“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins
Everyone wants to work for a firm that “gets it.” If you can create that special culture within your CPA firm that really understands today’s current workforce, you will be a winner.
While millennials are the focus for most firms, it involves other team members, too. Experienced people will leave firms that are stuck in the past and move on to a high-profile firm with a vibrant culture.
LBMC, headquartered in Nashville, is a shining example.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” – Albert Einstein
Ever wonder what your valuable team members are saying about your firm? I wonder what they say to their friends. I wonder what they say to their parents. I wonder what they say to strangers. And, I wonder what they say to each other!
You should be wondering, too.
In the most progressive firms they are saying things like this:
I can see opportunity here.
They give me ownership of my projects.
I am encouraged to develop myself technically.
I am encouraged to be involved in the community.
This firm is a place for high performers.
They listen to us, we have influence here.
Early in my career, I was given opportunities to have face time with clients.
When something significant happens in your personal life, you get great support from the firm.
I have the feeling I am involved in something special and not just getting a paycheck.
They empower us and give us control over our own schedules.
I love being involved in our Staff Advisory Board.
When I moved to the area, I found the firm online and submitted an application.
These comments come from two, large, progressive, locally owned firms. They didn’t develop millennial-friendly cultures overnight. More and more firms are finding it extremely difficult to compete for top talent. You have to build the culture, the brand, the vision and purpose and… they will come.
Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.
If you supervise other people there are times when you really need to have some open and honest conversations.
Of course, you need to have frequent and honest talks when people are doing well. Continually sprinkle praise on your top performers and also have periodic conversations with them about their career path and the progress they are making.
You also need to have some crucial conversations, critical conversations, and difficult conversations when people are not meeting your expectations. I have observed that while communication with your top performers is easy, it does not happen often enough. I have also observed that difficult conversations are often put-off for months and sometimes even years!
Partners and managers often ask, “How do we begin? How do we actually conduct these difficult conversations?”
I always recommend that you be very clear about the situation whether it is about performance on an engagement or even about the fact that they have body odor.
How do you begin? Be completely straight forward and say, “I need to have a difficult conversation with you.”
Then you might want to use the BEERmethod (I have blogged about it before. Here’s a recap:
Talk directly with the person, in private and follow these steps: B= Behavior – describe to the person what they are doing or not doing that is unacceptable E = Effect – Explain why the behavior is unacceptable, how it hurts productivity, bothers others, etc. E = Expectation – Tell the what you expect them to do (or not do) to change. R = Result – Clearly explain what will happen if the employee changes (positive) or the consequences if this behavior continues.
A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.
“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
Did you ever collect baseball cards? Topps baseball cards have been around since the late 1880s.
Who would think it, a CPA’s picture on a real baseball card?
I have blogged about my friend Robert Raiola many times. Why? Because he is unique among CPAs and exemplifies what being a CPA, famous for something, is all about.
Raiola is director of the sports and entertainment group at New York-based PKF O’Connor Davies. He appears on the 2016 Topps’ Allen & Ginter baseball card set, issued on August 13, which includes Major League Baseball players and other sports figures, such as radio host Mike Francesa and actor Kevin (“Field of Dreams”) Costner.
Often, accounting firm partners procrastinate when it comes to asking for feedback from their employees. Sometimes, firm partners seem to be actually afraid of receiving feedback. They fear it might not be very flattering.
I disagree with all of that. I facilitate a lot of upward feedback surveys for the accounting profession and it always turns out to be a very beneficial and helpful exercise.
If you want to boost morale and increase employee engagement, ask them their opinion.
Many experts have written about the benefits. Not only does it boost morale, it reduces turnover, and sets the stage for enhanced performance.
Your team members have the front-line knowledge of how the work is going within the firm. They know which partner writes the best review notes and which one is the best listener.
When asked, “What more could this partner do to help further your career development?” the team members are very insightful and provide excellent suggestions.
Many managing partners want this feedback for partners so they can help them set meaningful goals for the months ahead. My clients tell me that many great conversations have occurred by discussing the upward feedback with individual partners.
During my presentations, I often ask a rhetorical question, “You don’t have any whiners at your firm, do you?” What I receive is usually a lot of snickers and sometimes outright laughter.
Yes, most of you have them, hopefully not many. The old adage, misery loves company, often applies to accounting firm teams. Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) addressed the four hidden agendas concealed in complaints in a recent blog post. Here are the four:
“You should have ….”You caused the problem because you dropped the ball.
“What are you going to do about this?” Whiners want – no expect – you to make it better.
“I’m not happy.” Chronic complainers don’t own the real issue. They want something for themselves.
“I want to look good while I talk bad.” Complainers use compassion as camouflage. They’re complaining because they “care”.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates
I have coached many managing partners and firm administrators, the two people usually charged with “running” the firm properly.
I have often found that they try very hard, almost desperately hard, to please others. Often they end up doing many tasks that no one really appreciates or even needs.
“I run so many month-end reports out of our practice management system and I doubt if anyone even looks at them,” a statement I have heard from multiple firm administrators over the years. Do you wonder if your partners look at the month-end, miscellaneous reports you furnish them?
Simply stop producing reports that you think no one looks at. The sad thing that usually happens is that no one even notices you stopped producing the reports!
You can also develop a one-page recap of important KPIs at the end of the month and eliminate furnishing all the detailed reports.
This also applies to all the individual tax organizers you might still be printing and mailing (I hope you aren’t still doing this but….). The organizer comes back to you, unopened, with their year-end paper documents. Consider establishing a rule that only clients that ask for (or opt-in for) a printed organizer will receive one. The default is “no organizer.”
If you want to work at a higher level and take on more important work with more responsibility, get rid of the “busy work” no one cares about.
If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark
One of the services I provide to CPA firms is facilitating upward feedback surveys. I usually begin by conducting an upward feedback survey for partners in a firm. Then most of my clients continue on with asking for feedback on managers and supervisors.
One of the interesting things these surveys disclose is that people beginning their career in public accounting value review notes that are expertly communicated in an educational manner.
Many respondents, from many firms, have mentioned that a particular boss (partner, manager or supervisor) provides excellent review notes and often go on to describe how helpful the review notes are and how they learn from them.
Don’t think that this is the entire story! Many respondents, from many firms, also don’t hesitate to mention when a particular boss does not provide clear and concise (and helpful) review notes.
Review notes are such a common practice inside busy firms that we sometimes don’t even think about how helpful it would be if the firm had some sort of standard for writing review notes. If your firm has documented guidelines for writing review notes, maybe you would be open to sharing them with me via email.
One firm, when staff noted that sometimes review notes seemed harsh, actually changed the name of their Review Notes to Learning Points.
Also, don’t forget that people like some verbal feedback to go along with the written review notes.
I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better.
I didn’t begin writing this blog post because I read an article or another blog post about the too many meetings issue. I am writing it because I have heard DIRECTLY from my clients and others working in accounting firms that “we have way too many meetings!”
This topic has been addressed, very humorously by Dilbert, on many occasions:
Boss: We’re having a meeting to discuss employee retention.
Dilbert: Tell them that employees quit because there are too many useless meetings.
Boss: We won’t be getting into reasons at the first meeting.
Seriously, does your firm have too many meetings? It is an on-going danger inside CPA firms because:
Partners want to be sure they are communicating with everyone.
Partners want to show their people that they care about their opinion.
Partners and managers think that what they discuss is of interest to everyone.
Partners have a strong “need to know” about way too many things!
Partners think they have to be in on every decision.
Don’t make most meetings mandatory.
Invite and involve fewer people.
Invite and involve the right people.
Demand that people be on time.
Always have an agenda.
Set an end time and stick to it.
Leave the meeting with Action Steps.
If you involve people in meetings that are important and they don’t talk or contribute. Don’t invite or involve them again.
As for partner meetings….. if you are a partner in a CPA firm it is your duty, your responsibility, to speak up in meetings. You opinions must be heard and silence, if you disagree, is not an option.
Another issue with some partners… they NEVER attend meetings and it is always someone else’s responsibility to make sure they are in the loop.