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Lisa Earle McLeod: Accountant firm learns to celebrate success

In some environments it’s harder to create positive cultures than others. Phil Moore, managing partner of Porter Keadle Moore, an Atlanta-based accounting firm says, “As accountants, our job is to find the bad stuff that other people can’t see, so it’s easy for our default to be negative.”

Moore says, “You get a bunch of accountants, or engineers, or lawyers together, and it’s not going to be as positive as a roomful of PR or marketing people.”

He describes the DNA of accountants saying, “We put ourselves in a position where our default wiring is finding problems, or at least we’ve tended to believe that’s our job. Our culture, the nature of our business, is about finding the problems with performance. We have trained ourselves to look for the bad stuff.”

Moore along with senior partner and COO Debbie Session, recognized that their firm was not unique.

Most accountant firms have a problem-oriented culture. Yet Moore and Sessions knew firm growth was dependent upon the partners’ abilities to sell the firm in a positive way.

Most accountant firms talk about their history and their skills, but those are merely table stakes. Moore and Sessions were looking for a way to differentiate their firm. It had to start with the 13 partners.

Moore and Sessions took it upon themselves to change as they say, “the cultural wiring of the firm.” Porter Keadle Moore’s Noble Sales Purpose, that drives their business is: We help clients seize opportunities and reduce risk.

They needed to rally their team around their ability to improve their client’s business.

Moore and Sessions recognized that their firm wasn’t good at celebrating success.

Whenever someone brought in a new client, the partners immediately dissected the deal looking for all the potential problems.

Without a positive framing on the deals they closed, the partners didn’t have a positive story to share with the rest of the firm or prospective clients. Lack of celebration has a chilling effect on the ability to develop new business.

Moore and Sessions decided to institute the Yes AND rule. Moore says, “In the past, when someone shared a success, the response was ‘Yes, but,’ then a laundry list of the things that could go wrong.” Moore and Sessions reframed their weekly partners meeting, no more Yes but, only Yes AND. For the first 15 minutes of the weekly meeting the team shared successes.

Not a negative word could be spoken.

When they landed a new audit client, the partner described the deal, and the others chimed in:

Yes, AND it’s exactly the kind of client we want.

Yes AND we can put our new people on the project

Moore says, “It changed the air in the room. We took the comma off the table, no more yes, but, only Yes AND.”

The celebration sets the context and tone for each meeting. It tells the teams we’re a successful firm that’s winning deals. Moore says, “We get to the problems later, that’s part of our job.” When they move into operational issues, having experienced the celebration, the partners address the challenges with more confidence.

There is no less rigor to their dissection of issues. The difference is the mental confidence and optimism the partners bring to the process. Sessions says, “If anything, they dive deeper, because it doesn’t seem as exhausting.”

Moore and Sessions are intentional about ending meetings on a high note as well. They look at their opportunities and summarize their biggest wins of the week.

Sessions says, “We start on top and we finish on top.”