The things we think and do not say

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.

Jerry Magquire writes his mission statement titled "The things we think and do not say". This concept really resonates with me in our big accounting firm world where we have often lost the whole point of what we are doing.

Jerry Maguire writes his mission statement titled “The things we think and do not say”. This concept really resonates with me in our big accounting firm world where we have often lost the whole point of what we are doing.

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…


5 thoughts on “The things we think and do not say

  1. Maybe you could go freelance/start your own firm and provide the service that is lacking? When I was a student, I found a job working as a CA’s assistant. She did just that. Left the big firm, took some clients with her, and started up on her own. She wasn’t doing anything cutting edge (I don’t think), but her clients loved her and the service she provided. She was hoping I would become an accountant too, but having worked in the field, I know it’s not for me.

    Accounting IS bureaucratic enough. I can’t even imagine having to pile on more bureaucracy throughout the layers of a big firm. If I needed accounting services, I would go small to medium firm, just from my experience.

    • Yeah, going out on your own certainly has its appeal, but leaving the firm brings a lot of issues (legal, ethical, personal) that would be very hard to overcome.

      I often say to my peers at work that we need to take lessons from smaller firms but I don’t think they really understand. I have some of my best friends working in smaller firms so the differences (i.e. benefits) of smaller firms are staring me in the face most of the time. It’s frustrating to not be able to do much about it though.

      I have often said to my friends that I would certainly go to a smaller frim if I ever needed an accountant (not that I would ever need one of course), unless I had a very large business with serious technical issues.

      Some days are terrible in a big firm, but I just need to push past them and remind myself that it will all be worth it in a relatively small number of years!

      • Your colleagues probably understand what you mean by learning from the smaller firms, but most aren’t willing to make changes because it’s inconvenient at the outset.

        Might your friends working in small firms also be envious of the benefits you get from working in a big firm? Sometimes the grass is always greener.

        Except when you retire early, then you’re on the greener side. 🙂

        • Yeah, there are pros and cons to smaller and larger firms. Perhaps my FI journey (and limiting costs and increasing efficiency that go with it) is what makes me question the value of the larger firm model.

          As you say though, the grass always seems greener, so I just need to stay positive – it’s not like the financial rewards aren’t there for putting up with the bureaucracy!

  2. Pingback: 10 Questions with Insider Accountant - 1500 Days to Freedom1500 Days to Freedom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *