The Five Common Cultural Values Of The IPA Best Of The Best Firms

Highlighted in the November 2010 issue of IPA.

In the October issue of IPA, we offered an in-depth look at the IPA Best of the Best Firms. How did they do? What did they do differently? Why are the successful?

An IPA Webinar presented in October (and available at no charge to all IPA subscribers) offers a more in-depth look at the Best of the Best, including a historical view across time to see what really makes a Best of the Best firm stand out. What we gleaned from this ‘longitudinal survey’ is five cultural building blocks common to all Best of the Best firms, regardless of the economic environment in which they exist.

Here are five “commandments” for firms striving to be the very best, which, if executed flawlessly, heighten the likelihood of being among the very best.

Staff and Partner Development Are Critical: Focusing on staff and partner development is a part of who these firms are. It is not an afterthought or an add-on, but is a part of the very make up of the firm…part of their DNA. We can see in these firms a predominant use of many partner development tools such as written guidelines for becoming a partner, a partner code of conduct, partner performance standards where everyone is held accountable and ongoing partner training and development. Staff development is a critical component of the culture, with 360 degree evaluations in place, HR directors more prevalent than the average, a higher-than-required standard for CPE hours with a budget to match and partner compensation systems rewarding partners for their roles in staff training and development.

Do More With Less: The concept of doing more with less is also a culturally defining tenet of these firms, as well as a source of pride for both the partner group as well as the staff. Some of the metrics used to define this characteristic include utilizing less physical space per professional while maintaining (or exceeding) expected charge hours, leveraging administrative resources so each administrative staff is serving more professionals, gaining greater leverage of professionals to owners, reducing personnel costs as a percentage of net fees while keeping professional salaries at or above peer averages and driving utilization of firm professionals to above-average levels.

Charge What You Are Worth: Firms who become Best of the Best are ready, willing and eager to charge for the value they believe they provide to clients. Whether it is value billing, contingent fees, “extra” tips or simply higher charge rates, these firms do not compromise and maintain their price integrity. They are also more aggressive when considering billing rate increases for the future. In an economy where everyone is nervous about anything other than holding the line, Best of the Best firms boldly step ahead with expected incremental rate increases 40% higher than average firms.

Take Care of Staff: There is not a single accounting firm out there who doesn’t claim that the reason they are special or successful is because of their people. Best of the Best firms, however, reciprocate by providing above average wages (and preserving those wages through the down economy), offering an assortment of standard and unique benefits; creating a learning environment that develops the individuals both technically and personally, establishing a mentoring environment that brings partner experience to staff development and maintaining an accountability system where people are challenged to do their very best.

Holding Partners Accountable For Results: In Best of the Best firms, corporate mentality trumps partner parity. Owners are given performance standards, are measured against those standards, are held accountable for achieving those standards and are compensated based on their overall contributions to the firm. Partner codes of conduct are clearly defined. Reviews of partner performance tend to be solicited from their peers as well as their subordinates, using upward evaluations and 360 degree reviews.

To listen and watch the IPA Best of the Best Webinar, go to: