Tax & Accounting Blog

Can Collaborative Management Work at Accounting Firms?

Accounting Firms, Business Strategy & Development, Professional Development February 23, 2016

If you’ve worked in the accounting profession long enough, your understanding of the pathway to equity ownership includes working long hours, over many years, with the goal of being asked to buy-in as a partner. After all, the next generation should have to work the same way you did to reach the top, right? Wrong. The foundation of the accounting profession’s time-honored management model is splintering as millennials now surpass Baby Boomers as the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce—and technology is supporting this divide.

To account for the sweeping change driven by the expectations of millennials and rapidly evolving technology, the most successful accounting firms are beginning to adopt a new management approach. It’s a term known as collaborative management and it’s defined as a management practice focused on leadership skills across functional and organizational boundaries. This approach is vastly different than the hierarchical structure most of us in the accounting profession are used to, but it’s what makes companies like Google so appealing to the younger generation.

Forward-looking firms are giving collaborative management practices a go by using technology to give staff more flexible work hours, providing more opportunities for self-management, and offering staff the ability to build niche practices. It’s a move that not only proves profitable, but one that could also help cure the 17.1% staff turnover rate within the accounting firm profession—a rate that’s at its highest point in over 10 years.

“With Baby Boomers retiring in droves, it’s time for accounting firms to appeal to the younger generation,” says Alan Long, CPA, CITP, CGMA, and managing member of Baldwin CPAs, a four office firm in Kentucky. “Technology is the key to attracting and retaining millennials—not only from a staff standpoint, but a customer standpoint. Anytime, anywhere access allows firms to provide better client service and greater flexibility for staff and clients. A collaborative approach is really what the younger generation is looking for.”

A collaborative management approach also encourages staff to work together, as opposed to solely focusing on their individual climb up the hierarchical ladder. That makes firms much more productive—and fosters a better work environment for everyone involved.

“In a collaborative work environment, there is a focus on “knowledge transfer” so that client information is not locked up inside the head of any single staff member,” says Paul Miller, Founder and President of Business By Design. “By sharing information, any member of our staff can assist a client, as opposed to only certain staff members working with certain clients.”

While hierarchical management may still reign supreme at most accounting firms, the seeds of collaborative management practices are being sewn as more and more firms adopt cloud-based applications, client portals, and workflow software that enables staff to work collectively. If your firm is using these types of technology, chances are you’re on your way to adopting a collaborative management approach.

Is your firm managing collaboratively?

With evidence mounting for the benefits of collaborative management supported by the latest technology, is your accounting firm changing its management approach? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Share it with me in the comments section below.