There are many “bosses” inside a public accounting firm.
You, as a beginner and even as a manager, work for all the partners – that could mean 10 or 12 bosses (or more). Almost every manager, and senior, boss other people. Perhaps even the first-year team members boss the interns.
What kind of boss are you?
I saw a stat this week that was troubling. 65% of the workforce would choose a new boss over a raise. Also, a majority of workers trust a stranger more than their boss.
Thank goodness, I don’t think it is quite this depressing in the CPA profession, however, you need to pay attention if you are a boss. Accounting firms are frantically looking for good people. If you are not a good boss, if you are not encouraging, if you are not friendly, if you are not a good mentor, if you are not a good listener…. younger people will leave. Others are contacting them everyday to win them away from your firm.
If you hear comments like, “You can always talk to Bill, but don’t ever interrupt Ted.” Deal with it.
Retaining people is a top priority. I mean top performers. Sometimes firing poor performers is a great retention action, even if you have to search for a replacement. It tells your top performers that you are a high-performing firm focused on growth so there will be room for advancement.
If people leave your firm after busy season, look in the mirror.
By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.
Accountants change very slowly. It has long been a tradition that “getting” your own office signals your peers and probably your family, that you have made it, that you are now in an important role.
Even GenX and younger accountants still seem to think this way. It’s the culture they have grown-up in during their working years.
Writers and researchers tell us that younger people like a more open work space where they can enjoy and benefit from collaboration.
I hope CPA firms can get away from the status thing that seems to be ingrained in their employees and the firm partners. I know many partners who believe that the size of their office and location (corner office) seem to paint them as more powerful. My opinion? This fools no one.
I have witnessed, first-hand, cubicle dwellers in CPA firms measure the length of the desk-top in their cube to assure themselves that they have as much space as their next door neighbor. Fascinating.
If you are considering an office update this year, here’s a good article about designing open office space. I think a combination of open and some private spaces for special situations would be an improvement over the public accounting tradition of cubicle “stalls” and way-too-big offices for partners.
Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.
When BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, evaluates potential stock purchases, its managers look at all the usual financial metrics. Guess what they also look at… something difficult to assess – employee sentiment.
If employees are happy a company seems the perform much better. No surprise there.
If YOUR employees are happy, they will take excellent care of your clients and your firm will thrive.
I can absolutely sense it when I visit firms. Sometimes, people seem very serious, rather gloomy. Think of Eeyore (Oh me, oh my…). In other firms, there is laughter, smiling, joking – – you can feel happiness and camaraderie.
This morning, do some MBWA (managing by wandering around). Try to capture a sense of how people feel. Sure, this time of year they will be very busy and somewhat stressed. How do they dispel that stress, through whining or through laughter?
To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.
As I have worked with CPAs around the country, all ages and in firms of various sizes, I often am saddened by the wasted opportunities I encounter.
It’s usually a communication issue and the willingness among partners to be absolutely open and honest. Someone might get their feelings hurt. There might be an uncomfortable feeling within the group for a while… but it doesn’t last if everyone is focused on “the good of the firm” and not on their own, personal agenda.
Here are some examples of where change is a roadblock to opportunity (these are fictional, gathered from various interactions over my 30+ years working in the CPA profession):
A capable, experienced, passionate managing partner is prohibited from making the firm future-ready because she is constantly dealing with bickering partners.
A firm located in a great market never capitalizes on growth opportunities because they have made several people a partner when these people do not market, do not sell, do not network in the business community and some have actually never-ever brought in a new client.
A firm has a great expansion opportunity in a not-too-distant market, it slips through their hands because no partner will commit to being the champion of that endeavor. They are too comfortable with status quo.
A great merger opportunity falls through because ONE of the partners in the firm being acquired kills the deal usually because he knows he wouldn’t measure-up in the new environment.
These are some fairly major change-is-needed examples, however, I see firms miss opportunity because of unwillingness to change some simple, day-to-day activities.
In these firms, partner meetings turn into repeat discussions of old issues and Opportunity moves on down the road.
The wheel of change moves on and those who were down go up and those who were up go down.
After you read his column, take some action so that the same clients won’t abuse you next year. I always think about something David Maister stressed – – – Why would you work for clients you don’t even like? Many CPA firms continue to serve clients that make everyone in the office cringe.
In my experience, most partners are willing, and even eager, to “fire” clients…. but only those on the other partners’ list of clients. So, year after year partners talk about out-placing certain clients but never seem to get around to doing it.
Here’s an easy way to identify the clients who need to go – – ask all staff members to submit three client names that need to be fired. Compile the votes and out-place the top three. Do this every year.
Yes, some firms do fire high-revenue clients. They are not worth the risk or the headaches. And, in this time of talent wars, it’s not worth losing talented people because of clients behaving badly.
Today, I am just offering some simple thoughts that cross my mind in dealing with people working inside CPA firms for over 30 years.
In today’s environment at CPA firms with so many current partners (owners) beginning to retire, pushing every CPA working at the firm toward becoming “a leader” is almost in the mass hysteria mode.
At so many firms, as the partners are considering retirement, they complain that “there’s no one here who can replace me”.
No one can replace them? I believe there are some who can replace them. Those are the top performers who need extra attention and extensive training. Some current leader are worried about showing favoritism.
However, not everyone wants to be a partner or even a manager. According to a survey by Careerbuilder, approximately one-third of workers aspire to leadership positions, with only 7 percent aiming for senior or C-level management.
Wouldn’t it seem logical to spend time talking with your team members, mentoring them, counseling them and discovering which ones truly are passionate about becoming a partner some day? It’s not for everyone, so don’t push it on everyone.
Some progressive firms have identified a specific program for top performers. Not everyone is included, they have to earn their way into the program. I like this because everyone knows who is a top performer.
If someone expresses the desire to become a leader (partner or manager) and they are not a top performer, tell them that and explain how they can become a top performer.
Finally, look at your current partner group. How many are truly displaying leadership skills on a daily basis? Don’t allow them to coast. Life-long learning is for everyone.
These types of thoughts are on my mind today because I have observed that current firm leaders often tell people they have the chance to become a partner some day, if they work hard….. then, behind closed doors they talk to each other about the fact it will never happen for that particular person.
It’s kinder to be honest.
If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.