When the Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Crazy doesn’t get better by adding more crazy.

By Dom Cingoranelli

“We can’t really enforce this because we don’t want to risk having him (or her) quit.”

I can’t tell you how many times we hear something to this effect when we talk with CPAs. We hear this at small firms and we hear it at large firms. We hear it from partners, from directors, and from managers. It doesn’t matter what size firm they’re in, nor does it matter what level or position they hold.

It’s always the same line. It reminds me of the old adage, “the inmates are running the asylum.” And, it raises the question of who actually is running the firm. Who’s in charge?

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The Two Most Common Management Styles

Senior businessman with his team at officeDo CPA firms need management or leadership?

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Let’s start out with a straightforward question. What is the difference between management and leadership?

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: 8 Ways to Manage Clients | The Limitations of Rainmakers | Firms Only Grow When Partners Play Their Roles | The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements | Younger Partners See Succession Differently | How to Compensate Your Managing Partner | The Job of Managing Partner: Empowered or Emasculated? | How the Best Managing Partners Turn Ideas into Reality
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From one point of view, leadership is far different than management.
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8 Ways to Manage Clients

Two men shaking hands across a tableThis is Job 1 for the practice owner.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Whether you simply desire to improve your firm’s operations or identify and implement a new long-term strategy, you need to be clear about the role that the owners, partners or shareholders should be playing in your firm.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: The Limitations of Rainmakers | Different Roles for Different Partners | How Big ‘Books’ Hurt Firms | Developing a Three-Year Vision [VIDEO] | More Merger Questions Than You Imagined | MPs: How to Elect Them … and Fire Them | Partners as Role Models: The Good, Bad & Ugly | Managing the Managing Partner
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To be sure, the roles and responsibilities of a CPA firm owner or owners will vary from firm to firm, based on that firm’s needs and circumstances, and you need to adapt any recommendations to fit your firm’s situation.
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The Limitations of Rainmakers

Young man under rain-covered umbrellaWhy marketing has to permeate the firm and the process.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

For most firms, new business comes in through referral. Therefore, the bigger a partner’s client base, the more likely that partner will bring in new business – which simply means that the more clients a partner knows, the more referrals that partner is likely to receive (not in percentage, but in raw numbers).

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Different Roles for Different Partners | Dealing With A-D Clients (You Know Who We Mean) | How Small ‘Books’ Hurt Firms | Why the Partner Agreement Matters | Merging for the Wrong Reasons | How to Implement Strategy, Step by Step | Accountability Requires Clear Expectations | How Retirement Issues Affect Succession Planning | How Partner Ratings Factor Into Equity
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Other drivers of referral success are long-standing service (seniority) and position in the firm (such being one of the named or senior partners). In these cases, there is an extended opportunity for referral simply because:
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Different Roles for Different Partners

Image of charts in foreground and business partners in backgroundSome people should stick to technical roles, but there's an impact on profitability.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

When you are a client relationship partner, regardless of your technical specialty, you take on the role of being that client’s general contractor for professional services – that is, his or her most trusted business advisor.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Dealing With A-D Clients (You Know Who We Mean) | Firms Only Grow When Partners Play Their Roles | The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements | Younger Partners See Succession Differently | How to Compensate Your Managing Partner | The Job of Managing Partner: Empowered or Emasculated? | How the Best Managing Partners Turn Ideas into Reality
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If you are unwilling to fulfill this role, then you shouldn’t be a client relationship manager; you should be a technical partner. We define these two roles broadly as follows:
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Dealing With D Clients (You Know Who We Mean)

ABCD PotAll A's isn't necessarily the goal.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Partners, and in some firms, managers, need to take their responsibility for client relationship management seriously.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Developing a Three-Year Vision [VIDEO] | Younger Partners See Succession Differently | Partners as Role Models: The Good, Bad & Ugly | 4 Ways to Create More Capacity | CPA Firm Performance Assessments: 15 Core Competencies, 21 Questions | What Having Your Employees’ Backs Means | 5 Harmful Management Attitudes (and How to Fix Them)
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In order to more fully explain these roles and responsibilities, we need to define for you what we mean when we refer to A, B, C and D clients.
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Firms Only Grow When Partners Play Their Roles

Money tree growing in the middle of green meadowHow often are you seeing your clients?

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Whether you simply desire to improve your firm’s operations, or identify and implement a new long-term strategy, you need to be clear about the role that the owner(s), partners or shareholders should be playing in your firm.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: How Big ‘Books’ Hurt Firms | How Small ‘Books’ Hurt Firms | Why the Partner Agreement Matters | Merging for the Wrong Reasons | Accountability Includes Partners | 7 Succession Questions to Ignore for Now | Develop Your Employees or Suffer the Consequences
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The roles and responsibilities we’ve suggested are based on the best practices we’ve had the opportunity to observe and be involved with in our work with CPA firms throughout North America.
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How Big ‘Books’ Hurt Firms

Young businessman with forehead resting on handsThe invisible hazards of book of business.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

As we stated in our last column, balancing “book of business” is one of the largest stumbling blocks for CPA firms.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: How Small ‘Books’ Hurt Firms | The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements | Younger Partners See Succession Differently | How to Compensate Your Managing Partner | The Job of Managing Partner: Empowered or Emasculated? | How the Best Managing Partners Turn Ideas into Reality | Make Accountability a Process | Accountability Requires Clear Expectations | Base Retirement on Today’s Operations | How Involved Should Retired Owners Be? | How to Find a Partner’s Replacement
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It is difficult to resolve because it is symptomatic, for most firms, of some real trouble brewing.
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How Small ‘Books’ Hurt Firms

Businessman sitting at desk, looking forward and smilingLeverage, capacity and overservice are just some of the issues.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Balancing “book of business” is one of the largest stumbling blocks for CPA firms. It is difficult to resolve because it is symptomatic, for most firms, of some real trouble brewing.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements | Developing a Three-Year Vision [VIDEO] | MPs: How to Elect Them … and Fire Them | Managing the Managing Partner | Accountability Is for Everyone | Firms Say What Would Change Retirement Pay | How Retirement Issues Affect Succession Planning | Develop Your Employees or Suffer the Consequences | Job 1 for The Practice Owner: Client Management
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Optimal Book Size

The optimum condition for firms to flourish is for books of business to be balanced throughout the firm. From the largest book to the smallest, the percentage gap between them should be fairly small (about 20-25 percent or less than a couple hundred thousand in fees).
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When Partners Leave: What to Do Today, to Be Prepared for Tomorrow

Man taking medication from caretakerSet policies now based on business, not emotion.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Let's review departure/termination policies.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements | Developing a Three-Year Vision [VIDEO] | MPs: How to Elect Them … and Fire Them | Firms Say What Would Change Retirement Pay | Action Plans for Transitioning Partners | How Retirement Issues Affect Succession Planning
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These may include:
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The Four Basic Parts of CPA Firm Partner Agreements

Time to retire clock faceIt's complicated. But proper policies ease buyouts and transitions.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Here is a list of common policies regarding partner/shareholder agreements that we cover with our firms, as well as some common issues that are important to address in the policies.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Developing a Three-Year Vision [VIDEO] | Why the Partner Agreement Matters | Younger Partners See Succession Differently | How to Compensate Your Managing Partner | The Job of Managing Partner: Empowered or Emasculated? | How the Best Managing Partners Turn Ideas into Reality | How Retired Partners Are Robbing their Own Firms | Action Plans for Transitioning Partners | How Retirement Issues Affect Succession Planning | Develop Your Employees or Suffer the Consequences
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The SOP (standard operating policy) categories are:
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Why the Partner Agreement Matters

Illuminated glass pyramid at the Louvre, Paris at nightMany agreements have long outlived a reasonable foundation for the firm’s current success level and size.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Most of the time when we are called in to work with firms, it is to help them plan for or implement significant change. The dialogue may start out with a general firm retreat, or it might simply be a session devoted to solving a few specific problems.

MORE ON PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Younger Partners See Succession Differently | How to Compensate Your Managing Partner | The Job of Managing Partner: Empowered or Emasculated? | How the Best Managing Partners Turn Ideas into Reality | Make Accountability a Process | Accountability Requires Clear Expectations | Base Retirement on Today’s Operations

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Visionary firms are always looking to make changes long before their operating environment forces them to, from enhancing their ability to compete, making changes to improve profitability, building infrastructure to support succession, upgrading their people development, modifying the compensation process, increasing revenues and more.
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