Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Suffer In Silence. In Accounting Firms We Need More Talking.

New revised slides to useNow is the time to take care of your talented CPAs.

As usual, I am hearing some scary stories about the lack of communication inside accounting firms.

In the summer months and into the fall, many firms are in the midst of performance evaluation/feedback sessions and salary increases.

Notice I said “summer months and into the fall” meaning that it takes WAY TOO LONG in most firms for this process to play-out. It’s time to speed-up this process.

I am reading a lot about doing away with the formal annual performance reviews and holding managers accountable for on-going feedback, mentoring and coaching of employees. Please note that this isn’t happening in many CPA firms. The reason: partners and managers have not been well-trained nor held accountable for the performance of people they supervise.

The real story often goes like this:

  • In May, several supervisors/managers/partners are asked to rate specific employees.
  • Most of these “evaluators” have to be reminded and nagged so that the information is actually accumulated.
  • In June, performance meetings are to be scheduled and the feedback presented to the individual employees.
  • Some meetings get scheduled, then postponed.
  • Some meetings don’t get scheduled at all (waiting on the bosses to review everything, etc.)
  • Before you know it Fall has arrived.

Meanwhile, the employees talk among themselves, wondering about the feedback. Rarely does any team member speak-up and ask the partners (bosses) what’s going on… why the delay?

Meanwhile, the bosses (partners/managers) are too busy to get to the evaluations and never explain why they are delayed or when they will actually happen.

Employees shy away from speaking-up. Partners shy away from speaking-out.

Silence happens.

After the CPA employee suffers in silence for too long or too often – they leave the firm.

  • Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.
  • Paulo Coelho

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Growing Your Firm – Growing Your Career

Dillard150x150Jeremy Dillard, CPA recently presented on “Networking and Sales Best Practices” at the recent AICPA EDGE Conference in New Orleans. He offered some practical advice and his article was published this week via the AICPA.

I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment about the many misconceptions CPAs have about networking, such as it should be tackled only when billable work isn’t pressing and never during busy season. A networking plan should consider each of the following groups:

  • Firm/Organization
  • Clients
  • Industry
  • Others

Follow the link, above, to read more about each of these groups.

I contend that growing a book of business begins with a simple question – How many people do you know?

I also like Dillard’s “best sales practices.”

Know – Referral sources need to know (understand) your expertise and what differentiates you. Use LinkedIn!

Like – You need your referral sources to like you because you are counting on them for introductions. Clients must like you and staff/co-workers must like you. Make yourself likable by simply being helpful.

Trust – Earn their trust (keep your word, it’s as simple as that).

Refer – If you receive a referral, you owe a referral. If you refer, you should expect one in return – it’s how the game is played.

Thanks to Mr. Dillard for sharing his insight and experiences. Here’s a link to Dillard’s website:


  • Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.
  • Zig Ziglar

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Are You Still Waiting To Be Paid For Work You Did in March?

Most of what I write about is based on real-life observation. This is one of those topics.

New clients, at many CPA firms, are accepted without a very specific conversation about fees. It seems the CPA partners (the people responsible for those upfront conversations) are afraid. CPAs afraid? Yes, definitely.

  • Afraid of scaring the prospective client off
  • Afraid the potential client won’t grasp the value of the services
  • Afraid of not being able to explain exactly why the services are so vital (and expensive)
  • Afraid of confrontation

Some of this fear is based upon the fact that CPAs are humble and quite often don’t even perceive the value of their knowledge and expertise. Comments like, “I can’t bill the client for that, it only took a few minutes.” Or, “I’m not sending an invoice for that advice, I knew the answer right away.”

I believe the upfront conversation could eliminate so many uncomfortable moments later on. As you work with clients it is very important to develop and practice “fee talk” skills as you advance in your accounting career..

A blog post that my friend and CPA consultant, Steve Erickson, did a few years back is still very helpful. It is right on target for what I witnessed over many years inside my firm. Here are the points about talking to your clients about fees:

Stop quoting fee ranges – This is a very common practice. CPAs will tell the client that their annual work will cost between $8,000 and $10,000. The client immediately thinks and expects $8,000 and the CPA is actually thinking $10,000 (or more).

Initiate the conversation about fees with all your clients – Provide a general letter about fees and share the Firm Credit Policy. I recommend a general “welcome” letter to new clients from the firm administrator or the CEO that includes a copy of the firm credit policy.

Negotiate the scope of work not your fees – If a client wants to pay less, explain the services you can provide for that amount – negotiate and provide examples of what many clients do that increase the fees (messy records, lack of response, etc.)

Stop extending excessive credit – get retainers (you won’t have to wait until August or later to get paid for work you did in March).

Call before sending an unexpected bill – I have seen partners shy away from a phone call that could save headaches down the road. If the work is expanding, stop and call the client before you have your staff proceed with the work.

Perhaps a better answer is to move to value pricing where you have the upfront conversation every year. Read my blog post about Pricing On Purpose.

  • There is no victory at bargain basement prices.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Let’s Talk Teams


In the world of public accounting, I have been talking TEAMS for years and years. From practical experience with “staff” inside an accounting firm, I noticed that when we used the actual word TEAM rather than STAFF or EMPLOYEES it seemed that we began to work more like a team.

An article via the HBR Blog Network by Heidi Grant Halvorson titled:  TOGETHER – Managers Can Motivate Employees With One Word.

Research has determined that human beings are profoundly social. That’s probably not a big surprise to you. We are hardwired to connect to one another and to want to work together. The species would never have survived without our instinctive desire to live and work in groups.

These days, many people work in teams but they are often physically located in different offices, cubicles, or even in different cities and countries. Recent research conducted at Stanford tells us one powerful way to give team members the feeling of working as a team (when they physically aren’t). Use the word TOGETHER. Using this word and planting it in the minds of workers actually leads to better performance.

Enough with all the research talk. Inside your CPA firm, rather than tell someone how to do something and walk away – back to your comfy office, sit down beside them and work through learning experiences WITH them.

In an accounting firm, we hear over and over from new college graduates entering the profession, “We never learned that in school.” Much of what you need your new team members to do is learned via OJT (on the job training) – they learn by doing.

Some of the best training happens when a partner (or manager) actually sits beside a new hire and works through a task with them. Sure, it takes time but once you have done it you don’t have to do it again down the road. The new hire seems to retain it much better and feel more appreciated when you teach by doing things TOGETHER.


  • Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.
  • J. C. Penney

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Would Your Employees Cheer If You Eliminated Formal Performance Evaluations?

Why not do away with formal performance reviews inside your busy, growing accounting firm? Go ahead….. contemplate it, research how to do it, talk it over inside your firm with lots of people and then give it a try.

I’ve been an advocate of simplifying performance feedback for quite some time. It has been my observation that firms often make their process way too complicated and labor intensive. Too many people end up providing feedback on too may people. I have talked to partners who are filling out rating forms (with comments) on ten or more people. That’s a huge time investment. Eventually, the people providing the feedback dread “evaluation time” and the people receiving the feedback dread it, too.

Some of my clients are now trying the Keep Stop Start method and it is working well for them. But wait, many experts are now asking, why not do away with formal performance feedback sessions altogether?

There have been some heated debates about the merits of eliminating performance reviews but one large company has done it – Adobe, with over 11,000 people.

Adobe moved from yearly performance rankings to frequent “check-ins” where managers provide employees targeted coaching and advice. What a concept, managers continually talk to people!

When Adobe was considering the move away from formal feedback, the company posted a blog on the company’s intranet about the topic. Employees devoured the post, making it one of the most-read pieces in the history of Adobe’s intranet. Company-wide discussions ensued about the employees’ dissatisfaction with the review process.

Adobe’s VP of People and Places (Donna Morris) thought it was time for some disruptive change. Since the change, managers have more say in their people’s salaries and merit increases. The company’s aim is to give managers the skills, authority and responsibility so they can act much as if they were running their own business. Take some time and read more about the Adobe story here.

What do your accounting firm team members actually think about your process? Why not ask them and begin a conversation on how to make the process better and the managers better, all while providing dialogue to help the employee advance their career. It might be time for some disruptive change inside your firm.


  • One key to surviving in a world of disruption, where the external environment is changing at lightning speed, is to change the game internally.
  • Randy Ottinger

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Winning The Daily Battle With Email

There are some topics I address often. I do it because the topics are a continual pain… and frustration for CPAs.

One such topic that has been python-like in squeezing the life out of CPAs is handling the daily deluge of email. I came across a post on the HBR blog site titled, How To Delegate Your Email to an Assistant by Alexandra Samuel. It immediately clicked with me because I have heard excuses from CPA partners over and over again:

  • I can’t let an assistant see my email because of the need of confidentiality when other partners send me emails.
  • I can’t let an assistant see my email because it contains personal correspondence.
  • I can’t let an assistant see my email because some of my clients and business associates send inappropriate stuff, as jokes.

You can probably add to this list and secretly wish that you could really delegate email. You can! As opposed to old-days of email (where many CPAs established their habits relating to email), there are tools available now that can help. But, I believe that you still must have an assistant that you trust. If you don’t trust the people on your CPA firm administrative team, that’s a bigger issue!

If you are hesitant in delegating email management, know that you don’t need to give someone full access to your email in order to get meaningful help. A lot of it depends on how much support you have available, on your working style and on your relationship with your assistant and your office culture.

Here’s the questions to ask yourself before you decide how much to delegate to whom you want to delegate email access:

  • How much skill and discretion can you expect?
  • What kind of relationship do you have with this person?
  • What’s normal in your office?

Once you determine who will help, you need a system that will allow you to manage your inbox collaboratively.

  • Use a delegation service
  • Create a second email address
  • Specify your reply protocol
  • Draft sample replies

Be sure to read the entire article to learn more about each bullet-point and to help you decide if it is finally time to get some help with email management. For CPAs it is a time-consuming administrative task that you should strive to reduce so that you have time for the value-added activities that can result in practice growth.

  • Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
  • William Shakespeare

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Work On Your Culture. Start With Feedback.

Experienced CPA firm leaders usually hire some awesome new college graduates.

During the courting process (college recruiting) these young, future CPAs are talked to, listened to, entertained – - yes, much like the dating process – firm leaders are on their best behavior.

The young, high-potential graduate enters the firm and usually is greeted with silence. Sure they go through training but often it’s do-this, do-that, follow-this guideline and so on.

When young people enter your accounting firm, keep the conversations going – - not some sort of formal feedback session after 60-days or 90-days – talk to them daily. Create a culture of communication – clear, concise, honest and often.

Seth Godin says, the best way to change long-term behavior is with short-term feedback. The opposite is not true. We rarely change short-term behavior with long-term feedback.

There is a lot of whining surrounding performance evaluation systems inside CPA firms. It creates a culture of dread. If you want to change your culture and attract top talent – start with feedback.

  • 'How was your day?' is a question that matters a lot more than it seems.
  • Seth Godin

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

How To Be Successful In Public Accounting – Short Answer

Want to know how to be successful as you build your career in public accounting? It’s simple, it’s easy!

There is one question that you need to address. How many people do you know?

CPAs get clients by being visible, connecting with others and becoming well-known for their expertise.

  • Get out there and get better known – in person and via social media.
  • How many people do you have via LinkedIn connections? Needs to be at least 500.
  • David Maister used to always ask CPAs – What do you want to be famous for? Identify it and pursue it.

People will ask around when deciding upon a CPA. You need to have lots of people talking about your expertise and personality. They learn all that from seeing you often and talking with you.

Keep in mind….. they will ask people for recommendations but they will then immediately Google you. How does your online presence look?

If you are already a very successful CPA – share this with an up-and-comer.

  • You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping other people get what they want.
  • Dale Carnegie

Friday, August 1st, 2014

CPA Partner Conversations And Communications

Official_Portrait_of_President_Reagan_1981This is one of those “my observation and on my mind” type posts.

I find that most CPAs are not what you would call great communicators. Those of you old enough might remember that Ronald Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator.” Why?

He used folksy anecdotes that ordinary people could understand – - - (Do you keep it simple for your clients and you inexperienced team members?)

He had a gift for optimism – - - (Is there too much, “the sky is falling” vibes inside your firm?)

He always spoke of the future – - - (Are you asking too many questions like why didn’t we hit our chargeable hour goals last month?)

Although he was an older man, he spoke to a younger generation – - - (Have you learned the art of sucking down, managing by wandering around and so on?)

He exuded a sense of country – - - (Are you proud of and very passionate about the brand and image of your firm?)

It was not that Reagan was in America, America was inside of Reagan – - - (Is your firm more than just you? Have you built a lasting organization?)

Reagan was known for talking about substance but he kept his message basic and simple. Keep in mind that your clients and your team members are not all as experienced as you.

I love some of the famous Reagan quotations. Here’s an example:

  • I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting.
  • Ronald Reagan

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

First-Line Boss In A CPA Firm

Who is really the first-line boss in your CPA firm?

Unless you are an absolute solo (sole proprietor, no employees), then I hope you have a manager, and in most firms you have many, who are responsible for the growth and well-being of your employees.

In many firms the firm administrator plays this key role on the “well-being” side and your audit and tax managers fill the role on the “growth” topic. If you are a partner in a CPA firm, you often act as the “first-line boss.”

I continually find managers (the people with the title manager) inside CPA firms who do not manage. Sure, they manage the work fairly well but they really don’t know how to manage and inspire people BECAUSE the owners of the firm have not spent enough money on how educating them about management.

Firms are almost always generous with CPE dollars when it relates to tax, accounting and audit but no budget for learning the best and most progressive ways to help people achieve career success.

Tom Peters’ shares a weekly quote. This week it was as follows:

“Do you absolutely understand and act upon the fact that the first-line boss is the … KEY LEADERSHIP ROLE … in the organization?”

This comes from the Gallup organization:

“People leave managers not companies … in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

Rally your partner group, your executive committee, your management team and establish a plan and budget for helping managers learn what they are really suppose to be doing.  This will solve your succession issues if you can pull it off…. Can you pull it off?

  • Start with the end in mind.
  • Stephen R. Covey