Applying Strategy and Execution to Achieve Success

The business world is competitive. Firms enter into battle daily. Their battles include winning new clients, hiring and retaining staff, developing future leaders and so forth. The outcome of each battle is determined by the strategies employed and the degree of execution.

Setting a strategy to move the firm forward can take many forms. And every firm has a strategy; some are passive while others are active.

A passive strategy – In passive firms, partners and staff come to work and “do their thing.” Leadership does not establish a plan or vision. There is very little coordinated effort and generally a lack of accountability in the partner group. Partners focus efforts on managing their own personal books of business.

An active strategy – Firms with an active strategy focus on what is best for the firm. Leadership has a desire to move the firm forward. They understand the roles and responsibilities to keep the firm strong and successful. Leaders recognize the importance of identifying strengths and weaknesses and strive to take advantage of opportunities while mitigating threats.

Strategic planning should take place at various levels within the firm:

The CEO/MP should make time to think about the firm and create a vision for the future. The firm should be the No. 1 client. When I was in this role at my former firm, I often found time to think about the possibilities. Ideas came to me while I was away from the office driving from location to location, working around the house and occasionally in the middle of the night.

The firm’s executive committee should set aside time to think about the various aspects of the practice. What are we doing well? What should we discontinue? Where should we deploy our time and dollars?

The service line leaders and industry niche leaders should prepare an annual business plan that lays out the important aspects of their practice. These leaders need to take ownership by setting the vision, determining the marketing strategy, products and services, staffing requirements, etc. of their segment areas.

Department heads, including the COO/firm administrator, HR director, IT director and marketing director can have a major impact on the firm’s progress by tying their strategic goals with that of the firms. They need to think constantly about how making the firm stronger.

Along with the partner group, these firm leaders should join together in developing a three- to five-year strategic plan.

Areas of opportunity requiring strategic thinking

Operations – Including governance (leadership and management) and the systems, processes, tools and technology to be effective and efficient. Culture – How a firm thinks, how it acts and what it strives for. Being the firm of choice for its people, clients and community. People – Recruiting, retaining and developing the firm’s future leaders. Having the right people in all positions. Client service – Quality, timeliness and the ability to deliver value through service lines and industry niches. Unique services that deliver value and solve client issues. Business development – Setting a marketing strategy that communicates a firm’s unique value proposition. Creating attributes that differentiate the firm from its competition. Determining how to be recognized as thought leaders. Using technology such as social media, websites and portals. Results – Defining growth goals, profitability and other measures of success. Bringing accountability, recognition and reward into daily management.


Benefits of creating a strategic game plan:

  • A common vision that unites the team
  • Identification and resolution of firm issues
  • A roadmap to achieve desired success
  • Increased focus and execution of leadership talent
  • More effective employment of firm resources
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Increased accountability
  • Meaningful progress



Execution is one area where strategic planning falls apart, creating frustration for leaders and firm members alike. To be successful, the MP, with the support of the executive committee, has to act with a sense of urgency. Leadership needs to set the tone that progress is expected, and excuses are not accepted.

Every partner has a role to play in the success of the strategic plan. Too often they fail to act or get distracted by other responsibilities. It is leadership’s responsibility to see that the strategies are employed in a timely manner and goals are achieved.

The following steps may help:

  • Determine partner strengths and passions.
  • Understand that each partner is unique.
  • Assign specific firm goals to those partners with the required strengths.
  • Be sure every partner’s goals are aligned with firm goals.
  • Remove obstacles that will prevent success. This could be other duties, lack of resources or lack of drive and/or direction.
  • Provide needed tools and support.
  • Hold periodic coaching sessions to monitor progress and offer support.
  • Hold people accountable for their responsibilities.
  • Link compensation to the process. Reward success.


From a practical standpoint, the MP and executive committee should review the strategic plan regularly to ensure progress is being made. It should be their roadmap, a working document. The strategic plan should be fluid, changing for current circumstances and market conditions.  

About the author: Timothy I. Michel, CPA is a consultant to CPA firms and a former managing partner of a Top 100 CPA firm. He helps CPA firm owners create value in their practice by drawing on his own experiences to assist them in identifying and overcoming obstacles and focusing on opportunities to increase growth and profitability. For more information, visit the website at or contact Tim directly at