CPA firm leaders are the key to the growth of the firm, care of the team, and delivery of innovative services to clients. As a firm grows, firm leaders’ roles can become taxed and out of balance. This is common, especially with faster paced growth. One way to rebalance a firm leader’s role is to split that role into additional leaders. This article is about how the role of the owner can be enhanced by being divided into other team members.
CPA firm leaders can’t do it all.
They are responsible for the vision and observing the markets that the firm serves. This takes time so they need help to run their firm effectively when they grow. As the firm scales larger, then there are more people to care for, and probably more complex offerings being delivered to more complex clients. With this complexity comes the realization that the owner has to stop doing some things so they can focus on other healthy things. It’s about more than just increasing efficiency.
At this point of growth, it’s wise to assess all that the CPA firm leaders do, and begin to split their roles into brand new roles that other team members can embody and fill. These ‘management’ level roles are not necessarily owners (though they could be) but do represent the owners to the larger team. The owners do many things (because they have to), but it’s wise to split roles to new management level team members in more defined specific ways.
For example, firm owners may do many things such as remain the technical lead on all tax and audit work, oversee the movement of marketing activities, and assist an administrative professional in managing the operations and pricing of the firm. While these are all important functions of the firm, the same owner(s) can’t do them all as the firm becomes larger. There ultimately become too many tax returns and audits to review, too many marketing activities to do well in order to attract new clients, and not enough time to get all of the invoices out the door.
It’s that point when CPA firm leaders can create a new role, such as a Technical Review Manager, and move all technical review of tax and audit to a new person from the team. This is called a promotion and is meant to relieve the owner of that portion of their work so they can focus on the work of growing the firm and caring for the team. Unlike the owners’ roles, this new role is much more specific. Where the owner did many, many things to keep the firm going, this new Technical Review Manager is responsible for a specific part of what the owner used to do – reviewing and overseeing the quality of the technical tax and audit engagements.
As owners split off their roles to team members with new roles, the management becomes more specific in their work. This benefits the new management team member in getting to focus deeply in one area where the owner was probably not able to fully focus. The firm is benefited over time with a higher quality of technical review since the role is now focused.
This scenario plays out over and over as the owner continually sheds specific duties of firm leadership to other strong, competent team members on the team. Of course, the firm owner could hire someone from outside the firm to perform these more specific management duties, but it is much harder to bring in a leader to embody the culture and represent the owner to the team.
But this must happen in this new leadership role.
This team member’s new role is meant to be a ‘surrogate owner’ so to speak. That is, they are meant to become the eyes and ears of the owners leading the team and the engagements in the specific way the owner would want them to do. This is key. Management leaders of a firm with new responsibilities passed down by the owners are to lead the way the owners want.
As the owner(s) sheds most of their roles to other team members they’ve promoted, they then step into a care role of leading a management team. Where the owner used to lead a team in a smaller environment, they become a caregiver of a leadership team that is meant to serve the larger team.
This is true for small, mid, and larger accounting firms.
The number of CPA firm leaders may change, but the principles are the same.
The firm can grow in a healthy way with caring oversight from the owner, and continue to uphold the strength of the firm’s technical reputation to the surrounding community. This process can be years in the making and could take many ups and downs as owners learn who can and cannot lead in a management level position. But the owner will get better at this skill of identifying leaders, supporting them and guiding them towards how to care for a team in their specific assigned roles. Though the learning curve is steep, this process of defining a CPA firm leader’s role can create a strong healthy firm that outlives the original owners for many years to come.
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