback regularly (monthly, quarterly, whatever works to just keep your north star in view).

There is certainly much that needs to change about how accountants work, are paid, and what they truly look like. We will continue to rinse and repeat this until there is a noticeable change.

But aside from that, you, as a firm leader, have the power to help establish and maintain a culture of which you and your staff can be proud. This will be the story to tell, and it will help with whatever pipeline issues you have, perceived or otherwise.

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