How to Build an Effective Culture in an Accounting Firm

At Outfit Recruitment we place company culture at the heart of our business strategy and consider it to be crucial to our success. We believe that a strong culture can play a huge part in the success an accounting firm. We have therefore provided some tips and guidance on how you can build an effective, high performance culture within your business.

1. What culture do you want?

One of the first steps in the process of effective culture building is establishing what culture you want. Added Value, who specialise in consulting and developing corporate culture within Australian public practices, put forward 19 possible cultural characteristics that a public practice may wish to see in its firm. These were:

Respect For Others, Ethical Behaviour, Listening and Understanding, Positive Attitude, Honesty, Empathy, Persistence, Empowerment, Hard work, An entrepreneurial focus, Collaboration, Competence and service quality, Conscientiousness, A family like environment, Team work, Accountability, Efficiency, Practical solutions, Conservative. As practice principals you should examine this list and tick off which characteristics your firm already possesses and highlight in red those characteristics that it would like to possess. You have now performed a rudimentary culture gap analysis, and now that you know what is missing from your culture you can take steps to introduce new behaviours that reflect your desired culture.

2. Using recruitment as a culture change tool

A key place where you can begin to change corporate culture is the recruitment process. Rather than trying to changes staff behaviour, it is easier to hire people who already exhibit that behaviour and, over time, as you hire more people with your desired behavioural leaning, they will soon become the dominant culture.

There are two main ways to screen for culture during recruitment. The first is using culture based interview questions and you can find an article here on how to do this on this site. Another approach, (which occupational psychologists may argue is more reliable) is by using a personality assessment. There are many of these tests in the marketplace and they enable you to assess a potential candidate’s preferred behavioural style, e.g. do they like to work in teams, how well do they cope under pressure, how positive are they?

3. Communicate your company culture through a core value statement

Having established what your company culture is you should reflect it in a list of core values that you expect every employee to display. This should be communicated effectively, but how? A core value’s statement should be prepared and placed within all the key company documents, e.g. the employee handbook, careers sections of the website (see PWC example here), and you may want to consider having a professional poster designed so it can be placed in the meeting room.

4. Environment should reflect the company culture

The organisation should live and breathe the core values and it should be reflected in the company environment, that is if you want to encourage the behaviour in the staff. For example, if you want employees to be collaborative, ensure there are plenty of comfortable and suitably equipped meeting spaces. Or, if you want the culture to be open, restrict the use of individual offices and work to a more open plan format, allowing employees to go into offices if they need a quiet place to work to complete a crucial project or task.

5. Roles models will drive culture

Role models play a crucial role in building company culture. Junior employees will take their cue from senior managers as to which behaviour is expected and acceptable. It is crucial that you hire senior managers who reflect your company values and that you coach managers regularly on exhibiting core values. A good way to do this is to have an annual management conference/get together where the core values can be reinforced.

6. Reward cultural role models to reinforce your culture

Another way to encourage employees to behave in line with core values is to incorporate core values into the performance appraisal assessment criteria. Typically, you would choose 8 to 10 of the most important values and employee performance should be assessed against these criteria. Higher performing employees who reflected core values would receive bigger bonuses, thus reinforcing that behaviour. Lower performers, who did not exhibit core values, would not receive bonuses and would be encouraged to change their behaviour in line with core values.
As you can see, company culture cannot be built overnight, but rather it should be cultivated and developed over a period of time incorporating the techniques mentioned above.