Finding it hard to pick up the pace after the year-end break? Three CPAs share their tips and tricks for taking on the new year strategically and reflect on the economic outlook for accountants and their practices in 2019.
The new year period offers a rare opportunity for workers in the business world to take a much-needed break and replenish diminished energy reserves.
Melbourne firm The Practice staggers the return of employees after the New Year break. Some staff start when business resumes on 7 January, while others taking a longer holiday return on the 14th or the 21st. It’s important to take a break after the usually hectic end-of-year period, says the firm’s co-founder and director Jason Cunningham, but not everyone wants to take all their holidays over Christmas – some prefer to travel in the middle of the year. A staggered approach allows individual employees to take the break that best suits them.
“We’re keen that our team members return to work nice and fresh,” Cunningham says. “That’s really important.”
At Seiva, an accounting practice located on Melbourne’s Southbank, staff start back on 7 January. “A lot of the business world stops at this time of year,” says managing director Brent Szalay. Clients are often on holidays and it’s a rare guilt-free opportunity to forget about your email inbox. “Sometimes when you go away during the year, you’re still on,” he says. “This is an important time in the year for everybody to spend time with family and really get away from work.”
Szalay uses the quiet January period to run planning sessions for the year ahead with Seiva’s management team. “The last few months of the year get lost in doing the work,” he says. “We reset goals for the 2019 calendar year, and review what went well and what didn’t for the last year.”
The planning process gives the entire team clarity about what the business is aiming to achieve in the next 12 months. “Setting some goals for the year that everybody can contribute to helps give us direction about what we’re doing for the year.”
It’s a process he recommends to other practitioners, no matter the size of their business. “When you come back, don’t just put your head back into emails and heavy work again. Take a day out of the office to do some planning,” he says. Outline what you want to achieve for the year and how you will execute it before you sit down to work. If you dive straight in on day one, “a few months will pass and you’re in the same position,” he says.
Cunningham believes that in order to thrive every employee needs two things: knowledge of what is expected of them and the tools and resources to achieve their best.
To that end, he schedules a ‘town hall’ meeting at the start of the year to make sure everyone starts the year on the same page. “We'll bring all the team in and say, ‘these are the exciting initiatives that we're looking at for this year, and this is where our strategy is taking us, and this is your role in that and how you can benefit from it.’”
A business strategy plan, developed in October, is distilled into a one-page document that is distributed to the team and referred to constantly throughout the year. A carefully selected theme provides further focus. The theme for 2018 was leadership; in 2019 it is proactivity, focusing on two areas: systems and processes, and learning and development. It’s an initiative that will see the roll out of career progression plans for all 60 team members in the organisation, to help them “be the very best that they can be,” says Cunningham.
Goal-setting is also important at Brisbane practice Consolid8. “We set our plan for the 12 months and break it down into 90-day plans for all our team members, and do check ins with them throughout the year,” says managing director Tanya Titman. “We look at it from both a business and personal point of view. We like to encourage our team to set business KPIs, but also set personal KPIs – ‘in the next 90 days, what do you want to do from a personal perspective?’ – because we see that the two are very connected.”
Every Monday, the 18-strong team gathers for a meeting – and the first day back at work for the year is no exception. “It’s the one non-negotiable in the business,” says Titman.
It’s a meeting with a difference, she says. Each team member reflects on their wellbeing from both personal and business perspectives and together they discuss topics such as gratitude. Also on the agenda is another unusual discussion point: ‘what makes you smile’. “Every week we kick off with this – it’s such a big part of culture and the lift that it gives the team is incredible,” says Titman.
It’s all part of a culture at Consolid8 that prioritises continuous improvement. “Coming back in the new year, it’s not about doing one thing and hitting the new year with a great big bang,” says Titman. “It’s about embedding in your culture…continuous investment in the wellbeing of your team.”
The economic outlook for 2019
“Accountants are in a fortunate position where they get to talk to lots of businesses and in different sectors there’s certainly some mixed feelings,” says Titman. In the property sector “there’s some level of caution,” she says.
Access to finance in the wake of the 2018 banking royal commission and the subsequent tightening of lending practices by banks is an issue that concerns both Cunningham and Szalay. “Getting access to money is becoming harder,” says Cunningham. “We need to be nimble in the advice that we give our clients. We need to look for alternate lending solutions.”
Reduced access to finance means “people can’t release funds from their equity to invest in their business or in new ideas,” says Szalay.
At the same time, all three say they see a healthy level of business confidence among their clients. “We do a lot of work with our clients in financial education, skilling them up to understand their numbers,” says Titman. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work in 2018, and that’s setting them up really well for 2019.”
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