Year of Investment

When Erin Stahmer and David Wurtzbacher founded Ascend, an Alpine Investors-backed platform that partners with entrepreneurial CPAs, they had a lot of work to do to bring their ideas to fruition. The co-founders built a business plan to positively impact the accounting industry by bringing smaller regional CPA firms together under one platform to learn from one another and then grow with the resources and backing of Ascend and Alpine. However, they first needed to align on the long-term vision for the business, as well as the tactical steps to get there. Without this clear roadmap, Erin and David knew inspiring engagement for their team and clients would be difficult.

The co-founders worked closely with Alpine PeopleFirst consultant Amy Day to design a two-day workshop that focused on crafting the company’s foundational vision and values on day one and transitioned to strategy and the creation of a One Page Plan (OPP) on day two—two key steps in Alpine’s PeopleFirst Leadership Program. Completing the process within Ascend’s first two months of operating, the co-founders clarified their vision, goals and values, and created a clear value proposition that they could share with entrepreneurial CPA firms early in the partnership conversation. It proved so successful during the M&A process that Ascend now programmatically takes partner firms through the PeopleFirst program and helps them to establish an OPP within three to six months of joining Ascend.

“Excellence in business is one of the most powerful vehicles we have for lifting others up. We help our leaders to think big about a team’s full potential, to memorialize their goals, and to transform that vision into fulfilling, rewarding career opportunities for their people,” says Wurtzbacher. “The PeopleFirst OPP process unlocks this process. We are seeing our leadership teams take hold of ambitious visions to drive engagement and more positive outcomes for their people.”

Excellence in business is one of the most powerful vehicles we have for lifting others up.

PeopleFirst Workshops in Action

The PeopleFirst Leadership Program’s Vision and Strategy Days help leaders develop their aspirational goals and identify the steps needed to reach them. An essential step in the process of creating engaged leaders and inspired teams is the creation of a clear shared picture of where the company is going and a shared language to communicate that vision.

During the OPP exercise, company leaders write their envisioned plan for their businesses onto a single piece of paper. Working in columns from left to right, they fill in sections focused on their mission, vision and values, then move toward the tactical approach for achieving this based on annual and quarterly goals. Once the company OPP is complete, teams, and subsequently individuals, create their own OPPs that align with that shared plan. Then the entire company undertakes a quarterly renewal process during which they “renew” their commitment to the vision, revisit the OPP and adapt it for the
quarter ahead.

Clarifying Firm Goals from Day One

An acquisition creates much anticipation—often a mix of excitement and fear—for members of the organization choosing to sell. Ascend has emphasized the value of PeopleFirst workshops with their new partners post-deal close. This ensures Ascend builds relationships with firm founders right away, and the OPP provides all employees with a sense of clarity and reassurance around the firm’s new direction.

“For Ascend to deliver on our promises to revitalize the accounting industry, we need to realize our big growth goals. To do that, we must engage with our partners around where we’re headed and build excitement about the future ahead,” says Stahmer. “Having a single-page strategy allows us to stack hands and agree on our direction. This process creates buy-in, motivation and incredible levels of clarity for everyone in the organization.”

Tracking Impact

Ascend measures the impact of its PeopleFirst initiatives in two ways:

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)*: Ascend reported an average score in the 70s across its partner firms in the first half of 2023.

Partner firm revenue growth goals: Aligning on growth metrics was new for certain partner firms; some firm leaders were hesitant to put a number on a page or had never undergone an exercise like this before. But each of Ascend’s partner firms set ambitious growth goals that matched their firm’s values.

“As a member of a community of firms who all go through our two-day strategy and OPP process, CEOs learn about the goals that other firms sign up for, and it becomes inspiring. They realize they’re part of this cohort of growth-oriented, entrepreneurial CPAs who are in it together. That leads to a shared ambition about what they want to achieve as individual firms and as a collective,” says Stahmer.

Case studies presented contain the opinions of past and present Alpine portfolio company executives. Alpine makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information presented here. It should not be assumed that the portfolio companies discussed in these case studies were profitable or that future portfolio companies or experiences will be comparable. Past performance is not necessarily indicative, or a guarantee, of future results. Under no circumstances should these case studies be construed as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy, any security or as opinions regarding the provision of investment advisory services by Alpine. Please see Alpine’s Terms of Use on Alpine’s website for disclosures.
*The eNPS measures employee engagement and satisfaction in the workplace. According to Bain Consulting, scores from 0–40 are good and scores around 40 are considered great. There can be no assurance that survey results will generate positive returns or outcomes. eNPS is measured by asking employees on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely they are to recommend their organization as a place to work. It is calculated as (Promoters – Detractors) / Total Respondents, where Detractors score 0–6, Neutrals score 7–8, and Promoters score 9–10. The above is a weighted average eNPS that considers the entire Alpine Portfolio, and weights each company score by the number of respondents.
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