A Simple Question to Spark Innovation and Change the Game

We have an expression we use in the in the accounting profession known as SALY. SALY is an acronym for “same as last year”.  As we prepare workpapers or support for something that we are doing for a client for a second time and the information or process hasn’t changed, we write or type “SALY” next to the process. It tells the reviewer or partner that nothing has changed since the last time it was reviewed.

This acronym is more than an expression. This expression permeates the culture of CPA firms across the nation, not just in our workpapers. Isn’t it easier to just to continue doing things the way they have always been done? If it’s working, why change it? Right?

This isn’t limited to CPA firms. What is your SALY? As you survey your process, people, titles, and roles, how many times can you check the box SALY? I would venture to say, too many times.

As a new tax and accounting firm, we found that we had to out-maneuver our competition by changes to the game, not just the rules of the game. We were marching to the beat of our own drummer and as a result, changed the game. Here are two important actions we took:

Examine Job Titles and Roles

As we looked at the roles of our team, we found that they were focused on a task, not a purpose that aligned with the purpose of the firm. For example, every tax firm has someone who operationally processes the tax returns and communicates with the clients. We simply call them “Tax Processors”. In our game, they were much more than that. This team was expected to communicate with the client, respond to various requests and to improve the experience the client has with our firm. We decided to repurpose this team as “Client Service Managers”. While it may appear to be a subtle title change, it affected what they saw and heard every day and it changed the perception of both the client and the firm. They were still processing tax returns, but they were focused on their purpose, the client experience.

Look Outside the Industry

A downside of looking for advice from industry experts is that SALY is on their team. Meaning they take best practices from other companies just like yours and they generally come in to help you adopt these best practices. As we began to develop our growth and marketing strategy, we looked outside our profession. What do other companies do to attract new business and grow? As a result of that process, we became intensely focused on content and inbound marketing and adopting business development processes that were foreign and even radical within our profession. We would no longer depend on or expect our partners to be the business development leaders of our organization. We would follow best practices from those outside our profession and as a result MRZ has  grown 500% in 5 years.

The Question

If you look at your organization, what is one thing that you could examine and go completely against the flow and be a contrarian? If you asked the people in your organization what is the one thing that they would change, what would it be?

That is how it all starts. A whiteboard, a team and one question. If you were in charge, what is the one thing you would change about us? When you ask, be prepared for the answer – even if you don’t like it or think it is wrong – and encourage people to speak up. Write it down on the white board and see what happens. It is where rules are not only broken, but also where the game is changed. Innovation and ideas will flow when the flow is unrestricted.

Pick three tasks or procedures that your organization does from year to year that never seems to change and ask the question, why do we do that? It is the first question I always ask. A very high percentage of the time the answer is SALY (it is the way we have always done it).

Our new motto is, SALY doesn’t live here anymore. Turn over every stone, examine everything that you do on a constant basis. Challenge and question the status quo. If you want innovation and change, retire SALY and engage the people on your team with a game changing strategy session.  Just ask why.