It was January 15, 1997 — my first day on the job as the new CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs at a national meeting of the AICPA — when I heard the “V” word.
AICPA Chairman Bob Mednick and CEO Barry Melancon were announcing the start of a nationwide grassroots project to create a vision for the CPA profession. It would be the first time any profession would endeavor to envision its future. Little did I know that this day would lead to the book and project that would change me in some profound ways.
I immediately raised my hand to volunteer for the national CPA vision steering committee, which was chartered to provide guidance and support to the staff team as it facilitated grassroots future forums across the US. Our first assignment as the new CPA Vision Team was to find some resources to help explain one of the most misunderstood business concepts around, especially to CPAs, this vision thing.
Our search turned up a lot of resources but none better than the new bestseller from Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. It was one of the first evidence-based books to explain the value of a vision. They found that the companies that got the vision and purpose right outperformed their industry (in stock market returns) by 1500% or 15 times! We knew that this would get the attention of CPAs as we asked them to help us create a vision for their future.
Their research found the secret to enduring, great companies had to do with how they discovered and articulated their vision. They made the case that a vision actually has two distinct components, a core ideology (purpose & values) that does not change with time and an envisioned future that describes a shorter term future and embodies things like strategic initiatives, culture, and company goals. I like to think of it as the why and what.
We went on to create the CPA Vision for 2011 and mapped to the insights from Built to Last. The insights from that work led to our forming a new subsidiary of the MACPA, the Business Learning Institute, dedicated to providing the “success skills” that CPAs identified for success in the future (Top 5 Competencies CPAs).
Then in 2011, the AICPA commissioned a second round focusing on the future in 2025. They selected our BLI i2a process and facilitators to lead over thirty grassroots sessions across the US with almost one thousand CPAs. Together both projects covered over 10,000 grassroots CPAs. We created our core ideology around a core purpose and core values and created an envisioned future around our role as trusted advisors. See slideshare document below:
In this process of thinking deeper about the concepts from the book and working on the CPA Vision 2011 and Horizons 2025 Projects I discovered the power of visioning and strategic planning as a process. In fact, one of the key concepts in the book is that the great companies were “clock builders, not time tellers,” or constant works in progress sharpening their focus on their core ideology while stimulating progress with new strategic initiatives.
Soon I found myself a student of visioning and strategy, doing this work for our own organization (See MACPA’s vision here) and then as a new service to our members and CPA firms to help them find their vision. It led to creating our own strategic thinking system (i2a: Insights to Action) with our strategic partner, Gretchen Pisano at Sounding Board Ink. we now use this strategic planning process to help organizations find their vision, purpose, values and strategies. We have led over one hundred of these facilitated strategic planning sessions across the CPA Profession.
Our latest project is working with Sage North America to run Vision to Strategy Workshops to help CPAs all over North America to find their visions. Watch this short clip to hear me talk about why I love this work.
We are just getting started on our journey to transform the CPA Profession to succeed in a rapidly changing world and to help organizations find their purpose and vision. Or as authors Collins and Porras would say, “protect the core and stimulate progress.”
All because of a book and a volunteer project. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim and Jerry!