Future skills 2020: what does the team of a future fit firm look like

With the start of a new decade, at Business Fitness we’ve been looking ahead to where we think the Australian accounting industry is going, and in particular, how our practices need to adjust to remain future fit.

In a recent blog, we highlighted some of the results from a recent Good Bad Ugly report, which found that productivity (a measure of charged hours against available hours) is decreasing, the median result showing productivity for all FTEs at 51.6%. This is good news in some respects, because it means firms are getting through the work quicker, thanks in large part to automated technology.

However, it does highlight the impact that technology is having on practices: those leveraging technology need to ensure they are effectively utilising the capacity they are creating, or risk having bums on seats with nothing to do.

But what is there to do? And how do you get your team to take ownership of how they are using their time, so you can trust that they aren’t just sitting twiddling their thumbs? It’s clear that the traditional skill set of an accountant working in compliance needs to be revisited and challenged if we’re to push our practices forward.

While manually coding debits and credits may have been standard use of time when we entered the 2000’s, as we head in to 2020 we expect to see a significant shift to human-centred work that takes our team out from behind the desk and “into the wild”.

Here are 5 skills we think future fit teams will need to incorporate into their team to stay ahead of the curve over the coming decade:

Sales (communication) skills: While not everyone in your team needs a knack for sales and you don’t need to install a bell in the bull-pen, it is becoming more and more important that client managers and service area leaders have the skills to effectively communicate new offerings and opportunities to clients as they come up. Better still, that you embed these conversations into your manager meetings, co-create the expected targets, and utilise an effective Client Relationship Management (CRM) platform to help keep an eye on what’s happening. Some great resources to start the conversation and learning within your team can be found here and here.

Client relationship management: Speaking of CRMs, successfully managing client relationships is key to utilising capacity going forward. It’s much easier to win new work from those you’re already connected to than a brand-new client. Categorise your clients, and ensure you have a robust relationship / nurture program in place that sees client managers regularly checking in, inviting clients along to seminars, and/or reaching out at key milestones. These are all details you can store and report on with the help of an online CRM platform that your team can access anytime, anywhere.

New service development: If you’re regularly talking to clients through your client relationship management program, you want to have something interesting to talk to them about. What’s the one new thing you can put past them this quarter? Developing new services and initiatives to drive at existing and potential clients should be a staple skill you’re encouraging your team to adopt. Did they work on a project that could have application for other clients, do they have a learnt skill that could be marketed as a new service? Help them uncover new opportunities for revenue growth by giving them a checklist of what needs to be considered to get to “MVP” (minimum viable product) including the key benefits to the client and practice, who they will target, and how the initiative will be executed and marketed.

Marketing: Once you have your new services/initiatives, you need to be able to get those in front of clients and prospects. That’s why marketing in a future fit firm will move from being a task added on to your admin team, to one that stands alone in its own right. Taking on a team member with marketing and communications skills will help you home in on your messaging and ensure your client and business development managers are armed with the material they need to effectively communicate those messages to prospective clients.

Technology management: As the app-stacks of our practices grow and new tools and add-ons are incorporated with lightening speed, we need to start looking at our new technology additions less as robots and inanimate solutions, and more like valued members of our teams (these tools are designed to make our lives easier after all). That means having an onboarding process for your technology not dissimilar to what you have in place (or we hope you have in place) for when a new team member starts. A chief technology officer (CTO) or internal process improvement champion  can act as the “buddy” in charge of getting the new tech tool set up, introducing the rest of the team to it, checking in regularly to ensuring it’s staying on track and working how you’d expect, and maintaining relationships with solution providers. Failing to do so will see programs quickly become redundant, team members forgetting how to use them, and eventually, hushed gossip over their lack of productivity. Not a nice reality for robots and people alike.

While we can’t be certain on what the future holds, we can say with confidence that the role of the accountant will continue to adapt and change. If technology is doing the heavy lifting and freeing us up to go further – are we actually equipped to be able to do so? For our firms to be truly future fit, we need to be looking outside the box for what skills we arm our staff with. That’s why at Business Fitness, we’re always keen to kick around how you’re working and what new things you’re experimenting with as you and your team realise the increased productivity and capacity off the back of implementing new software solutions.  

What skill would you add to the list? I’d be very keen to hear how your practice is approaching the evolving nature of the accounting role and how you’re going about getting the right people on the bus, in the right seats. When you do so, your firm is one step closer to being future fit.  

Brad Geelan, Business Fitness