BLI Leadership | Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

Secrets of High Performing CPA Firms

"First I get all of my men facing in the same direction." -- Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte, when asked about the secret to his success on the battlefield

I know what you are thinking: What does Napoleon have to do with running a CPA firm?

Let's start with the business climate today. Uncertainty abounds -- fierce competition, constantly changing landscape, rapid change, increasing complexity.

I see some amazing similarities to the battlefront and the need to get everyone "facing the same direction."

What about your firm? Are you feeling increased competition? Partner conflict and lack of accountability? Worried about attracting and retaining your top talent? What about cross-selling? 

These were just some of the insights participants shared at my presentation at the CCH Users Conference this past November.

Take a look at some of the statistics and feedback from the group (from small firms to very large firms -- slide 6):

  • 46 percent of participants (over 200) said their firms did not have a strategic plan.
  • 59 percent said their partners were not on the same page or not sure.
  • 80 percent said "maybe" or "no" when asked if their teams understood their strategy.
  • 61 percent said their firm vision / strategy was not inspiring (or were unsure).

Just look at the biggest challenges on slide 11 and you will see "getting the partners on the same page" as the biggest issue facing firms today.

Now think about this for a minute. If the partners are not on the same page, what is it like for the staff?

And who is most likely to leave your firm first? The worst talent? NOT! 

High Performance CPA Firms - CCHUC12 from Tom Hood  

In our strategy and leadership work, we like to think of challenges as nothing more than frustrated opportunities.

So what is the big opportunity in this?

Create a workstream to collaborate with your partners and create a vision and strategy for your firm that gets everyone on the same page.


Yes, everyone.

What would happen if everyone knew where you were going and why? (See an example of the MACPA's one-page strategic plan here).

Top talent would feel they have a future, partners would work better together, cross-selling would happen naturally, and most importantly, you will get the magic of that discretionary effort. The hearts and minds of your people putting their shoulders to the flywheel of your organization. The potential impact is staggering. See the ROI slide 29 and employee engagement stats on slide 38.

One of my favorite quotes is, "In order to buy in, they have to weigh in," by Pat Lencioni. Using a simple strategic planning framework and cascading that throughout your organization (slide 57) with engagement and feedback produces the magic we call E-A-C-A:

  • Engagement
  • Alignment
  • Commitment
  • Accountability

That's the secret to high performing firms -- they have a clear vision and strategy and have enagaged and aligned their partners and their entire team to that strategic plan, and everyone is on the same page.   In our experience, we have seen the benefits of a "cascading strategy" that is based on collaboration and engagement. Several firms featured in that presentation have seen tremendous benefits like growth, Top Places to Work awards, and most importantly, fun and energizing places to work that get results.   Your next strategic plan can be inspiring, collaborative and engaging (see the wordle on slide 46 of a major firm full partner session). We have experience with more than 100 strategic plans over the past five years that range from top 10 CPA firms to small local firms. We used our i2a: Insights to Action strategic thinking process to do the future forums for the AICPA CPA Horizons 2025 Project and have facilitated strategic plans for 15 state CPA societies and numerous committees of the AICPA, giving us insights into the profession that are unique to our team. Let us know if you need help thinking about how you can do this at your firm. For information, contact Amy Stumme (, our executive ambassador.