Jonathan Gaunt, founder of FD Works is no stranger to entrepreneurship.
With nearly 30 years’ experience in the accounting industry, he’s the best person to explain effective accounting practice management, having developed a successful, niche accounting firm that commands a high salary.
He’s also successfully built and sold a software firm alongside his practice.
As a valued member of the GoProposal community, he tells how he cracked the art of freeing up his time for big ideas, and not being bogged down in the business at an operational level.
Creating a self-driving firm, with Jonathan Gaunt.
1. Know your strengths as an accounting firm owner
We all have strengths and weaknesses in our entrepreneurial style. It’s important to know what yours are.
For example, Jonathan knows he’s a creative. He’s great at ideation, at getting new ideas off the ground, but isn’t so great at seeing them through to completion.
He consciously made the effort to surround himself with ‘finishers,’ who he can rely on to help see his ideas through.
Perhaps you know you’re introverted and don’t like public speaking. Is there someone on your team who’d make a great spokesperson for your firm?
2. Control the controllables
We all know that we’re told to put our oxygen mask on first on a plane. In the same vein, we must look after ourselves first and foremost in our business.
There’s an order of who we should prioritise, and no, it isn’t customer first:
- Your family
- Your team – why would they come before your clients? Because if you have a brilliantly looked-after team, they will look after your clients brilliantly as a result.
- The world
How can we ask our team to show up?
The hierarchy of work is split between people paid to do and paid to think.
We must treat people coming to work as adults. We make huge decisions outside of work, on how we want to spend our time and who we want to spend our lives with. But we get to work and say, ‘what do you want me to do?’
3. What makes a great accounting team?
There are 6 factors Jonathan recognises that have fostered such an efficient, world-class team at FD Works:
1. Psychological safety
Make your team members feel safe to fail. Why? It will encourage them to work in an ‘adventure zone.’ They’ll take more risks and while they won’t always be right, innovation will thrive.
2. Equal talk-time
Create a ‘circle discussion’ philosophy to ensure everyone is heard. AT FD Works, they follow a ‘1,2,4, all’ system: one person shares an idea, they split in pairs to discuss it, then group into 4’s, and finally come back to the circle to share everyone’s thoughts.
At GoProposal, we encourage radical candour among colleagues, and FD Works is no different. Try this when tension is sensed in the office:
- Give everyone a piece of paper and ask them to complete the sentence, “What really ticks me off is…”
- Throw all the answers in the middle of a circle, so that one by one you can pick them to discuss, keeping the writer anonymous
Anyone in the business should feel welcome to come forward with an idea. What’s important is that experiments are decided as a team by asking the important questions: What do we need to do to make it happen? What could go wrong?
5. A common sense of purpose
How do you create value for everyone you come into contact with? Your team needs to share this common sense of purpose, so think about how you articulate this.
6. The team picks the team
As the business owner, you’re not always best placed to pick your team as it grows. It’s also important to look outside the traditional places you would look to hire. Hire on attitude, because you can teach skills.
Apprenticeships can be a great place to start. When you diversify what you offer by playing to people’s strengths, you unlock capabilities within your business you weren’t even aware of.
Hire for attitude over skills.
4. Set Meeting Rhythms
Set meetings that your team will come to expect. For example:
The Monday check-in: get together for 30 minutes at the start of the week and ask your team to time block the week ahead.
It gives the team the opportunity to look at the proposals on the table and plan realistically how long each job should take. What’s more, if their workload is too busy, this is an opportunity to ask for help.
The Thursday retrospective meeting: Reflecting on how the week went, what didn’t happen and why, provides a chance to encourage each other to be firmer with client boundaries.
At FD Works, they keep it light-hearted, with a ‘wheel of misfortune,’ to decide who will run the next meeting. Having this on a Thursday not a Friday gives the chance to correct any issues to end the week strong.
TIP: Facilitate peer-to-peer accountability partners to hold each other to account.
5. The key to making decisions
There’s methodology to every decision made at FD Works: someone proposes an idea to those who would be directly impacted by it, experts develop a written proposal for it. Then everyone in the business has the option to say:
- I fully agree
- It doesn’t impact me (indifferent)
- I don’t agree but it’s safe to try – I’ve said my bit but if it gets agreement, I will fully support it
- I don’t think it’s safe to try – as long as one of these isn’t received you have to try the experiment
If the team understand the drivers of the business, they can better implement them. Jonathan now has a team that has less experience on paper than teams he’s had in the past, but they’re flying, turning up with passion and energy, and are hungry for success.
When your team are turning up for work fired up and motivated, this will rub off on your clients. Follow Jonathan’s lead and put your team first, and results will follow.