Ditch the dogma and do some­thing bet­ter

Mak­ing your firm bet­ter ev­ery day is a choice you can make, Dar­ren Root ex­plains in his new col­umn

Accounting Today - - Spotlight - By Dar­ren Root

“Your time is lim­ited, so don’t waste it liv­ing some­one else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is liv­ing with the re­sults of other peo­ple’s think­ing.”

Steve Jobs knew how to mo­ti­vate and in­spire, which is ex­actly what he did dur­ing his com­mence­ment speech to Stanford Univer­sity grads in 2005. He in­spired hun­dreds of mil­len­nial minds with this sin­gle, pro­found state­ment … and mine as well.

Chang­ing the world one fresh-eyed grad at a time was Job’s pur­pose that day. He cer­tainly wasn’t look­ing to change the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion, but af­ter lis­ten­ing to his speech, I was. It made me think about the so­called “in­con­tro­vert­ibly true prin­ci­ples” … the dogma … that weighs down our pro­fes­sion. The dogma that keeps us think­ing and work­ing the way it’s al­ways been done — sim­ply be­cause it’s the way it’s al­ways been done. Our in­con­tro­vert­ibly true prin­ci­ples are that we must work long hours; view our­selves as task-ori­ented tech­ni­cians; that it’s all about bill­able hours and the time we spend in the of­fice; that there is no room for cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. This is the dogma of our pro­fes­sion … does it feel fa­mil­iar? Does it res­onate that you are liv­ing the re­sults of other peo­ple’s think­ing?

I made a con­scious choice years ago to sub­vert some of the “true prin­ci­ples” I had been raised to be­lieve. The habits and ex­pec­ta­tions that have been handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion sim­ply don’t ring true any­more, and are soul-crush­ing ob­sta­cles to build­ing a firm for the mod­ern age — one that al­lows you to live the life you want and de­serve.

My “Bet­ter Ev­ery Day” col­umn is the re­sult of my life’s work to both trans­form my own firm into a mod­ern, thriv­ing busi­ness where cre­ativ­ity and cul­ture reign, and my pas­sion to help other firms do the same. We live in an era of great op­por­tu­nity, where tech­nol­ogy has lev­eled the play­ing field, ge­og­ra­phy is no longer a bar­rier, and client ad­vi­sory op­por­tu­ni­ties are end­less. You no longer have to live with the re­sults of other’s think­ing. The choice is yours to ditch the dogma and do things your way. Whether this means serv­ing clients vir­tu­ally, build­ing out a re­mote staff, em­brac­ing an en­joy­able work sched­ule, mov­ing into monthly busi­ness ad­vi­sory ser­vices and re­duc­ing the amount of once-a-year tax en­gage­ments … the fact is that it’s all doable, and the choice is yours.

Where do you start?

Mov­ing out of old habits and trans­form­ing your firm is no small task. It won’t hap­pen overnight, but it can be­gin im­me­di­ately — one task at a time. It’s about get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day, and that means im­ple­ment­ing change in man­age­able, in­cre­men­tal doses.

So, where do you start? What worked for me was first chang­ing the way I thought about my­self, my busi­ness … my over­all ex­is­tence as a hu­man. And like with most, there was a book that changed the course of ev­ery­thing for me. Near the begin­ning of my ca­reer, I moon­lighted as a Covey fa­cil­i­ta­tor, ed­u­cat­ing groups of pro­fes­sion­als on the “seven habits.” It was Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple,” and more specif­i­cally, Habits 1, 2 and 3, that in­spired me to change both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally. It taught me the im­por­tance of get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day. Covey’s first three habits form what he de­fines as your “per­sonal vic­tory.” And what bet­ter place to start than with a vic­tory?

Habit 1: Be proac­tive. Sim­ply trans­lated, you have a choice. You have the power to write your own story. Covey teaches that there’s a space be­tween stim­u­lus and re­sponse — where in that mo­ment you get to choose your re­sponse to what­ever stim­u­lus is com­ing at you. To re­late this to the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion, con­sider that it’s tax sea­son and a po­ten­tial new tax prospect is knock­ing at your door. It’s in this mo­ment you get to de­cide how you re­spond. Do you ac­cept any­one who walks through the door, or do you care­fully vet the prospect to de­ter­mine the po­ten­tial of be­ing a long-term, ideal client? Be­ing proac­tive about build­ing my busi­ness with ideal clients — that is, those who were both a good fit for my busi­ness model and I also en­joyed serv­ing — was a whole new way of think­ing for me.

Habit 2: Be­gin with the end in mind. It’s likely that you’ve heard this be­fore. It’s a fairly well-known and ap­plied con­cept in busi­ness. The goal of Habit 2 is to iden­tify where you want to end up. That ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion. Do you want a busi­ness that sup­ports the life you want to live? That is, one that does not rely on you to op­er­ate ev­ery day … one where you and your staff can work from wher­ever, when­ever? A busi­ness where tax sea­son is not the key driver of your life for six months of the year and tax work is not your core of­fer­ing? A busi­ness com­posed of ideal clients — those who rep­re­sent monthly re­cur­ring, long-term ad­vi­sory en­gage­ments and who you like to serve?

Re­call the new tax prospect ex­am­ple from above. The ac­tion you take with this prospect should be driven by Habit 2. What is it you want out of your busi­ness — your end goal? If your vi­sion is to have a life where you can be at home evenings and week­ends, not held hostage by the chaos of tax sea­son, then what you de­cide be­tween the space of stim­u­lus and re­sponse will drive your long-term out­comes. This is an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, but you get the idea.

Dar­ren Root, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is CEO of Root­works, one of the pro­fes­sion’s lead­ing mem­ber­ship-based ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions, and founder and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Lis­cio, a se­cure-shar­ing so­lu­tion that keeps data be­tween firms and their clients. Sub­scribe to his “Bet­ter Ev­ery Day” pod­cast on itunes or lis­ten to it at root­works.com/pod­cast for a deeper dive on the top­ics dis­cussed in this col­umn.

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