How we empowered our staff with a strong vision

January 22, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

“People used to be focused on doing their job. But now they see things differently. They’re here to support the firm so that it’s a rewarding place.”

Imagine having staff so engaged and so invested in what you do!

I bet that most organisations would love to have a workforce like that…

…and would give anything to discover how to create one.

So today I’m going to reveal the secret to you.

It goes back to the mission I set you in my last blog post: To develop a really strong sense of purpose for your firm – a really strong sense of * why * you exist.

Let’s take a step back.

The quote I opened with comes from Andrew Sandiford of Bishop Fleming, one of Kreston’s UK firms.

Two years ago, when he became managing partner, he decided to take a fresh look at what his firm stood for and was all about.

“We had been hugely successful, but we’d achieved everything we could with our old model,” he told me recently. “It was time to renew the way we worked.”

Technically the firm already had a vision statement, which was to be in the top 30 UK firms.

“But we realised that doesn’t mean a great deal, it’s just a bland statement saying we want to grow. There was no articulation of why….”

“In fact,” adds Andrew, “I found 25 different statements of our core values – there was complete confusion about what we stood for.”

So Andrew gathered the partners to discuss what was important to them.

“We identified some key themes about being relationship-led and the power of experience over knowledge. We tried to get away from clichés like ‘value added’ and go deeper, to uncover what that really meant to us.”

Eventually, the Bishop Fleming leadership settled on a vision, but instead of publishing it far and wide, they “spent six months trying out the ideas, to test if they made sense.”

It was lucky they did, because they discovered that the values they had articulated were not easily understood.

“We had tried to encapsulate our thoughts in nice, snappy language, but it didn’t work. It sounded like a bunch of accountants trying to be creative!” laughs Andrew.

As a result they brought in a firm of external consultants, who ran focus groups with staff to make sure that everyone understood the vision in the same way.

So, for example, they had previously talked about achieving “a one-firm culture”, but they discovered that this meant something different to each staff member.

Eventually, they formulated their new vision – or rather, as they prefer to call it, their ambition (“because that is real language people can understand, not management-speak,” says Andrew):

To be the most rewarding accounting firm in the UK for our clients, our people and our communities.

This is supported by a detailed explanation of what “rewarding” means to them, the 5 values underpinning this statement and a short list of behaviours necessary to realise this “ambition”.

“The question was, how do we make this real?” says Andrew. “We knew that having a fancy statement wouldn’t mean anything unless we walked the walk.”

The key, he says, is to “test everything we do by bringing it back to our ambition, whether that’s pitching for a new client or hiring a new member of staff. If it doesn’t help us become the most rewarding firm, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

The firm encourages staff members to call out behaviour that does not fit in with their new values, and refers to the values at every opportunity – during workshops, in press releases, in training and in Andrew’s weekly blog.

And now we come to the impact – which has been far-reaching.

First, says Andrew, it has helped the firm behave with more consistency, because everyone clearly understands the firm’s goals and expectations.

Second, it has changed the company’s management style – empowering staff.

A few years ago, says Andrew, the company had lots of rules.

“But because our values are now so clear, we don’t have to tell people exactly how to do everything. They can judge for themselves whether their actions support our values and they’ve become more creative and entrepreneurial.”

“People used to be focused on doing their job. But now they see things differently. They’re here to support the firm so that it’s a rewarding place.”

And clients have loved the change, too.

“It gives you something to talk about other than ‘just’ accounts. Prospective clients want to talk about the kind of people we are and having a clear set of values makes it easier for them to decide whether they’ll get on with us.”

The bottom line is that a clear sense of purpose transforms firms – and I’m going to give you a second Kreston example next week, so watch out for that blog post!