Does anyone remember the movie Jerry Maguire? It was released in 1996, and starred Tom Cruise as a jaded sports agent/manager who finally came to the realisation that his approach (and the approach of his company) to what he did was simply wrong.
This realisation came to him one night when he wrote what he called a mission statement with the title “The things we think and do not say”.
While the concept certainly resonates with me, as there are plenty of things that I think about work but do not say, I would never actually be silly enough (at least not until the end of my career) to actually say them.
Jerry Maguire on the other hand was silly enough, and he published his mission statement and distributed 110 copies throughout his office. While he was greeted with applause the next day, he was also fired shortly thereafter, which was all fairly predictable.
It certainly makes me think though, how much stuff is there that I think but do not actually say about work? And when I get to the end of my career with our big firm (about 7.5 years and counting down), will I be prepared to say it, and would I do something about those things?
The answers to these questions are: yes lots of stuff, I’m not sure if I’ll be prepared to say it, and it’s unlikely that I will do anything about those things. To explain, I probably need to let you know what some of those things actually are.
What are the things I think and do not say?
How long is a piece of string? I could go on for days, but here are some of the issues that I know exist in the traditional accounting firm model that most firms won’t actually fix unless they are absolutely forced to.
1. Bigger firms have too many clients per partner, with partners having never even met many of the clients on their lists.
2. The timesheet system encourages us to gravitate towards services we can charge for, rather than those that are necessarily of value to our clients. Timesheets need to be killed off entirely.
3. We have no incentive to try new things that could be more effective for clients – why not just do the same old things and keep charging more for them?
4. Most accountants just charge more every year for the same service without even thinking. In what other industry does this actually happen? Many products actually go down in price, whereas ours go up regardless of what our costs are or how much simpler they have become.
5. Technology has seen us doing less work since the GST (sales tax) was introduced in 2000, but we charge more. I believe that we will try the same approach with cloud accounting (online accounting software, e.g. Xero) but it will fail as clients simply will not fall for this.
6. To adapt to the new world, we need to charge less for our services and carry less overheads. This unfortunately means that our old model (in big firms at least) of offering a “sky is the limit” career model for most staff has to end. The reality is that if we shrink in revenue, we must shrink in headcount, and also shrink in career opportunities. People don’t like the idea of this though as they believe that growth is the only thing that is worthwhile – they often think that endless consumption is the way to solve problems.
7. Many bigger firms have become too big and bloated, with too much bureacracy, too many layers, too many procedures, and not enough focus on our clients. Work is incredibly tedious because of all of these issues.
8. We are too driven by internal financial factors, with charging time, raising invoices and collecting payments from clients being the motivation behind too many decisions. Our internal KPIs encourage this behaviour and need to be modified.
And what am I going to do about these things?
Many firms would be considering these issues as part of their strategy development, and I for one am hoping that we can get some change in these areas within our firm. While we will move as quickly as the partner group is prepared to, this pace may not be as quick as many younger people in our firm would like.
Many of the points that need to be raised would be too confronting for some of the older partners in the industry, especially if they came from the mouth of a younger partner. I therefore believe that some of the above points will be off limits, while others will get discussed but not much action.
I actually believe that people in smaller firms may be better-placed to take action on some of these points, whereas bigger firms will need to wait a good three to five years before they have any significant movement on the bulk of these issues. It is all rather depressing, and isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to push for change, I just can’t see bigger firms moving along at the cutting edge like they possibly could.
So what about you – do you have any things that you think and do not say in your professional environment?
And have you ever thought about saying them and if so how you would go about it?
To finish on a lighter note…
It’s all rather sad really, but to prevent this from being such a depressing article about not really saying what you want to say, I think it’s appropriate to refer you to Saturday Night Live and this Sarah Bareilles Parody…