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Breaking down walls and silos at the office
Culture, Leadership | 23 Feb 2020
What are we talking about?
Breaking down walls: structurally, mentally, and organizationally
Why is breaking down walls important for the future of work?
CLA is an accounting firm. They crunch your numbers. But in order to survive in the future, they have to think beyond those walls. They have to shift and become a services company that finds new ways to connect their clients to other opportunities.
Inside the company, there were walls that put teams against each other and made it hard for the company as a whole to serve their customers.
Companies of the future will be able to quickly break down unnecessary barriers and move as one.
What did Randie Dial teach us about breaking down walls?
Rather than going and asking their clients for referrals, Randie told his team to go and give referrals. He encouraged everyone to really listen to clients and figure out how they could help. This meant that they had to learn a lot more about the industry and other requirements their clients were thinking about.
Randie also did a lot of work structurally to make sure that young people joining the firm didn’t feel pigeonholed around a certain job function. He wanted to make sure they all had a variety of experiences so that they could build their careers around different things.
The key to retaining good employees is to give them these opportunities, but also be very clear in your communication. When he took over, Randie made sure to open up a lot more communication channels and be more transparent with his team.
He even made a lot of unpopular changes to the day-to-day lives of employees that ended up being for the good. One of the first things he did was changing where people say.
“I took a lot of grief for that. Some people said, ‘You are going to kill our culture by doing this.’ I said, ‘What culture? We don’t have one culture, we have lots of little ones.’”
He also prevented some teams from ordering food only for themselves and not offering it to others. Simple things like where you eat and sit made a huge impact on bringing down the walls.
Learn more about Randie Dial
Today our guest is Randie Dial. He’s the managing principal at CLA Indiana. Hi, Randie. How are you doing today?
I’m doing great, Neil. How are you?
Very good. I was introduced to you because I went to an event where you were speaking about the importance of building a good work culture. And I was really struck by the way that you at CLA Indiana have really focused on a people first culture. So, I want you just to start, introduce yourself, a little bit about your company and about what you do.
Yeah, absolutely. So, as you said, my name is Randie Dial. I’ve actually been with CLA my entire career, 22 years. Born and raised here in Indiana in a small town. I’m a Ball State graduate. I got lucky enough to land an internship with this firm. Our firm is a very large firm. We’re National, 6500 people across the country, 120 offices. But we really focus on mid market and small business. You’re not going to find CLA working with a lot of the really large publicly traded companies. We want to be the premier resource that really dig in and form relationships with the private companies and the business owners and really have a giveback attitude, which is something I grew up with is just always be thinking about the person across the table.
So, I’m going to take that a little bit deeper, just that atmosphere of saying we want to focus on small businesses, mid market companies, and really focus on that person to person aspect. It’s something that I feel like a lot of companies will say, they’ll put it in their marketing aspect, but how do you actually embed that in your culture?
It’s really in our DNA, Neil. I mean, it has struck me for years. As I grew up in my career, I would go out with some of the leaders as a younger staff and I would watch as we’d sit across the table from a lawyer or a bank or another community partner, and there was really no genuine, just leaning in and being willing to help and give. And what struck me about that is we go out and we want to grow our businesses, and we’re expecting referrals from people and we want to grow that way. But that’s not going to happen unless we’re willing to do the same. We’re an accounting firm. We’re a professional services firm. The only way we grow is if people believe that we’re providing value and that we should be referred, if you will. And so, as I watched this over the years, it just struck me that, boy, wouldn’t a better model be when we go out to do some of these events and lunches and breakfasts and just meet with people in the market that we should think of them first. Don’t go expecting a referral. Go to these meetings to give a referral. And when you’re across from a client, don’t go there just to expect to serve them, to do their tax return or their audited financial statement. What are some things we can be doing for them proactively to either help their business or make introductions to other great partners that we think could help them in that current time. So, it’s really not difficult. It’s funny, but some people really struggle at it. It’s just get out of the selfishness and think about the person you’re sitting across from. And when you do that, it just transforms the relationship. And you just see this, it just comes back full circle, I guess is the best way to say it.
Yeah, I love that a lot. When you talk about being proactive, you mentioned looking for ways you can give referrals to clients, and it helped them out. What are some of the ways, internally, you’ve helped to build that culture? Because like you said, for whatever reason, we can get into this, too, it doesn’t seem natural to always want to give in those relationships. So, what are the things you’ve encouraged with with your team, with your sales team, to help them to adopt this mindset?
I mean, we’re constantly talking internally. We call this concept internally seamless. Seamless is getting out of the mindset of, A, I’ve been a tax professional as an example for 20 years, and I’m a tax person and it’s just teaching our people and having discussions around, no, you’re not a tax professional, you’re a CLA professional. And you are going to lean in and work with these clients in a way that helps them outside of your specific area. Clients are looking for that more than ever today. They want a professional that has their holistic picture in mind, not just someone to come in, sit in a conference room and knock out a tax return or an audited financial statement. And so, as we grow our people now, they come into CLA and they are not hired any longer as a service specialist. They’re hired as an industry specialist. We’re going to grow them into a manufacturing consultant or a construction consultant or a nonprofit consultant and on and on. And the way we’ve transformed the way we grow people is through that. It gets them out of this mindset that I’m a tax person or I’m an audit person. They get a holistic view of an industry and they’re going to bring every seamless opportunity to the clients in that industry, if you will.
Let’s take that to another level. You’re talking about the holistic picture of what’s going on. I’m not a tax person or an audit person. I’m understanding this whole view of what’s going on. Do you feel like that’s a trend that should be there across other industries, aside from just tax professionals? What are some other ways that, as we look at businesses, as other people listen in, they can teach that and invite that in their own culture?
This could be relevant across any type of business. What we’ve done here is say, look, if you’re a business owner in Central Indiana today, you’re struggling with succession planning, you’re struggling with looking for acquisitions, you’re struggling with cyber security, you’re struggling with on and on and on. You could just keep naming things that businesses struggle with. Well, here’s the problem with that. These businesses are so busy day to day in their own business, they don’t have time to think about these things. That’s the message our team is getting and saying, look, when you meet with the CEO or the owner or the CFO, think about these things because you know they’re struggling with them. And they need help, and they don’t have time to deal with it. So, we can be a provider to come in and just listen and offer help. And maybe we can connect them to some attorneys where they need help. Maybe we can connect them to some insurance individuals where they need help, maybe we can connect them to bankers where they need help. And just getting this holistic community minded approach to serving our clients and that is what we’ve taught. And our younger people stepping into the firm, that is what they’re being taught, just a holistic consultant provider.
Let’s bring it into the future of work, the topic we’re always talking about. Why do you think this strategy of being people first, being seamless, seeing yourself as industry experts, how is that going to benefit both your organization and the people you have working for you as things change so much in the next 10 to 20 years?
First and foremost, the individuals joining now stepping out of school, they are expecting a different career experience than what we did 20 to 30 years ago. When I stepped into the firm, I had this mindset is, “You know what? I’m going to go for the top. I want to be a partner. I’m going to serve my clients in the service area that the firm has put me in.” Today, that’s not necessarily the case. These individuals joining the firm are looking for a more inspired career. They want to be able to experience industries, they want to experience different service offerings. They don’t want to be pigeonholed early in their career. And so, our inspired career model does just that. It’s helping our people step into a very large firm and get to do what they want to do. We give them a rotation and an experience during their first couple years. And then we allow them to tell us what is it you like? Do you want to be a manufacturing industry tax person? Then we will build your career around that. Do you want to be a nonprofit outsourced CFO bookkeeper? We will build your career around that. So, we’re giving the people the keys to their career, which I think is really neat. And what happens with that is they feel a little bit more empowered, your retention goes up. And we’re able to retain a lot of the talent stepping into the firm. And it just helps you continually grow. And they feel more confident with optimism, because they’re becoming more of a holistic expert, versus being pigeonholed into one service line, like we all were back when we joined.
Talk about retention a little bit more because that’s a key topic for a lot of leaders that are out there trying to look towards the future. How do they keep the good talent that they have? What’s been your experience as you talk to other professionals, other companies? Why do you feel like the strategy is helping you with retaining good talent?
Well, retention is a really powerful word and there’s a lot to that. And so, yes, I do believe our inspired career model is helping with that. But there’s a lot of other things you’ve got to do to retain people. One of those is communication. When I became the leader of Indiana, just over five years ago now, I stepped into a role that historically just didn’t have a whole lot of great communication. We didn’t know how we were doing as an office, we didn’t know big wins that we got, we weren’t recognizing people. And I just realized that if you start doing little things like that, it really empowers and makes this culture start to really run on all cylinders. And so, I’m just big on communication. And I think you retain people when they know they’re part of a great family, part of a great team, they’re recognized for their contributions, they’re recognized for going out and volunteering in the community. And everyone in the office gets on this one team, one office, one family strategy, if you will, around communication. And you got to be very transparent and just make sure that the leader is right there alongside the team the entire way. And so, I think retention has really been great here because of those things, not just the career strategy, but just making sure we’re looping in a lot of our people around the communication and transparency.
I want to talk to you about your specific career and coming to the place you’re at now. You have the the distinction of growing up inside a company and then taking on a lot of huge leadership responsibilities with that. What were some of those challenges? And I guess how would that make it more difficult to implement some of these changes you want it to make? Did you find that there were a lot of roadblocks, a lot of things that were in your way to implement the kind of culture you really wanted?
My story is interesting and it would probably take a longer podcast to really give you the nuts and bolts of some of it. But I can give you a summary. I grew up in the firm as a consultant. And so, I was not on the audit side or the tax side. So, I’ve been an M&A due diligence business valuation consultant my entire career. And so, I’ve just been out in the market. To be a consultant, you’ve got to be out in the market a lot because you have no recurring revenue. And so, I have always been looking for my next project on and on. And so, I’ve gotten to know a ton of people in Indianapolis. And historically, our leaders here, they’ve been wonderful people the managing principles, but most of them did not have this hungry go to market mentality, and when your leader does not have that, neither do your people. And so, I watched for 15 or 16 years as we had a nice firm here and things were okay, but we weren’t really going out and branding and we weren’t really going to market and connecting with community partners like we have over the last five years. And what we’ve done in the last five years is just transform that. We’ve learned the give mentality. Go out and meet with people and listen to their story. And as I said before, just be willing to give. We have thousands of clients of CLA, and they all need help, whether it’s legal, banking, technology, insurance, I mean, you name it, they need help. And we can connect them to some great people in this market. We did not think like that before. It was simply sit in the office, wait for the phone to ring and grow that way, and it wasn’t working. And so, I think the reason I was selected to take this role on is because I have that go to market hungry attitude. And I think CLA needed that here in Indianapolis, and just being able to teach and come alongside some of our industry leaders here. They’ve now got that approach. They’re hungry, they see it, and they really do see all the benefits our firm has, and the beauty and the value that we can provide for our clients.
Can you point to any specific events in the last five years that you feel like were really key in making that transition? Because I think everyone would look at what you’re saying and say, yeah, this is good. We all want to move this direction, but actually turning an entire culture around, I mean, we all know that that’s a huge task to do. So, were there any specific events during that timeline that you feel like were really pivotal?
Yeah, a few things. Not really an event. But one thing that I happen to do when I took over leadership is I got rid of the way we sat as an office. So, historically, our leadership would let us sit in silos. And so, as an example, and you can think about this from any business perspective, I had my tax group sat way down here in this corner and my audit group sat way down there in that corner and my consultants sat way down here in that corner. And you know what happens when you do that is you create different cultures within your own culture, and that’s not good. And so, what I did when I took over as a leader is I made people move around and sit with the other groups to get to know them, understand what they do, become friends, become colleagues. And you know what that does is it starts to create one team, one family as opposed to a siloed culture of several teams. And I will tell you, I took a lot of grief when I did that initially. I’ve got some nasty emails, I had some people that have sat next to their buddies for 10 years. And they said, “Boy, you’re really going to kill our culture doing this.” And my response was, “What culture? We don’t really have a culture. We have a bunch of cultures.” And so, you just have to make little moves like that, that as a leader are tough. But at the end of the day, it transformed us. I mean, today, you would never guess that we have different groups. It’s all one team. And that’s what I truly had a vision of building here. And so, that’s not really an event, but that’s something that I did that that really made this start to click together. And then as far as events, we’ve done a lot in the market. We’ve joined some organizations that I think have been phenomenal. One of them is called Accelerant. They hold events and we’re a big partner of that. It’s really neat. We’re really leaning into the industries at this point. So, you’re going to find us in the technology industry as a huge player in Central Indiana. Our manufacturing team is second to none, and on and on. So, we really go to market by industry, and we’re just joining groups and becoming really intimate, I guess, with the industry organizations around the state.
Were there other internal criticisms you faced as you’re trying to implement these changes?
Yeah. I mean, there were some other things that came about, I mean, some real silly stuff historically, but it gives you an example of how little things can kill culture. I will tell you that in the office, historically, we had a certain group that liked to bring in lunch just for themselves. And so, what would happen historically is lunch would get ordered secretly by this group, it would be brought in, you would smell it, they’d secretly go through, clean it out. And then as other people went down to the kitchen area, there would be no food left. And so, it just created this culture of, boy, they must be important because they’re ordering lunch for themselves and no one else gets any. And so, when I became a leader and started to become aware of this, and really the impact it was having on our culture, I put a stop to it. And I told this group, “From now on, if you want to order lunch, I’m okay with that, but we’re ordering it for the whole office.” And what’s happened is now when we do bring in food for the whole office, you should see the room, everyone is in there together. It’s people from different groups and different industries, again, becoming one team. And so, that’s another negative thing that had happened historically that I had to step in and just have a new strategy around. Otherwise, it just sets these little culture issues internally that it was impacting other groups, and I had to put a stop to it. And then of course, one other thing, you do have people sometimes that you just know in your gut are not going to align with what your building. And so, there are tough moments where you have to have a discussion on if people are a fit in your current location. And so, we did have to have a discussion or two with people that had been here for 8 years, 10 years, and you just knew they were never going to get online with the new culture. And so, I had to have a few of those tough discussions, too. It’s just part of it.
Thanks for being candid about this stuff, Randie, because this is the key things. I think when leaders talk about, “I need to build a culture for the future, I need to change things,” it’s one thing to talk about it. But these are the specifics that people need to go through. And they have to realize that there are really difficult conversations you have to have, there are criticisms you’re going to face, and to keep that focus in mind in the future is really important. So, thanks for sharing all these things.
When I look at what you’re saying here, I look at the future of work. We say the future is very human. We want to be able to connect with people, build a lot of empathy. You’ve talked about communication, about the importance of just telling people what’s going on, recognizing people for doing great things, inspired careers, helping people to realize what they want to do, integrating your workplace, stuff as simple as eating together, as sitting together, sitting with the right people, all these things. I think when we think about the future of work, we think about a lot of automation, a lot of technology. But I really like the way that you all have embraced the human side of it and say, if we’re going to work better together as humans, we can embrace technology, but we really need to focus on how we connect as humans. So, hats off to you guys for doing a great job. I know it’s not always been easy, but it’s really, really inspiring.
Well, thank you. Technology is going to continue to evolve and grow. But at the end of the day, I do believe the firms and companies that are going to win the battle going forward are the ones that connect with their people in their markets the best. Absolutely.
Tell us a little bit about the technology side, though, in terms of what are some essential tools that you found to be helpful as you try to take this people first culture, both your clients and internally. Are there tools that you’re using now that are really helpful in that on the technology side?
Well, you know, working for a large professional services firm the technology internally, a lot of what we use won’t be relevant to the external market, but it’s continually evolving. I mean, I can’t tell you how many new technologies continue to come out every year within our own firm to help us do things quicker and more efficient. We now have hired data scientists, we’ve hired people to come in and harvest data within our own networks that we can then look at, frame and then go do better consulting with our clients. So, I’ll use the trucking industry as an example. Think about these trucking companies out there. They typically don’t have the most robust technology. If you can show them some data and dashboards that quickly show them how safety records, how their gas mileage, how their turnover, these things are really impacting their business, the better they’re going to become. And so, our firm is now trying to use technology to harvest some really neat metrics within industries that we can then take to these companies to help them excel even better. And again, it’s stuff that these companies just don’t have time to do. The data is there. But again, it just takes time and the right technology to harvest. And so, I think that’s the evolution we’re going to start seeing is companies want to see more robust technology within their own shops, so they can see this data quicker and more real time. And so, I think that’s where we’re going. But again, there’s a human element to the entire piece. There has to be someone to help you do it, connect to it, deploy it, execute it, and that’s where I think this human element is never going away. There’s always going to be connection.
Yeah, absolutely. So, Randie, we end all of our episodes, we talk about Work Minus something. We try to say we’re trying to eliminate one piece to replace it with something else. So, when you look at when you took over this role five years ago, how would you summarize what you’ve done in the last five years in terms of what’s the one thing you’ve tried to eliminate from the workplace to make it a better place.
I would say the one thing that I’ve helped eliminate is just… I’ll just call it the barrier. And the barrier to me was just connecting people to people. I think what we’ve done here, we’re going to market, we’re branding, all this stuff’s great. I think that my number one achievement, when I look at it, is when I look around this office, and I see our people, I see where they were six years ago. And now I see where they are now. And you can just tell they’re more inspired. They’re more confident. They know they’re having fun. They’re part of a great firm. That’s the biggest joy of my role here. Not the revenue and the growth. All that stuff’s great. It’s just watching our people and seeing the impact that I’ve been able to have on their lives.
That’s great. Randie, thanks so much for being on the show. We appreciate learning from you and what you’re doing. If somebody wants to get in touch with you more, where should they go?
They can go to our website, claconnect.com. If they want to learn more about our firm, they’re welcome to email me at [email protected] Or they can certainly reach out to you and you can put them in touch with me.
Sure. Awesome. Well, thanks, Randie, for being on the show and sharing all your insights with us.
I really appreciate it.
Randie Dial, Managing Principal of the Indiana Practice at CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA), has more than 20 years of experience in providing valuation, forensic accounting, and financial modeling services to a variety of publicly-traded and privately-held companies.
He is committed to creating an environment for his CLA employees to grow and develop, and follows what he calls a “One Office Culture.” Randie even mixed employees from different departments, creating a new seating chart aimed at achieving a cohesive team.