While Gordon is on sabbatical, he’s invited Jim Proppe, a member of Plante Moran’s six-person management team, to fill in as a guest blogger. In his role as Group Managing Partner, Jim leads client service, growth, and people development for the firm’s industry-focused practice areas.

Each year, we invite our 2,000+ staff (the entire firm!) to join us for a day of celebration. We call it our Firm Conference.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year, and it comes with a fair amount of reflection. What did we accomplish? What didn’t we get to? How sound are our day-to-day, one-year, and five-year strategies? At times I feel like I’m in a time warp; is this 2014 or 2020?

That’s why it’s so nice to shut down for a day simply to look back at all that we’ve accomplished and look forward at what’s to come. You can almost feel us take a collective breath as we pause to enjoy—for one special day—each other’s accomplishments, big and small.

A few years ago, we were fortunate to have Dennis Snow from Disney as a guest speaker at our firm conference. He spoke about client service and what he called “big wows”—arranging for a family to be grand marshals of a Disney parade, for example—and also what he called “little wows”—small, sincere, personalized actions that, taken alone, may seem like no big deal but, considered together, add up to make a big impact.

We have several big wows that we celebrate at our firm conference, such as partner and staff promotions, but this year, we asked our partners to share some of these “little wows” that our staff had accomplished. The responses were overwhelming. I thought I’d share a few with you now:

  • A wealth management staff member got a request from a client to help him wire money for a down payment on a vacation that he was taking with his wife and kids. The remaining payment was due in five months.  Our staff member set a reminder five months down the road to check with the client to see if he remembered to pay off the trip…and he hadn’t. Thanks to our staff, the payment was made on time. Wow!
  • Recently, while a couple of our clients were visiting China, our country manager had welcome baskets delivered to the clients’ hotel rooms before their arrival. The baskets included business cards for each client translated into Chinese, pocket cash in Chinese currency (for tips, assuming they hadn’t yet exchanged dollars), American snack foods, frequently used Chinese phrases, and a welcome letter. The client was blown away.
  • One of our audit associates makes a wildly popular banana pudding dish each year during a client’s audit. A new person at the client said she’d heard about the treat before the audit even began, and everyone was wondering what day it would show up. Sometimes even something as simple as a dessert can be a huge “Wow” to a client.

And there are so many more where those come from! This is just a handful of examples of how staff have stepped outside of what’s expected to make a difference and wow their clients and colleagues.

So how about you? What are some of the little wows from your organization? And do you have an annual conference to celebrate accomplishments? If not, how does your organization pause and reflect on a job well done?

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For more than a decade, the firm has had a sabbatical program that requires all partners to take a mandatory four consecutive weeks’ leave every seven years. Although we have a generous paid-time-off policy at the firm, some partners use it more than others; the sabbatical program requires all partners to disconnect completely so that we may return refreshed and reenergized. Also, it’s an opportunity for our staff and others to further develop by taking on additional client roles and responsibilities. Done correctly, it’s a win-win for everyone: clients, staff, and the partner on sabbatical.

Feedback from clients has always been positive. Instead of, “Wait a minute—you mean I won’t be able to reach you for a month?” the response is more like, “Wow. That’s really cool. I wish we did that.”

And it is really cool. On July 9, I will begin my four-week sabbatical, my second as a partner and my first as a managing partner. The first time around, we went to Italy for three weeks with our entire family. It was the trip of a lifetime. Having those three solid weeks where it was “just us” was priceless.

This time around, we’re sticking closer to home. We’re fortunate to have a cottage in Northern Michigan, and it’s one of the prettiest, most peaceful places. I’m looking forward to the quiet and some time with my family.

Although I’ll be gone for a month, I’ve invited Jim Proppe, Plante Moran’s group managing partner in charge of industries, and Sue Perlin, partner-in-charge of our Women in Leadership initiative to write guest blogs while I’m gone, so you have those to look forward to. In addition, don’t forget:

  1. Our fourth annual innovation survey is in process. This year, we’re asking the question, “Can company culture hamper innovation?” We encourage you to take the survey. Respondents will receive our report in late September, and we’re donating $5 for every completed survey to Camp Innovation.
  2. Very soon, our second issue of Engage, Plante Moran’s magazine, will be e-mailed out to clients (hard copies should appear shortly thereafter). Be sure to check it out at engage.plantemoran.com. From 3-D printing and what companies can learn from improvisational comedy to international lessons learned the hard way and what organizations really need to do to prepare for healthcare reform by 2015, this issue’s got something for everyone. (And if you don’t currently receive Engage, be sure to sign up for it at subscribe.plantemoran.com.)

That does it for me. Enjoy the month, and I’ll be back in August. Here’s to the rejuvenating power of the sabbatical.

What about you? Does your organization have a sabbatical benefit? What would you do with four consecutive weeks off?

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Can Company Culture Hamper Innovation? We’re Surveying Leaders to Find Out!

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What Do You Do With a Talented Square Peg? Create a Square Hole.

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Allow me to share one of my favorite Frank Moran stories. Frank was meeting with a client in the early days of the firm when he was introduced to a man named Bob Petz. Frank was immediately impressed by him—so much so that he decided to hire him. “You’re crazy,” said Frank’s colleagues who, at […]

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