This week we’re excited to release our latest interview with Dan Griffiths, Director of Strategic Planning at Tanner LLC. Prior to this role, Dan co-founded a consulting firm, Proficio Services Group, where he was focused on strategy and leadership. In addition, Dan has recently been recognized with the AICPA Outstanding Young CPA Award.
In this episode, we dive into:
- What firms should be focused on when outlining next year’s goals.
- How to build a strategic tangible plan that is less than 1 page in length.
- How to involve your team to champion your strategic plan
Click Below To Listen:
Around December of each year, most firm owners tend to stop and reflect on the year. Recognize their strengths and identify the key factors that could be improved upon. Then, look to 2016 to determine the tangible items needed, to accomplish their future goals.
This is where Dan Griffiths comes into play. In 2011, Dan co-founded a consulting firm focused specifically on how to help firms build their strategic goals and the leadership needed to implement these goals.
Seeing a tremendous opportunity to grow together with a very well-respected professional services firm, Dan merged his practice with Tanner, LLC and began serving a large number of clients to help them build successful companies.
In today’s episode, we discuss the exact steps accounting firm owners and companies should take to implement a strategic plan. In addition, we begin to discuss the importance of involving your team members and what it could mean for your firm, if they are able to champion this strategic plan for themselves.
Let’s dive in.
How Do You Build A Strategic Plan?
To start off, Dan mentions that the most important thing to do, when trying to build a strategic plan is to not develop a 5 year, 30 page daunting plan that will never be accomplished.
Instead, try breaking out the plan into smaller pieces with clear & measurable goals.
For example, Tanner LLC has a total of 100 headcount. Dan understands that they do not have the resources to engage in a long, drawn out strategic planning process. Instead, you need to stick to a one page plan.
The One Page Strategic Plan
The goal in creating a strategic plan is to make it simple to understand, clear to your team members, and tangible.
Dan calls it the “One Page Plan” rule.
He states that if you cannot fit the strategic items on a single page, then you need to go back to the drawing board and start trimming it down.
“The key is simplicity when building a strategic plan” -Dan Griffiths
As an example, with Tanner LLC, they have four key areas of their plan. They call these areas, “buckets”, and are outlined as follows:
- Top Talent Bucket
- Business Development Bucket
- Client Relationships Bucket
- Internal Process Excellence Bucket
Every 90 Days, Tanner LLC asks an important question:
What can we do to move the needle forward, in each of these four areas?
As Dan goes on to mention, “we’re not trying to change the world with things. We are just keeping it short and focused.”
How Do You Refine Your Strategic Plan To Stay Short & Focused?
These four buckets at Tanner, LLC have stayed relatively consistent from year to year. Since it hits every aspect of the firm, they do not anticipate a lot of change in creating these buckets.
Instead, the change comes from the context beneath the buckets on how to achieve their goals. This is where your team members come into play.
The Importance Of Involving Your Team Members, From Top To Bottom
The best way to create the context behind the buckets, and start developing tangible metrics, is to brainstorm with your team members, from staff to partner.
“I think the more you can do to involve people at all levels of your organization, the better off you will be in hitting those goals.” - Dan Griffiths
An idea on how to involve your team members can be as simple as creating small meetings with different members of your team. The meeting could be 45 minutes to 1 hour long where the context is to brainstorm. No idea is a bad idea.
Sticky notes can become your friend during these meetings. You can start outlining the wall with sticky notes that hold items your team believes are most important.
The main thing to focus on here is if your team is going to champion your strategic plan, they must be involved with creating it.
“If they are going to buy in to your plan, they have to first weigh in. Your team members have to see all of the relevant pieces of context that's involved in the strategic plan. Once they can see this, they can align their own personal goals and objectives with the things that are most important to the firm.” - Dan Griffiths
Alright, I have my team members involved with creating a strategic plan. Now what?
Perform The “Bold Future” Exercise
One of the first things to do in your strategic planning team meeting, is to ask your team members to imagine that their firm has just spent the last 5-7 years accomplishing every goal they created. They are sitting in Hawaii, celebrating their success and proud of everything they have accomplished.
Once the setting has been set, ask your team members the following questions:
- What does success at this firm look like to you?
- What have you done to have this success?
- What have you created together, as a team to call for a Hawaiian celebration?
The purpose of this exercise is to take yourself out of the current day grind, and think about 5-7 years from now. What does success look like in a perfect world and how can you accomplish those goals?
With regards to Tanner, LLC, below are their strategic goals that fall under their Top Talent Bucket. They imagined a world where:
- Every single accounting student in the state of Utah really wants to come work for Tanner. They get the best and brightest students, even before the Big 4 has a chance to recruit them.
- They have solid relationships with the college professors who recommend Tanner to their students.
- The accounting professionals in Utah who are looking to move firms, know of Tanner and has Tanner on the top of their list.
Tanner, LLC knows this world does not exist, yet, but the purpose is to identify how they can maneuver their firm to have the best chance at hitting these goals.
“We know we are not there and we may never fully get there, but what are we going to do in the next 90 days to move us in that direction? We start at that point in driving the context of our goals.” - Dan Griffiths
Why Set 90 Day Goals Instead Of Yearly Goals?
Dan begins to discuss a research he came across that was performed by Deloitte. In this research, Deloitte found that companies that engage in a quarterly goal setting cadence, from top to bottom, are 3 ½ times more likely to perform in the top quartile of their industry than their peers who only set goals annually.
Dan goes on to mention that if you create bite sized goals, and just focus on hitting them in 90 days, the chances of hitting those goals are significantly higher than if you were just going to revisit them at the end of each year.
Do You Have Firm Overall Goals And Individual Team Member Goals?
At Tanner, LLC, each team member will create their own strategic goals that will line up with their personal & professional desires. Then, review the goals to see where they intersect with thier firm’s overall goals, or buckets.
For example, if a new staff member has the goal to pass the CPA exam, this goal is directly related to Tanner, LLC’s bucket of Top Talent. Their individual goal is perfectly aligned with what the firm has set as their own goals to accomplish.
Dan goes on to describe an incident where a new staff member was involved with building the strategic goals of the firm, and it aligned directly with Tanner’s buckets.
“We have had new staff set the goals along the firm buckets of client relationships & practice development. For example, one staff came up with the idea of researching all of the audit engagements they were assigned to and see how many of those client engagements that they also perform the tax work.’
‘If there are any audit clients that Tanner does not perform the tax work for, the staff mentioned that he could take the initiative to ask the client questions and see if there might be an opportunity there.” - Dan Griffiths
It can be a very powerful initiative if you can get your team to start thinking with the firm’s & their own goals in mind.
Now that the team is on board, and the goals have been set, what happens when the buckets wind up changing or a new goal needs to be implemented inside the strategic plan?
When The Buckets Shift, Here’s What To Do
Recently, Dan was working with a client who held a firm retreat to discuss their strategic plan. The outcome of the retreat meant a new bucket needed to be created.
It is important to consistently be reflecting on your buckets and making sure they are aligned with the future path of your firm (Your Firm’s Bold Future).
This means that when one bucket has been added, you need to make a decision as though another bucket now needs to be removed.
“Because the power comes from the focus. If you got 10 buckets, nobody can keep those in their mind. But if you have 3-4 buckets, then that’s much more doable.” - Dan Griffiths
The Overall Strategic Planning System
To recap the interview with Dan Griffiths, here is the key process in creating a strategic plan that is on track to creating a successful firm future:
- Create A One Page Strategic Plan With 3-5 Buckets (i.e. Firm Goals)
- Determine Your Bold Future (What does it look like if you hit all of your goals in 5-7 years?)
- Set a Timer Of 90 Days To Hit, Reflect & Tweak These Goals
- Request Your Team Members To Create Their Own Goals And Determine The Parallels Within The Firm Goals
With the strategic planning system in mind, what are your 3-5 buckets listed on your strategic plan for next year? Leave a comment to let us know!