Every business has a culture, whether it’s been purposefully cultivated or not (and we’re not talking about that thing in the office fridge). Summarised as ‘the way we do things around here’, your culture encapsulates how your practice runs, how your people act and what brings you all together.
We’ve pulled out the key considerations of building a strong culture – and looked at what part technology plays. Our sources include: Forbes, case studies with AM users and insights from a recent webinar by James Byrne, CEO of AccountancyManager, and Aynsley Damery, CEO of Clarity.
A for All together
Your culture impacts everyone and everything they do relating to your business. It’s not just Friday drinks or something you use to recruit and retain employees. Rather, it’s how the leaders lead, how each person makes daily decisions and the experience your clients have working with you. Each of these elements can be supported and optimised by technology.
“It’s always about the right combination of people, processes and technology – I’m not saying technology is the panacea – but it can certainly do the heavy lifting.”Aynsley Damery, Clarity
B for Benefits and bonuses
How better to prove your commitment to employee happiness and show your appreciation – than through benefits and bonuses? AccountancyManager user, Johann Goree at JGBC, has crafted an especially tempting package. “My guys have unlimited holiday, they get a profit-based bonus every November and whenever we hit any mile markers… like when we hit 300 back in September of 300 live clients, they all got a £300 bonus.”
“People always say, ‘oh, unlimited holiday – people just take the piss’. But none of my guys take more than 30 days a year, because they feel invested in the business.”Johann Goree, JGBC
Technology is also a major player in recruitment and retention, especially now that ‘millennials’ are in their 40s. Everyone entering the workforce today has been using a smartphone almost since birth and will consider a firm’s use of technology in their deliberations.
C for Communication
Usually we think about internal and external communication, but this oversimplifies things.
Think of your communication channels instead, like X, Y and Z axes, with Y as the hierarchy from juniors up to C-suite, X as the connections across the business, between colleagues and teams, and Z as each person’s contact with prospects and clients.
Immediately this opens up questions around how you can connect each point in your chart in the right way. For example, your teams might use Microsoft Teams, Slack or the messages in AccountancyManager for quick questions throughout the day. You may update clients en masse through social media and software like AM to send newsletters, bulk emails and automated record requests. How and when do managers check in with staff? Make sure there’s open communication and feedback in both directions.
D for Data
As business owners and accountants, we are doubly driven by measurable results. There are two ways to capitalise on this.
- Measure your culture drivers
‘Culture’ may sound wishy washy but you can measure it, by gathering regular feedback from your team. Consider using easily quantifiable rating systems and using surveys to open up the floor for new ideas and general concerns.
- Connect your people to business data
You use high-level business metrics to steer the business, so give your employees this visibility too. Don’t underestimate the power of seeing graphs both soar, and plummet…
E for Engagement
The statistics around employee engagement are astounding. Forbes reports that, according to an extensive Gallup study, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. At the other end of the spectrum, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. Gallup translates this to a cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or £3,400 for every £10,000 they make.
Your culture (along with pay) is your main driver for increased engagement. Many items on this list can fuel engagement, in particular: listening, gratitude and meaning.
F for Freedom
Freedom of thought, freedom from the office, freedom from time-consuming, repetitive tasks… all the things you desired when you set up your practice are the same things your people desire now. Using cloud-based, automation technology releases everyone from the chains of boring work and the filing cabinet. So everyone can enjoy more time with clients, creative thinking and picking the kids up from school.
G for Gratitude
Whether it was the national Thursday clap for the NHS or simply missing our offices, the pandemic has made us all more thankful. For our colleagues, for our clients and for our accountants.
“Over the past months, while we’ve all been apart, I’ve been even more keen to acknowledge each person’s contribution. I think that’s powerful to the individual but has also pulled us all closer together – seeing how everyone affects the overall picture. It’s been quite emotional actually.”James Byrne, CEO of AccountancyManager
As an employee, when you feel valued, you feel empowered, safer and happier – all conduits to increased productivity and engagement. At AccountancyManager, we share any customer feedback and positive results with the whole team – both in all-staff meetings and through instant messages – giving a shout-out to all those involved.
H for Hanging out
When we know each other at a personal level, it makes collaboration and communication easier and more effective at a professional level. Taking our ‘business’ hat off for a second, it’s just more enjoyable spending the day with people that you can have a chat with or turn to when you’re having a bad day.
“Workplace relationships are an essential element to a positive company culture. When employees barely know their colleagues and rarely interact, there’s no possible way for a strong culture to grow”.How To Build A Positive Company Culture, Forbes
Over lockdown, businesses replaced the pub and days out with casual Zoom calls and quizzes. But we suspect technology will provide even more options for socialising in the years to come.
I for Innovation and (continual) improvement
For any business, the only way to stay ahead of the game is to constantly improve. Aynsley Damery admits that accountants love to know the right answer, because in accountancy, there is one. In business however, the only way to find the right answer is trial and (gasp) error.
A culture of continuous improvement is so important. Too many firms are built up to maintain the status quo. Create an environment where it’s ok to fail, to fail quickly and fast. That is key to innovating.”Aynsley Damery, CEO of Clarity
J for Joy
This is in relation to both ongoing positivity and those unexpected moments of joy that you can deliver to both employees and clients. Clarity’s Aynsley Damery mentioned that they always decorate the desk of new starters with branded merchandise and balloons. Over lockdown, this changed to a hamper delivered to their door – arguably even more exciting to receive.
At AccountancyManager we’ve just sent out engraved cafetieres to award finalists. We’ve all just been given new AM hoodies too. Swaaag!
K for Knowledge
This ties in with giving your teams visibility of certain business metrics – so they can see the reasons behind high-level decisions and suggest new ideas. This constantly connects their work with the bigger picture. For example, we have a screen set up above our sales team that shows real-time statistics of new clients and targets.
Our users rely on AccountancyManager to organise and track task progress at an individual, team and practice level. Johann Goree explains how he uses this at JGBC. “Each head of department has a weekly meeting with their team, where AccountancyManager is on the screen. During the meeting, everyone reviews the upcoming tasks for the week and takes part in a constructive discussion about the progress and potential blockers to completing the task in question.”
L for Listening
“Being a good listener is one of the easiest ways employers can start to build a positive culture. Listen to employees, and make sure they feel their voices are heard and valued”How To Build A Positive Company Culture, Forbes
Rather than starting from scratch, build on the existing culture of your practice and ask your teams what they like and what needs improvement. Strong cultures come in many shapes depending on what suits you and what you’re aiming to achieve, but none should be without the core value of listening – both to your team and your clients. Forbes reports that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
M for Meaning
We end with the most important element of culture, job satisfaction, engagement, even your brand. Meaning and purpose are crucial, so create a mission statement and core values, but be sure to live by these and give your employees tangible examples. Provide everyone with a clear sight of how their role impacts the practice, your goals and your clients.