Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

To Keep Top Talent At Your CPA Firm, Ask Them To Stretch

You arrive at the office on Friday morning and immediately you hear the news from one of your partners, your firm administrator or the HR director….. “Sally gave her notice late yesterday afternoon!”

Sally has become a key person on your team. She had just been promoted to Supervisor and was not only building some strong client relationships, the younger team members were requesting to be assigned to her jobs.

Yes, she got a great offer from another firm, an offer that was almost too good to be true. And, yes, you have been stalling on promoting her to manager because you already have 12 managers and are not sure what the future truly holds for her at the firm. You have delayed talking to her about all this and even though she has been asking questions about her career path.

How do you replace her? You are thinking about the recruiter fees you will be paying to get someone with her experience. WAIT…. don’t you have an internal mobility plan?  If not, you should begin one now.

Although promoting from within is a common practice inside of firms, I often hear, “we don’t have anyone ready to handle her accounts, no one is experienced enough.”

Before you go outside to hire, consider asking your Seniors to stretch a little and fill the role of Supervisor. Ask your associates to stretch a little and fill the role of Senior. You get the idea.

Your best performers (at whatever level) are looking for career advancement and career development. They will step-up and go above and beyond if you present the opportunity. They are waiting for you to ask and they don’t want you to bring a stranger in from the outside.

Besides, your own internal candidates already know your culture, procedures and quirks. Give them a chance. You might be surprised at how eager they are to stretch…. if you give them the opportunity.



  • "Success is due to our stretching to the challenges of life. Failure comes when we shrink from them."
  • John C. Maxwell

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Information for “New” or “Nearly” Accounting Firm Partners

brochure jpegI often get questions about training for new or future accounting firm partners.

There are a lot of good programs out there for this group of CPAs in public practice. So, if you are a “new” or “nearly” a partner here’s an upcoming opportunity to learn more from the AICPA about important topics you will be addressing as a partner in a firm.

The AICPA will be offering the Emerging Partner Training Forum on June 23 and 24. You can attend the event at the AICPA offices in New York or Durham. The sessions will be simulcast between Durham and New York and each forum will include both on-site speakers and live broadcasts of speakers at the alternate location.

You can download a copy of the brochure here.

Just keep in mind, there is a lot more to the role of CPA firm partner than you can learn in two days, 2 weeks, 2 months or even 2 years. It used to be a highly billable/great rainmaker role. Now, it is a true leadership/relationship-building role comprised of intelligent people who are also emotionally intelligent and they lead by example.

I hope you are smiling – that last sentence was just a “wish” by me – it’s not reality yet.

  • "The more deeply you want the spotlight the more urgently you must turn it on others."
  • Dan Rockwell

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The Offer

When you read the title, above, I bet you thought I was going to give you some helpful advice on making an employment offer to top candidates at the college level or experienced accountants. Wrong. I want you to consider making an offer to someone to leave.

Last week, I read an article on HBR about Amazon copying a practice used for many years by Zappos. Remember, Zappos is now owned by Amazon. It seems Jeff Bezos is adapting a practice developed and used by Tony Hsieh.

Zappos calls it “The Offer” and Amazon is calling their version “Pay to Quit.”

You have probably noticed, unhappy people make for unsuccessful companies (or CPA firms).  I think this commentary from the article could apply to many accounting firms:

As Bezos notes in his letter to shareholders, “in the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.” This is not, it should be stressed, an indictment of the organization or people who choose to leave. Great companies are great precisely because they stand for something special, different, distinctive. That means, almost by definition, that they are not for everybody. It takes a certain personality type to thrive in the extroverted almost theatrical, culture of Zappos, or the driven, no-nonsense culture of Amazon. If there isn’t the right fit, it makes perfect sense to quit.

Be sure to read the article, Why Amazon Is Copying Zappos and Paying Employees to Quit and note the last paragraph. How engaged are people at every level of your CPA firm? What would it take to persuade some of them to leave?

  • "I don't want just words. If that's all you have for me, you'd better go."
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – Daily Overview

Have you heard of the website Daily Overview?

Lighten-up this weekend and take a journey where you will look at earth with a new, amazing viewpoint.

Overview is a daily dose of satellite photos that will help you appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the things humans have constructed – as well as the devastating impact that we’ve had.

See the amazing pictures here.

  • "Man must rise above the Earth - to the top of the atmosphere and beyond - for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives."
  • Plato

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Making Personal Decisions

When you are working inside a busy accounting firm, sometimes it is very difficult to “herd the cats” and reach important decisions.

Actually, whether you are an owner or a first-year staff accountant, personal decisions can be overwhelming.

For some thoughts on decision-making that impacts the firm, check-out yesterday’s blog post. Today, it is about you and your personal decisions.

Many young accountants face decisions, such as: Should I stay with the firm? Should I be more aggressive on seeking that promotion? Do I really want to continue to live in (name of city) for the rest of my life?

More experienced accountants may be contemplating: Should I buy that house because it’s in the upscale neighborhood? Should I talk to that executive recruiter who has been calling me? Do I eliminate my general clients and dig deeper into that specialized niche or segment? Do I seek to become partner and fight the work/life balance issue?

Susie Moore, in an article in the Huffington Post, gives us advice on making the right decision:

It’s important to make considered, well-thought-out decisions, especially when they’re life changing. But lets not confuse fear of failure and chronic over-thinking with decision-making. With some guidance laid out here, and by listening to your intuition, you can make the right choices in your life and feel confident?  Here are five tips:

Stop asking other people.

Trust that your inner voice, your intuition, has all you need to know. You are whole and have the answers, my friend!

Sleep on it.

There’s rarely a real rush to make a big decision, and 24 hours to make one (when there are external factors involved — e.g., your boss is waiting) is always a good idea. A fresh, relaxed mind in the morning is at its most clear.

Take some quiet time.

Whether you meditate, think best while running or simply tune in to your center while sitting on your couch with tea, be still and take an hour or two to connect with your inner wisdom. It surfaces when we allow it to.

Consider both clear outcomes of the decision in mind.

Write them down. Imagine all of a sudden that one of the two outcomes was taken off the table. Scratch it out on the paper. Do you feel disappointed or relieved with what remains? If it feels good, here’s your answer!

Create a personal deadline to making it happen.

No negotiating on this one!


  • "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The Agony of Decisions Inside Your Accounting Firm

As CPA firms grow, things need to change.

When you have 2 – 5 partners (owners) and a firm administrator involved in the decision-making activities, these people become used to being involved in  every operational/management decision. You have probably heard the old example that has circulated in CPA management conferences for years about it taking 5 partners and several meetings to decide on what copier (or printer) to purchase.

I can even remember when we would form a committee with partners, staff people and administrative people to research and decide on the best copier to purchase!

Did all those people want to be involved?  Yes and no. Some owners want their stamp of approval on everything but most people just don’t want the blame for a poor decision falling on their shoulders alone. It’s almost comical and the old adage, “no decision, is a decision” applies.

Thank goodness those types of routine decisions about the operational side of the firm have been placed in the hands of a professional firm administrator who navigates the partner political waters efficiently.

But, there are an ever-increasing number of more complex decisions that face firms in the current, rapidly-changing business world. Technology is just one example.  There are still many firms, although they say they are a digital firm and all work is reviewed “on screen,” allow one or two partners to continue to operate “the old-fashioned” way.

Performing client engagements has moved so far beyond reviewing on screen (or not). Progressive firms are moving to virtual services. Auditors do not have to travel to a client site and sit in a conference room (or in some cases a store room) to perform the audit.

Going forward, it’s going to take experts in HR, technology and practice growth sitting at the decision-making table and a group of owners who will respect decisions made by others.

Check back tomorrow for more about making decisions.

  • "I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up."
  • Mark Twain

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

April 15th – Lighten-Up CPAs!

In most CPA firms, women have played a HUGE role in helping you get through busy season.

Check out Jimmy Fallon’s Questions & Dancers segment about equal pay for women.

  • "The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing and then marry him."
  • Cher

Monday, April 14th, 2014

April 14th – A Tale of Two Firms

The story inside some CPA firms today…..

  • It’s going to be a crazy-busy Monday.
  • Most of the partners and several team members worked both week-end days.
  • You have a lot of “loose ends” to tie-up so you can get the return or extension filed.
  • There are several clients you have to call and break the bad news that they owe more than they expected.
  • You are expecting two or three clients, the same ones every year, to drop off or email information and expect to get their return tomorrow. They will pay you for last year’s tax work when they give you this year’s info.
  • A partner says, “I only have 3 or 4 8879s to get signed.” The problem is that each partner and some managers are saying this and there are 8 partners and 6 managers in the firm.
  • The firm administrator will be asking the admin team to be prepared to stay late today and tomorrow.
  • Tomorrow, when the party begins around 4:00, the admin team will miss it because they will be swamped with last minute tasks.
  • Dinner will be served this evening and some partners and team members will be working late into the evening.

The story inside some CPA firms today….

  • It will be a relief to come in this Monday because you have worked hard and everything was finalized on Friday.
  • You communicated clearly and thoroughly with clients and they know what to expect.
  • Everything that needs to be extended is already extended because you have notified your clients, for years, that if they don’t have their complete information to you by April 7th, their return will be extended.
  • When a client is slow to pay for their individual tax work, the following year you ask for a retainer before you begin the work.
  • You actually close at noon on April 15th, or
  • For years, you have given your team members April 16th as a holiday (or the Friday after April 15th), and it’s their favorite holiday.
  • Your after-tax-season feedback survey will go out to your people on April 16.
  • Your admin team never misses your tax season party. You have outsiders plan the party so they don’t have to also handle that task.
  • "Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now."
  • Alan Lakein

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – Don’t Take Things For Granted

We live in a magical world. Please don’t take it for granted.

I work with CPAs in public practice. They are always busy. They are devoted to their clients. They sometimes take their families for granted. They are used to the newest and best business technology. I’m sure many of us, in the back of our minds, are thinking… just another day.

That’s why I am asking you to lighten-up this weekend and next weekend and every weekend and think about the joys of the magical world we live in.

I fly a lot and I still sometimes contemplate….. how can this be? I’m soaring through the clouds. I woke up in Dayton, Ohio and had lunch in Key West, Florida. It’s magical. My mother never flew. She just wouldn’t do it, she was afraid. My dad was more adventurous and we all urged her to accompany him. No deal.

This morning I watched a video about two “old” ladies flying for the first time. I hope you watch all of it, or just jump to the six minute mark.

Here’s the lead in text:

“One of the things I hate about today’s world is that we take EVERYTHING for granted. We communicate through light and electricity, fly in metal vehicles, and listen to music recorded decades ago through airwaves – yet everyone is like “whatever”. Which is why I love this video of two old women flying for the first time.”

The next time you FaceTime with your kids or grandkids or tell your car where you want to go and it talks you through getting there, think for just a few seconds about the magical life we lead.

  • "If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing."
  • Coco Chanel

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Effectively Using Your CPA Management Consultant

Old School:

The traditional way a CPA firm finds and uses a management consultant is to ask around and find out who other firms are using or identify someone they have heard speak at a management conference then hire them to facilitate the partner retreat.

The firm has budgeted a certain amount for the retreat facilitation and after the retreat, the consultant moves on to other engagements and the firm often does not want to spend the money to have them do follow-up work or assist with implementation and accountability

New School:

Find a consultant that you think fits your firm, based on size, service lines, people needs, partner problems, etc. You find these people by hearing them speak but also by assessing them in relation to their writings, use of social media, and ability to keep pace with current trends in business.

Initially, they will facilitate your retreat or conduct a planning day or two with your partners or management leaders. Then they attend your monthly partner meetings or executive committee meetings (60 to 90 minutes per month via Skype or other virtual resource) to continually contribute and to hold you accountable. The firm budgets an amount for the 2-day planning session and another amount for the 12-month on-going involvement.  Result: You have a much better shot at actually getting things done, at moving your firm ahead, at recruiting and retaining top talent and developing a culture within your firm of continual change and improvement. That’s the culture the new workforce wants to experience.

  • "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
  • Albert Einstein