The Challenge: Leadership Misalignment

A large regional accounting firm was dealing with slipping KPI delivery within its workforce. Despite significant investments in technology, office space, and professional development of its associates, the organization was unable to take advantage of new business opportunities, and current client delivery was jeopardized as well. The firm’s leadership engaged Wayforward to help them understand what was happening and reverse the problem.

Assessment Insights

 

During the employee experience assessment, an overarching theme revolved around the impact of the director group at the helm of the organization. This topic deals with confidence in the alignment of leaders in the direction of the firm. Because different partners (among the nearly 30 at the firm) held distinctly different expectations, visions, and philosophies – staff were having difficulty supporting senior leaders’ decisions, and understanding how they fit into the bigger picture.

Employees reported that there were inconsistent expectations depending on which partner an associate worked for, which made cross-functional collaboration within the firm difficult. This also limited advancement and growth opportunities – as movement within the organization was a “roulette wheel” regarding what the culture and professional approach would become in your new team. Middle-management reported that there was sometimes negative client impact to these differences when clients came to expect one experience but received another.

This was further exacerbated by the decision-making practices within the partner level. Leadership decisions could only be made by complete consensus. A lack of strong processes and norms around decision-making left the firm, as many partners described it, paralyzed and extraordinarily slow to innovate or respond to issues. And despite the partners believing that this issue was only known within the top tier of the organization, it was truly common knowledge all the way to the front line associates. This situation was certainly not intentional on the part of the directors, but still resulted in a situation where the workforce believed they were terrified of taking action, disregard the realities of implementing solutions, and dismissive of day-to-day realities that were impacting the work itself.

Applied Methods

As is often the case, our first step was to objectively illustrate the operational impact of the decision paralysis and competing professional philosophies of the partners. Assisting them with understanding that these were not isolated interpersonal issues, but negative drivers of business results was the foundation of the uncomfortable facilitation work that was required to help this large group of accomplished pros become a functional team.

This facilitation revolved around training the partners to utilize conflict as a constructive opportunity, rather than a defect to be avoided. Once this was complete, we guided the partners through deciding on how to swiftly make, buy-into, and commit to decisions for the firm – and how to avoid consensus-seeking. This practice in accountability was then cascaded both formally and informally to the management tier of the organization to establish stronger practices for change management, consistency in expectations, and performance traction.