As an accounting firm coach, consultant and mentor I am privy to many shareholder agreements. Some incorporate a form of long service or sabbatical leave for owners on some sort of a cycle. Good idea.

I’ve recently had a client try the idea of what they ended up calling “special projects leave”. This came out of discussion at one of our monthly coaching sessions and it has turned out to a stroke of genius!

What I see in so many firms is the owners or managers with a long list of things they want to get done, which if they actually got done, would make a positive and long term difference to the firm. Sadly, for many this list remains aspirational. Why? Lack of time. Many owners and managers say they are so busy with their heads down doing client work they couldn’t possibly stop to do anything else. One common way this is described is you are chopping down trees but don’t have time to stop to sharpen your axe, or even better, buy a chainsaw! My view is it is not necessarily a lack of time but rather a choice made about what the priorities are.

This is where “special projects leave” comes in. The two owners of the firm agreed they would each take up to four weeks away from the day to day client work and focus solely on the projects on their list. The projects were carefully prioritised and each owner is completing projects that play to his strengths. So far the first owner is just completing his leave and has declared it a great success. The fabulous thing is that some of those projects now completed will actually make it easier for him to take more special projects leave because they are building systems to support delivery of great outcomes for clients but with less reliance on him. Perfect!

Setting up to have this timeout takes a bit of planning and expectation management with clients and team members but I am convinced that for many firms it is absolutely doable and will make a big and positive difference. The experience of the owner that went first was that there were a couple (and I do mean only a couple) of client matters that necessitated a small amount of input from him. The team and the clients respected his decision and let him get on with it. His email auto responder was set up to tell people that he was on this leave and directing them to a team member for assistance.

Here is my three step process to make this happen:

  1. Identify a small number of projects that you have been wanting to do and know will benefit the firm
  2. Schedule 2, 3 or 4 weeks in your calendar to work on them, and tell your team and any clients who need to know
  3. Find a special place to work that is not in your office and get cracking

I’m convinced that those who boldly follow the lead of my client will be highly rewarded.

Have a go and let me know how it went for you.