August 2018

Culture is Everything!

By Darren Root, CEO

What do the world’s most popular travel destinations have in common? In essence: A well-defined culture. After all, they’re popular for a reason.

My wife and I are getting ready for a European vacation in a few weeks. It’s in celebration of our anniversary, so it’s important that our destination is somewhere romantic, beautiful and elegant. This is the culture we are seeking. We chose Italy because we know exactly what to expect—quaint cafes for alfresco dining and sipping fine wines, a relaxed pace, spectacular scenery, and historic architecture and monuments. We are drawn to the culture because we know it will meet our expectations.

Everyone, whether you know it or not, thinks this way. When it’s time to plan a vacation, buy a car or go out to dinner, we draw on our past experiences and/or mentally filter through the beliefs we hold before making a decision. The products and enterprises that win our business are those that are intentional about what their customers experience when they engage them. They are intentional about their culture.

If culture is everything, then why is it that so many accounting firms pay little attention to it? I’ve learned over the years that culture isn’t just a component of my firm…it really is everything. I’ve also learned that my firm is composed of many subcultures, including leadership, human, digital and security cultures. Collectively, all of our subcultures make up our broad company culture…the one that either draws clients to us or keeps them from engaging.

My biggest epiphany, however, is that we have a choice in the culture we create. We truly do hold the power on how our community sees us and the beliefs held about who we are. If we are intentional about the culture we create…if we define it and live it everyday…we can obtain the culture we want. If we are not intentional about culture, it can only become noise that hurts our business.

Remember that the most successful, modern companies are explicit about the beliefs and behaviors they wish to evoke in consumers. They are intentional about the cultures they create. Amazon strives to make purchasing goods as easy as possible. Apple wants to offer products that are beautiful and helpful. What do you want? What do you want your clients’ experience to be when working with your firm?

The time is here to start working on your culture. To be intentional about it. So, here’s a place to start. Break your culture down into four components: 1) Leadership, 2) Human (both staff and clients), 3) Digital (your tools and software solutions), and 4) Security. Then write a sentence or two about what you want the beliefs and behaviors about your firm to reflect in each of these components. Beginning to identify and intentionally pursue your firm culture is your first step to becoming a Modern Firm™.

All my best,

Taking New Tech Online

 By Amy McCarty, Education Team

This is the time of year that your firm may be implementing a new technology solution or process. Here are some best practice recommendations to make that implementation as smooth as possible:

  1. Identify the friction your firm is trying to solve. This is important in choosing the right piece of technology or determining the appropriate process change that will solve the pain currently experienced in the firm. This will also make explaining the reason for the change easier to staff. If there are multiple items your firm is trying to solve for, remember to prioritize and knock them out one at a time.
  2. Determine how this new technology or process will impact staff and clients. Are there other changes that also need to occur as part of this new technology or process?
  3. Set a go live date. This is the time of the year that change can happen within your firm, so plan a realistic date to launch the new technology or process.
  4. Decide who needs to be in charge of the implementation. This may be one person or multiple people depending on the solution or process. It is ideal to include someone on this team who will be working closely with the new technology or process. This team needs to:
    • Determine how to use the new technology or process
    • Schedule training and communication needed for staff
    • Identify training and/or communication required for clients, if applicable
  1. Follow up regularly after going live with the new technology or process to tweak and adjust things as necessary.

“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” —Georg C. Lichtenberg

NIST: Recover

By Chris Dickens, IT

We have been covering the five core functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as they apply to the modern accounting firm. This month, we will look at the fifth and final function called Recover. The Recover function, per the NIST definition, “supports timely recovery to normal operations to reduce the impact from a cybersecurity event.” There are three main categories in the Recover function. They are:

Recovery Planning. Disaster recovery and business continuity plans are executed and maintained to ensure timely restoration of systems or assets affected by cybersecurity events.

Improvements. In the fourth function, Respond, improvements were discussed through debriefing on how to better respond to cybersecurity events based on lessons learned in the process. Improvements in the Recover function is the act of inserting new or additional processes or capabilities into your security planning for better preparedness for future events.

Communications. Restoration activities are coordinated with internal and external parties. Your cybersecurity officer (CSO) works with your IT professionals in this process to oversee the recovery process. Also, communications that are required with law enforcement, clients, and any other stakeholder within the parameters of the incident are kept up to date.

Client communication is the topic of most concern in this function. Each state has different standards and laws regarding the public disclosure of security incidents, so you should consult with your attorney on your legal requirements regarding public notice or disclosure. The type of incident can be pertinent as well. For example, a ransomware outbreak does not always result in a data breach, but general advice recommends treating it as one. Also, many states have time requirements on the disclosure process. Since any notification to clients of a security incident will have a negative brand impact, public notice may include offers to help mitigate any potential fallout of the breach, such as identity protection or credit monitoring services. Again, seek legal advice to understand the requirements in the states where you conduct business.

To summarize, the NIST Cybersecurity framework provides five core functions that provide your firm structure in handling security. To be compliant with the NIST framework, it’s important that you have the following structure in place:

  1. A defined CSO in your firm
  2. Stakeholders clearly defined in the process
  3. A communications framework reporting and working through incidents
  4. Plans for common cybersecurity incidents
  5. Mechanisms for identifying, responding to, and recovering from cyber security incidents

Your Marketing Culture

By Chris Rund, Marketing Team

Part 2: Living the Brand

This month, we continue our series on creating a marketing culture in your firm. Last month, we explored a definition of marketing and its centrality in the life of the firm. This time, we’ll examine your firm’s brand—what it is, what it means to your clients, and how you give it shape.

Let’s begin with a definition: Your brand is the impression and perception of your firm that people hold in their heads. As the late Peter Drucker said, “Your brand is what you own in the mind of the consumer.” Marc Gobé, author of Emotional Branding, takes it even further, proclaiming that the brand is an emotional relationship with customers and prospects, based on the cumulative effect of all interactions between them.

That’s a big statement! And, to be clear, it isn’t just a reference to the firm’s aesthetics: name, logo, graphic design, slogan, advertising, letterhead, website, embroidered shirts, et al. Those things are, indeed, forms of interactions with clients and prospects; they’re vehicles that express the idea of your brand. In fact, they are referred to as “brand expressions.” But it’s your staff and frontline people who are the most powerful means of expressing your brand. Every interaction your staff have with clients and prospects is a far more important, more memorable touchpoint that contributes to that emotional relationship Gobé identified.

Your people are a more powerful expression of your brand, because, unlike ink on a static page or a sign bolted to the side of your building, they are thinking, feeling beings who interact personally and dynamically with your clients. To assure that your brand is expressed and experienced accurately and consistently during these interactions, your staff need guidance and leadership. Creating a shared understanding of your brand is at the core of your marketing culture.

How do you accomplish that? Here are some leadership tools you can deploy:

  1. Mission/Vision/Values Statement: This is the doctrinal cornerstone of your enterprise. It spells out for everyone working in the company exactly why you do what you do, what you want to become in the future, and how you conduct yourselves when working and interacting with others every day, both in and outside of the office. You’ll make a quantum leap in creating shared understanding and setting firm-wide accountabilities when you draft and adopt thoughtful language. The words of these statements will describe the collective beliefs and shape the collective behavior of your firm and will serve as the foundation for building your brand.
  2. The Brand Promise: This is a straightforward piece of language that describes your ideal client, how you promise to serve them, and cites evidence or reasons they can believe your promise. Draft yours using this basic formula:

    For (description of your ideal clients), (your firm) is the only (type of firm, e.g. accounting, advisory, etc.) that provides/delivers (unique benefit/point of difference), because we (reasons to believe).”

    In its raw form, the statement serves as an internalized frame of reference for training staff in client service; however, some firms also draft a client-facing version to share publicly. Before you share it with clients or prospects, however, you need to be certain everyone in the firm understands it and can be trusted to live up to the promises it spells out. Nothing devalues a relationship more severely than unfulfilled promises.
  3. Your Example: Once you’ve committed the above items to paper, it’s up to you to propagate them within your firm and grow a culture around them. Set an example for everyone for how to live your brand every day. Brand building and leadership are inextricably intertwined. Be a good leader, and you’ll build a strong sense of brand identity and a strong marketing culture in your firm.

Next time: The rhythm and habits of good marketing

As most know, the new Grow system launched in May. We’ve done a couple of overview webinars on the system. You can watch a recording of our June 19 webinar here.

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Upcoming Webinar and Staff Training schedule

Advantage and Academy Members

August 22—Staff Training: New Client Setup & Onboarding Process with Liscio

August 29—Staff Training: Modern Document Management – Determining the best solution for your firm

All Members

August 8—Vendor Hosted Webinar:’s best practices on information security

August 23—Summer Technology Webinar. We’ll cover our results in vetting several 1099 preparation software systems.

CPE update

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