Success doesn’t have to mean satisfaction.

By Gary Thomson, Andersen Alumnus and currently a Managing Director at Thomson Consulting

I’m a content person but rarely satisfied. I’m not Confucius, far from it, so this statement is not meant to be as deeply philosophical as it may seem.

I’m content in my faith, family, my position in life, my profession, my personal pursuits, my clients, and other big things in life. But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied.

Take golf, for example. I’m content playing golf. Statistically, my handicap is in the top 5% of all U.S. players, and I’m a member of an incredible golf club. My golf partners are fantastic and put up with me most weekends. And I have more golf “toys” than one person should.

But satisfaction rarely, if ever, enters my mind when golf is involved. Oh sure, there are some short-term satisfactions, but golf has this way of making you unsatisfied very quickly. One lousy round – or even one bad hole - and it’s time to hit the internet for a new swing tip. I enjoy using Trackman and other technology to find new ways to generate clubhead speed, adjust spin rates, etc. In 2022 I was able to connect with a short game “guru” and add a newer approach to this part of my game. I was content with my game but not satisfied with it. I wanted to get better.

How can I be both content and lack satisfaction? Well, we can find contentment but still possess a strong desire to improve. We can be proud of what we have built while being unsatisfied with where we are today. That doesn’t mean what you have done isn’t good enough; it just means that things have changed, and firms need to continue to grow and strive for more – or different – successes.

I do a lot of Partner Retreats. It’s one of the most enjoyable areas of my practice. It energizes me to be with firms and help them look to their future. Despite the challenges of the last few years, the accounting profession has enjoyed some remarkable success.

Two dimensions I often see in firms:

  • Satisfaction with results can freeze innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits
  • Satisfaction with our history and culture can cause us to believe we can’t “tinker” with anything

Let me be clear, I don’t view satisfaction as being negative IF we don’t let satisfaction be a preventive roadblock to improvement.

As I was planning a recent retreat, a leader expressed to me: “go easy on pressing us to think about changes; I don’t want them to think our past success will make us unsuccessful in the future.”

I understand what he was saying. It’s easy, especially with consultants like me in the room, to examine your firm so closely that we make our past successes not seem all that great. However, if we rest on our success, we risk future lack of success. Change is not indicative of not being proud of what we’ve already done. It just means we must keep on going forward.

Finding a balance is critical. While acknowledging our history, culture, financial results, people, structure, etc., can be rewarding and celebratory, it shouldn’t paralyze us from strongly considering what lies ahead for the future.

It’s important to ask ourselves these questions:

  • What’s worked?
  • What hasn’t worked?
  • How is what we are doing better preparing us for the future?
  • What must we stop doing?
  • What should we do more of?
  • What should we add?
  • Who do we need?

I could go on and on with these questions, but think about your firm. If you’ve not asked these questions in a while, why not? Let’s find a way to prepare for the future, not by minimizing our past but by focusing on the future. We can be content with the firm we’ve built, but I don’t believe we can afford to be satisfied.

If you’re ready to ask these questions and head toward the future of your firm, let’s talk! Feel free to reach out to me