August 9, 2023

Business Self-Reflection: The Power of Reinvention & Diverse Perspectives 

By: Center For Accounting Transformation / article

“The perspective of a non-accountant is imperative.”

In a recent episode of Transformation Talks, Glen Harper and Julie Smith, key figures from Harper & Company CPAs Plus, told host Donny Shimamoto, CPA-CITP, CGMA, “Sometimes you have to rip some things apart to build a better firm.”  

Harper, the owner, decided years ago that he needed a chief operations officer, or, what he now calls, “a Julie,” named after his operations manager, Julie Smith.  

“At some point, I’m like, ‘This is crazy, I’m working way too hard. I’m kind of feel like I’m in this own little silo,’ you know? Building all this work, working many hours,” Harper said. “And I’m like, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ And then I looked… at well, what are my clients doing? What are they doing that is making them successful? And then I realized that…they all had one thing that was really cool—they had a practice manager or a CEO of some sort…I’m like, that’s what I need.” 

Enter Julie Smith, MBA. The practice manager joined the team and admitted, there were some growing pains.  

“The second day, I closed the door and was like, ‘What is going on in here? This is not a business,’” she said. “And, as my experience has grown through this, there are a lot of firms doing what Glen was doing rather than what we’re doing now.” 

She continued, “I’ve seen how firms are running their firms and how they can just tweak some things and change their mindset and be a little bit more open-minded and hire—maybe this position—and really be able to transform what they’re doing, and maybe not do what Glen did for 25 years.” She added that firms should ask, “How can we make these small, incremental changes and be very strategic about what we’re doing to really change and drive that difference?” 

Unearth the Business Advisor Within 

The first segment, wherein the duo discusses the importance of being business advisors to one’s own enterprise, resonates deeply. Harper and Smith bring to light how critical introspection and continuous self-assessment can lead to uncovering hidden opportunities and potential pitfalls within an organization. It’s akin to a doctor self-diagnosing before seeking external opinions. The key takeaway? Always wear the hat of a strategic advisor for your own business.  

Harper asked, “If you help clients every day build their ideal businesses, why can’t you do it for yourself?” 

When she first started, Smith observed that each partner seemed to have their own way of performing jobs and tasks and nothing was a formalized process, which kept team members working in their own silos and doing their jobs their own way, which was inefficient for the team and, because it kept everyone working apart, it also hurt the business culture at the firm. Smith suggested starting at the beginning: defining the firm’s purpose and mission, and building around that, making sure leadership is all on the same page.  

“As you go to execute change inside a firm, if there’s any cracks, any negativity, anything like that, the team just latches on to that,” she explained “But if there is nothing but positivity, and you’re leading from a place of you know, moving forward, and this is what we’re doing, it’s very clear and very defined.  

“People want to hook up their wagon and go, and the people that don’t, that’s okay. And I think that’s a really hard thing for, for whatever reason, for this industry to understand that you don’t necessarily look at your firm today, and it’s the firm you want–and that’s okay, you just have to be able to make progress toward that.”  

Blowing Up the Old to Get to Gold 

Harper and Smith emphasized that sometimes, complete reinvention is the path to creating a more profitable and meaningful business. While the idea might seem daunting, their practical insights make it apparent that businesses, much like buildings, sometimes need a foundational rework rather than cosmetic touch-ups.  

“It’s really hard to say, ‘let’s blow this up,” Harper said. “Once you recognize that to be to adapt and overcome…those obstacles and to be a better firm, you got to rip some things apart and rebuild it. And you just have to have an open mind.” 

One obstacle Harper and Smith discussed is bridging the communication gap between older partners and younger professionals.  

“Look, if you’re the older partner, things are changing fast, and you can adapt to them and if you don’t want to lose everybody, you better adapt,” Harper explained. “And the younger partner you’re looking at is another situation where [they need to be] sympathetic to, ‘Hey, this is the guy that—or the guy or the gal—that started everything, and they’ve been through the trenches for 30 to 40 years, you got to give them a little grace and help work through them.’ But they got to recognize that they want to change as well…and if not, guess what, it’s going to blow up anyway. So, the sooner you can recognize it, the better off you are.” 

Fortunately for Harper, he found Smith to help bridge that communication gap.  

“They have the ability to be the buffer,” he said. “So, I don’t have to be in a position where I’m talking to staff. And I’m just not trained in that. That’s just not what I do. So, she can decode what I’m saying and what they’re saying and make it so we can communicate.” 

Smith explained, “I think the difference is, is this person isn’t necessarily bogged down by those tasks, by the fire hose, whatever you want to call it, and can just integrate what needs to be done. And they’re doing it. That is their purpose. And they’re doing the purpose of the firm owner, the firm…everyone’s holding everybody accountable. Right? And so, it’s putting everybody up for success.” 

In a rather unexpected twist, the conversation leans into the importance of non-accountant perspectives in driving business success. Harper and Smith’s insights underscore the significance of multidisciplinary thinking. By bringing in views that are not steeped in numbers and balance sheets, businesses can tap into holistic strategies that cater to diverse clientele and market needs. This part of the discussion is a fresh reminder that business, at its core, is about people, and diverse perspectives are its lifeline. 

Harper summarized, “The perspective of a non-accountant is imperative.” 


Read more about why the perspective of a non-accountant is important on CPA Trendlines.


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