AAM Minute - Topic At Hand

Amending Processes to Plan for Growth

Jennifer Cantero, Sensiba San Filippo LLP


In the past few years, many accounting firms have grown by leaps and bounds. Like any business, to be successful in that growth, your internal processes and strategies need to grow with the business. My firm has been extremely blessed with great growth in the past few years, and our partner group recognized that to continue to grow we needed to make internal adjustments. These included tightening up processes and evaluating if we have the right people in the right seats to sustain growth and succeed. We decided we needed to implement a business operating system.


A business operating system is a standard, firm-wide collection of business processes that include the common structure, principles, and practices necessary to drive the organization. Our managing partner had some exposure to Stanford’s operating system and another partner had attended a talk on Gino Wickman’s Traction system. This spurred them on to research other systems and look for one that resonated with our firm culture.


In the end, we went with Gino Wickman’s books, Traction and Get a Grip, and his Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS). Wickman’s EOS guides an entire organization through an extensive change process. While I recognize not many firms are ready for such a change, there are fantastic tools us marketers can leverage to run our over-taxed departments at a much higher level. I highly recommend reading these books for yourself, but below are abbreviated versions of the concepts, including how they can apply to your marketing department.


Wickman has six key components that will give you and your team more focus, growth, and enjoyment. They are: vision, people, data, issues, process, and traction.


Vision Component


Do they see what you are saying?

When you are presenting a concept or project, make sure the individuals you are speaking with can clearly see your vision. We all know that what is in our heads can sometimes not be what comes out of our mouths. Make sure to clarify your vision with your audience and it will help ensure better outcomes as well as stronger processes and strategies.


Develop the vision for your department and share it. As marketers, we are typically working 100 miles an hour and rarely stop to document items. Document this! Doing so will help you guide your department, firm staff, and marketing department’s plan and process. It also will help everyone row in the same direction. Just think about how effective you could be if everyone was on the same page.


Answering the Eight Questions

Putting your plan on paper and clearly stating your vision can be done by answering eight simple questions and will only take two pages. You can download Wickman’s ‘The Vision/Traction Organizer™’ template on his website here or you can make your own. These eight questions will take real thought to answer, and you might want to hold an off-site meeting with your team to work through them.


  1. What are your core values?
    1. List up to five.
  2. What is your core focus?
    1. Set your purpose/cause/passion.
  3. What is your 10-year target?
  4. What is your marketing strategy?
    1. List your three unique differentiators, your proven process, and your guarantee to your clients.
  5. What is your three-year picture? What do you have to do within the next three years to push forward towards that 10-year target?
    1. Set a date, revenue, profit, measurables, and make a list of about 10-12 bullets of what that all looks like.
  6. Now, what is your one-year plan? What do you have to do this next year to push forward towards that three-year plan?
    1. Set a date, revenue, profit, measurables, make a list of up to seven goals you will need to complete in that year, set your focus/theme, roles and responsibilities, budget, and scorecard.
  7. Now, what are your quarterly rocks? What are the most important priorities within the next 90 days? Breaking everything down into smaller objectives will help your department stay focused and achieve your goals.
  8. Finally, what are your issues? What are the obstacles standing in your way to complete your rocks or one year plan? Be open and honest with your team about this. The sooner you can accept that you have issues, the quicker you can solve them and become more successful.


People Component

As a department leader, you need to take an honest look at the positions your department needs and determine whether those currently filling those roles are the right people for the job. Often, marketing departments inherit staff from other places to ‘make due.’ Think about how much more effective your team could be if that position was correctly staffed. Think about the person that is ‘making due’ and how unfair it is that they are not being set up for success. Chances are they are not happy or performing at their highest level due to being in the wrong role. You need to move that person to the correct position or let them go.


You also might be the only person in your department and have to wear many hats. Look at the work you are doing, where your firm needs you to go, and what you might be leveraging in outsourced services. After pulling that information together, you could very well have a strong case to present to your boss; telling them why you need another person, either full or part-time.


Data Component

We all know if you want something to improve, you have to measure it. We have all also heard the term ‘safety in numbers.’ Well, that could not be truer than when working with accountants! Setting up a scorecard and managing your data will let you stay on the pulse of your department and not manage by assumptions, emotions, or egos. Your scorecard will allow you to measure your progress and have a better sense of accomplishment and accountability. Have you ever left the office not feeling like you had accomplished anything that day and feeling very unsatisfied? Imagine having a small set of achievable tasks for the day. You have the list next to you to stay focused. At the end of the day, all your tasks are crossed off the list. You would feel great and could leave the office happier. That is your scorecard. Now imagine that for your whole department. Think about how that would affect your department’s overall job satisfaction and accountability. This is so simple, yet so effective.


Issues Component

For most, the scariest part of this process is creating the issues list. It is time to pull your heads out of the sand and address the big issues — even the small stuff. In making a list and tackling each item, you will soon see the direct power and effect it has on your success. You will have a weight lifted off you and wonder why you did not do this sooner. Now, some of the issues might even make you uncomfortable and that is okay. We have to leave our comfort zone if we want to grow and improve. It is human nature to put off hard decisions. According to Wickman, “Your ability to succeed is in direct proportion to your ability to solve your problems.”


Now, create your list. It most often will end up being a living document as you progress down your path; you will find new issues that stand in your way. Add them to the list and the sooner you address them, the easier it is to travel down your path.


Solving the problems on your list is where the real progress begins. Wickman has 10 commandments to solving issues that help you work through your list. My favorite is number seven, ‘Thou Shalt Live with It, End It, or Change It.’ In life, you always have three options. You can decide to live with the problem, make peace with it, or stop complaining. If you can no longer live with the issue, then you need to take action. You need to end the issue or change the issue to make it disappear. We usually know what the answer is; it is taking action that is the hardest. That leads to Wickman’s second commandment, ‘Thou Shalt Not Be a Weenie.’ I think that speaks for itself.


Process Component

How many times have we been asked to implement a tool before giving adequate thought to the process of using that tool, only to have people blame the tool for failing? For example, implementing a customer relationship management/pipeline system without first defining your sales process and documenting how everyone will use that tool. Then about two or three months after implementation, everyone grumbles that the tool does not work. Does this sound familiar?


Write down every process step-by-step and implement the process before the tool. First, identify all your core processes, including those for sales, proposal creation, events, collateral/content development, training, external communications, client retention, and so on. Once you have identified and documented them step-by-step, it is easy for everyone to follow the same process. That way, nothing is missed, everything is uniform, accountability is created, there is less confusion, and everyone is on the same page.

Traction Component

What are the most important priorities within the next 90 days? Make your list, and on average, you will have about 10 to 20 items. Next, debate and discuss the list to determine the priority of each item. You may actually narrow your list down and eliminate a few items that really do not fit with your overall plan. Now give each item a due date and define each one so the objectives are clear. Next, assign them to an owner for clear accountability. Each rock is to be owned by one (and only one) person. There could be a team needed to complete it, but only one person in the end will lead and drive the rock.


You also need to make meetings count. Wickman’s book has three types of meetings outlined: an annual pulse meeting, a quarterly pulse meeting, and a weekly ‘Level 10’ meeting. The first annual pulse meeting is designed as a two-day off-site gathering where you review the past year and plan for the coming year. You revisit your 10 and three-year plans and build your one-year plan for that year. There also is great team sharing and health building that is done. The quarterly pulse meeting is an eight-hour off-site gathering to review the past quarter and establish the next quarter’s rocks. You also will tackle key issues and next steps in your plan. The weekly 90-minute ‘Level 10’ meeting is where the real magic happens. You review your scorecard and rocks, do a quick, five minute discussion of client/employee headlines, spend five minutes reviewing your to-do list, and then devote 60 minutes to digging into your issues list. This is a problem-solving meeting to start eliminating the issues in your way. There is much more to the structure and execution of each of these meetings that Wickman’s books will walk you through, such as completing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis in your annual meeting, tackling key issues in your quarterly meetings, and keeping everyone on track in each meeting.


This is a high-level overview of Gino Wickman’s Traction system, and I highly recommend reading Wickman’s books for yourself. There are step-by-step instructions on how to define your vision, analyze your team, set up your individual scorecard and measurables, and solve your issues. The book Get a Grip then provides a compelling story of pulling together all the concepts presented in Traction. While this system was designed for implementation for an entire business, you can most definitely scale it to your marketing department, set an example for your firm, and look like an innovative rock star.