New CPA Center of Excellence Program Transforms Firms through Trust, Transparency

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Advisory Services Help CPA Firms Redefine Values, Processes

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You become less efficient if you are unable to spread the responsibility around. Creating a safe-to-fail environment where we can trust our people based on the processes we've put in place to make appropriate decisions will end up yielding great benefits.

The CPA Center of Excellence®, which is powered by the Indiana CPA Society, was established in 2014 and has made great strides in just its first few months. It offers a variety of resources, products and services designed to assist individual CPAs and their firms in the assessment and development of the profession's core competencies, and to become more adept at meeting client and employer needs.

One of the CPA Center of Excellence®'s programs, its advisory services, involves a hands-on approach to helping firms manage complexity, examine their values and culture, develop resilient strategic management processes, identify gaps within the critical success skills, and enable more effective teamwork, group learning and transparency amongst all staff. It is a 12-month program that includes several touch points by the advisor, as well as an online collaborative workspace for firm staff.

The advisory services are intended to work in conjunction with other CPA Center of Excellence® products including: 1) the SenseMaker® competency assessment tool, which measures competency levels of participants; 2) the handbook CPA Excellence A Quick Start Guide to Defining and Mastering Vital Skills for Success, which provides frameworks, checklists, roadmaps and descriptors for developing competencies; and 3) a series of online, interactive courses that are focused on critical success skills, use a competency-based approach, and offer digital badges upon completion.

The first CPA firm to complete the advisory services program was Kruggel Lawton CPA, a mid-size CPA firm with offices in South Bend and Elkhart, Ind. The firm was founded by Herm Kruggel in 1956 and expanded in 1975 when Roy Lawton joined the firm. Nearly 60 years later, Kruggel Lawton CPA has a staff of more than 50, including eight partners. It is the largest locally-owned CPA firm in Michiana (southwest Michigan and north central Indiana).

"The project helped us rethink our business processes and clarify our values, mission, vision and standards that we want to operate under," said Barry Hall, CPA, CGMA, the firm's managing partner.

The firm called it the KLarity Project (KL for Kruggel Lawton) and formed what was called the Frontier Team, a cross section of firm staff at all levels who were empowered with equal input throughout the process. That team jointly redefined the firm's values, standards, goals, decision-making, policies and processes that will enable growth and stability for the firm in the future. It also established a culture of trust and transparency throughout the firm.

With several Kruggel Lawton partners approaching retirement, one of the firm's biggest challenges was succession planning. "Our hope was to perpetuate the firm and develop our partners internally. We had struggled to do that," Hall added. The project helped develop a culture that the future of the firm is in the hands of the managers and aspiring partners.

"As business owners, you get so involved in the day-to-day of taking care of your customers or clients, you become less efficient if you are not able to spread the responsibility around," said Kevin Kruggel, CPA, CGMA, a partner in the firm. "Creating a safe-to-fail environment where we can trust our people based on the processes we've put in place to make appropriate decisions will end up yielding great benefits."

An Indiana CPA Society-produced video, titled "The Kruggel Lawton Story - The Transformation of One CPA Firm" tells the story of the project through the words of the participants. The video is available on the INCPAS YouTube channel.

The advisory services were conducted by David Griffiths, Ph.D., an internationally-recognized knowledge management expert. Griffiths, the founder of alkAme (formerly known as K3-Cubed Ltd), is based in Wales in the United Kingdom. He has served as the knowledge management and complexity advisor to the Indiana CPA Society since 2011. Griffiths and his colleagues are available for new advisory service programs with CPA firms through the CPA Center of Excellence®. Programs are customized to meet individual firm needs.

The CPA Center of Excellence® was created through the work of more than 100 INCPAS members under Griffiths' guidance and direction, and is the result of four years of planning. The Center is built on the foundation of advancing the CPA profession's critical success skills, and offers a variety of tools, resources and creative educational opportunities to improve those competencies in order to meet future client, employer and environmental needs and demands. It emphasizes a competency-based learning model and intelligent collaboration.

The CPA Center of Excellence® has five main components in addition to the advisory services. The handbook, the online interactive courses based on the core competencies, a multi-featured online community for knowledge sharing, the competency assessment tool, and networks of CPAs that collaborate. The website, http://cpacoe.com, provides more information, registration and ordering information.

The CPA Center of Excellence, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Indiana CPA Society. Its products and services are relevant to CPAs not only in Indiana, but throughout the United States, as well as to accounting professionals globally.

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