Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

So Many Contradictions – It Really Is A Balancing Act

  • Managing an accounting firm is not easy.
  • Managing an accounting firm is not difficult.

Those are just the first two conflicting statements I often address when working with CPAs in public practice. Here’s some more:

Managing an accounting firm means:

  • You have to be more flexible.
  • You have to have more structure.

 

  • You must be able to talk in a way that is inspiring and motivating.
  • Don’t do all the talking, it’s important to be a great listener.

 

  • You must inspire young people to stay with the firm.
  • You should draw upon the experience of older accountants and not rush them out the door.

 

  • You have to provide quick turnaround for your clients.
  • You should take your time, you can’t risk making mistakes.

 

  • You want the team to achieve lots of billable hours.
  • You want the team to achieve great realization.

 

  • You want young people to be able to take on more challenging work.
  • You allow managers to cling to the most challenging work.

 

  • You expect the  entire team to follow all the policies and procedures
  • You, a leader, don’t set a good example by adhering to firm policies and procedures.

What I usually observe is that a great number of firms make it all too complicated. They spin their wheels, procrastinate, micro-manage, involve too many people in trivial decisions and make important decisions too slowly. They want the firm to grow and prosper by doing the same old things they have always done.

Make some changes now… before too much of 2015 passes by. Take some risk. It can be fun and exciting (and profitable).

  • Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.
  • Ray Bradbury

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Women In Accounting – Don’t Cry

Have you see Jersey Boys? Or, are you old enough to actually remember when the Four Seasons’ songs were at the top of the hit list?

One song title stayed with me all these years and helped me travel the female career path: Big Girls Don’t Cry. 

Later on, one of the lists from Gail Evans’ book, Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman brought me another line to remember. On the list of Six Things Men Can Do At Work That Women Can’t. Number 1 is: They Can Cry. You Can’t.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success: “Crying, I found in my research, is just one of a menu of communication blunders that, in a mere instant, can suck the executive presence right out of you.”

Mika Brzezinski commenting on when she got fired from CBS:  “…..but there was no place for those tears in that moment. If anything, when you cry, you give away power.”

Here’s the best story…. from a post by  Lisa Quast on Forbes:  The next time you feel like crying at work, take a few slow, deep breaths, roll your shoulders up and down several times and try to relax. Picture in your mind the line from the movie “A League Of Their Own” when Tom Hanks’ character says to one of the female baseball players, “Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!” Then try to laugh at yourself to help diffuse the emotions of the situation.

What worked for me, for many years, is that when I felt myself begin to tear-up…. I would simply excuse myself and take a brisk walk down the hall, around the office. It’s better to be abrupt and mysterious than to cry. Besides, as females KNOW, crying usually doesn’t really mean that you are upset, angry, hurt, happy, or sentimental…. it’s a pure emotion we really can’t control.

Men, if you are confronted with this situation – it’s not personal and usually not significant. When counseling and mentoring females and tears happen, simply hand them a tissue (keep tissues handy in your office), and ignore the tears.

Ladies, one more thing from Gail Evans’ list of Six Things Men Can Do At Work that Women Can’t: #6 – They Can Be Ugly. You Can’t.

  • It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
  • Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

AICPA Spring Council Meeting – Be Aware

Barry slideMany CPAs attended the AICPA Spring Council in Washington DC this week.

MOST of you did not. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to know what was discussed there. If you have a twitter account you could have had an on-going stream of relevant points from the Council meeting.

Here’s the hash tag:  #AICPAGC15

If you just scan through the posts you will be rewarded with some vital information and comments. I followed along periodically throughout the day (each day) and enjoyed the important topics and comments.

I followed tweets by Tom Hood, Accounting Today, Scott Wiley and others. But if you go to the hashtag you can see everyone’s tweets.

So, here’s my bullet list of just SOME of the important comments made at the meeting:

  • Meeting theme: Adapt-Innovate-Evolve
  • Because of my CPA and CGMA, I’m allowed to be the only woman in the room – Arleen Thomas SVP Management Acctg. & Global Markets AICPA
  • 77,000 accounting grads–all time high. New CPAs remains flat though.
  • Quote used by Melancon – See picture above.
  • 3 themes 1) pipeline/talent war 2) broader firm interconnected ecosystem 3) demand for specialization
  • What concerns CPAs: CPA Pipeline. Relevancy. Brand perception. Competition. Increased complexity. Ability to adapt. Aging practitioners. Technology.
  • What excites CPAs: Technology, Broader profession, Career opportunities, Opportunities for growth, Brand/Trust, Complexity, Specialization, Talented youth, Business advisor.
  • AICPA plans to call on Congress to preserve the cash method of accounting.
  • AICPA exceeded 400,000 members last year and is expecting to reach 408,000 this year.
  • AICPA expects to have 5,000 credential holders of the new fair value measurement credentials by 2020.
  • How do we keep young CPAs in the profession? We need to embrace disruption and innovation in our profession.
  • There are SO many more great tweets by some impressive people at the Council meeting…..

Don’t have a Twitter account? Quit procrastinating and GET ONE. You don’t have to tweet but you can READ a lot of good information everyday

  • If outside is changing faster than inside your org, you are dying.
  • Jack Welch

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Too Comfortable?

IMG_4949Too comfortable?

Things are going well. Tax season, as compared to last year, looks good. We have more revenue. We should work on developing niches but, we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

Things are going well. Sure, we lost a few people recently but they were ones we should have let go anyway. The best performers were wondering when we would get rid of some less-than-spectacular performers but they quit anyway, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

We’ve actually wanted a female partner or two but it seems that our best female performers don’t want to be partner, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

We keep hearing that we should do more with social media. But, our clients really don’t seem to care, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

Ted, one of the tax partners, has been under-performing for years. Sometimes we even hear that the staff have been discussing his incompetence. He’s always been very billable during tax season and he has been a partner for many years, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

The partners just split-up the administrative duties. Actually, if we didn’t have the admin duties, we wouldn’t have a whole lot to do in the summer. No need to hire an expensive firm administrator because, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

I could go on and on but it might make you uncomfortable.

  • There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
  • John F. Kennedy

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Interview With Kristen Rampe

Helping CPAs Be Awesome Communicators

I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Kristen Rampe, CPA. I am impressed with her down-to-earth, real-life approach to helping CPAs become better. Yes, better communicators but also better at so many of the other things that make accountants pursuing a career in public accounting successful.

Kristen Rampe of Frank, Rimerman & Co., LLPI always enjoy talking with Kristen when our paths cross at conferences and meetings because she has actual, recent experience working in public accounting. She worked for the Big Four for 3 years, worked in industry and then 7 years at a regional firm. During her journey, she of course developed the accounting technical skills but she also developed and enjoyed the other important skills that a CPA needs to be a success in public accounting – the “success skills”! (Some call them “soft” skills.)

Here’s my interview with Kristen:

You have a lot of experience, what types of clients have you worked with in the past?

I’m fortunate to have a great mix of clients. I do leadership programs, training and practice consulting for CPA firms with 12 – 2,000 employees. I also enjoy sharing my work more broadly through industry news sources and associations by working with the AICPA and AccountingWeb, to name a few.

Why did you decide to launch a solo consulting practice for professional service firms?

Like any good GenX/Millenial (I was born in a grey area), I wanted to do what I loved. For me that was helping CPA firms build great teams and great clients.

My favorite part of working as a practice professional was creating dynamic and fun teams that had the happiest clients – the kind of teams that that shared an apartment in Paris for three weeks and had clients asking for us by name…five years later. I figured, why not bring that to the world rather than just the firm I was working at.

You do a lot of speaking, what is your favorite topic to address for CPAs?

Delegating Effectively. Most CPAs know they need to delegate in order to be successful at some level, but many have a hard time figuring out how or giving themselves permission to delegate. It can run in the face of billable hours, efficiency and quality…on the surface. But once we dive into the topic participants understand how delegating actually improves those metrics.

Watching my workshop participants come away from our time together feeling inspired to take their delegation further and understanding the benefits this has is one of my favorite moments. We also talk about Saying No when I cover this topic, and that’s a huge crowd-pleaser too.

What are some specific things you do to help CPAs build great teams?

We have fun together. In my workshops, we are out of our seats a lot, bouncing inflatable animal beach balls throughout the room, and laughing often. I even had one participant write “I’m not a fan of cheesy team exercises, but found some of the things we did fun.” If I can convince the haters that team-building is fun, I’ve done my job right.

One other huge benefit is that I give teams a chance to get together and use their minds in a space that’s free from the day-to-day stresses of client work. It’s amazing how little time teams get to work on themselves versus the project-at-hand. When teams get to work together in a way that develops their relationships, it makes communication and collaboration easier when they’re back to the grind.

What are some specific things you do to help CPAs build great clients?

I help them see that client service and brand is a true differentiator. Often this takes the form of a workshop where we explore the different touch-points a client has with a firm (e.g. engagement letters, document requests, issue resolution process, client gifts, etc.), how those touch-points are adding or detracting from the client relationship, and what CPAs can do about it as it relates to their organization’s goals.

There are so many opportunities to further client relationships, and not all require going out to lunch, though I am a huge fan of client lunches as part of the overall package!

What advice would you give a young, female accountant who wants to find a sponsor?

In finding a sponsor, look for someone who:

  • Knows you do great work and appreciates your contributions.
  • You respect and want to be associated with.
  • Has influence at your organization and can create opportunities for you.

If you’ve found someone like this:

  • Ask them for challenging opportunities and projects that are outside of your comfort zone.
  • Make your sponsor look good, they are putting their reputation on the line for you, you must come through.

If no one immediately comes to mind, think of the person who is closest candidate and up your game with them. Do better work, be more visible – once you knock their socks off a few times you should be able to convert a colleague to a sponsor with ease.

I heard you’re writing a book, tell me more about that.

I am! It’s a humor book for current and former CPAs called Accounting Dreams. Because what could be funnier than accounting dreams or dreams accountants have, right?! But really, it’s about the challenges CPAs have with clients, and vice versa – showcased in a series of photos with captions about what you would LOVE to hear your client say.

I was inspired to write the book because there’s I believe there’s always room for more laugher and fun in the world, and especially our profession. One of my favorite pages is a photo of a client meeting with the caption “Wow, great rates! Who knew accounting fees could be so reasonable.” Which, generally speaking, is never going to happen, but this page highlights a dreamy situation in which a client feels that way.

Curious and fun-loving CPAs can find details about release dates and upcoming sample pages on my website.

Ways to connect with Kristen

kristen@kristenrampe.com

616.219.0375

http://Kristenrampe.com

@kristenrampe

  • It’s amazing how little time teams get to work on themselves versus the project-at-hand.
  • Kristen Rampe

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Practice Civility

Civility. noun – formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.

Some of us think of it more in the terms of good manners. Children must be taught good manners and see it practiced by their role models.

As you become a manager and then a partner in your firm, if you want to be viewed as an inspiring leader, you better be practicing civility.

There is solid research behind this. This is from Christine Porath via HBR:

“For the last 20 years, I’ve studied the costs of incivility, as well as the benefits of civility. Across the board, I’ve found that civility pays. it enhances your influence and performance and is positively associated with being perceived as a leader.”

Leaders need to demonstrate respect. According to recent studies, being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition, appreciation, inspiring visions or even learning opportunities.

I do upward survey services for CPA firm partners and managers. I often find that partner groups are hesitant to hear what their employees actually think. Maybe I shouldn’t say hesitant. I should say scared. They want to manipulate the questions, and make multiple types of other modifications to the surveys. One firm administrator told me, “We will never do an upward survey. The partners don’t want to hear what the staff thinks of them.” Maybe this partner group isn’t practicing civility and I am sure that most baby boomers were taught good manners as a child!

In actuality, I find that the results of upward surveys in CPA firms are honest, insightful, and contain very helpful suggestions. They are not vicious or vindictive. The replies are civil. (Qualifier: Unless you have one of those “loose cannon” type partners who actually needs to hear the truth and the other partners are afraid to tell him/her.

0 Avatar slide for blogWant to read more? Here are some of my other posts on this topic:

2009 – The Power of Civility

2011 – Make Your Clients & Your People Feel Special

2014 – Be Honest, Are You Really Different?

You know my motto: I’d rather be kind.

(See quote below… I was actually a kindergarten teacher’s aide at one point years ago.)

 

  • Play fair. Don't hit people. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Robert Fulghum, author-All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Just Ask

There is so much to do to prepare our firm for the future. What should we do? What should we do first?

The above “feeling” is spreading among busy CPA firms across the country. Practitioners continually hear about and are urged to address the issues involved in preparing their firms for the future. Change has always been on the horizon for accounting firms and they have made great progress, however, leaders at many firms have procrastinated.

2015 is the time to take action. What will your focus be for this year’s partner retreat? What will the topic be for this year’s Firm Day?

If your partner group wants expert insight, meaningful observations and a sense of priorities, the answer is easy.

Ask your people!

I have been fortunate to be part of many such information gathering exercises and I am always amazed and pleased at how clearly CPA firm citizens (all categories and levels) see the need for change. They have an excellent grasp of not only what needs to change but also a sense of the priorities of the vast number of changes.

As you address the many issues of preparing your firm to survive into the future, ask your people what they think and what they recommend.

Caution! Don’t ask them if you are not going to act upon their suggestions and observations.

  • My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.
  • Peter Drucker

Friday, May 8th, 2015

The Challenges of Developing Leaders – Get Real With Your Competency Models

Leadership development is not just a challenge for the CPA profession. $14 billion is being spent by U.S. corporations annually on leadership development and yet, public confidence in leadership has dropped considerably. 70% of Americans believe there is a leadership crisis that will lead to a national decline unless we find better leaders.

How’s that going at your firm? Inside your CPA firm, I imagine you have been spending lots of dollars on development of the next generation of firm leaders. Has the confidence, among your current leaders and your employees, in regard to future leaders increased or decreased in recent years?

According to an article on clomedia.com (Chief Learning Officer), if leadership programs do not produce the bench strength, performance and behaviors desired, one or more of six problems could be the culprit.

The one I want to focus on today is the CPA firm competency models. Here’s a quote from the article that sure got my attention:

“Competency models also can be used to define leadership. But competency models are idiosyncratic lists of skills and abilities composed by asking senior managers what is needed to lead in particular jobs. Because few senior managers are good leaders, asking them about effective leadership is like asking a doctor for investment advice. He or she probably has an opinion, but it may not be a good one.”

It is my observation that most firms simply obtain their competency models by copying other firms or using the standard resources provided by the AICPA and other broad resources specifically for the CPA profession.

Here are the six problems:

The evaluation problem – It is a dirty little secret that leadership development programs are rarely evaluated in a meaningful way.

The definition problem – Evaluation requires specifying desired outcomes, and this requires defining leadership correctly.

The people problem – Many of the people who attend leadership development programs are drawn to high-status and high-paying leadership positions, but they have little talent for leading a team. (Need I say… Amen!)

The content problem – Little of what is taught in leadership programs concerns the actual tasks of leadership.

The pedagogy problem – Most leadership programs are taught in inappropriate ways. They tend to be events with little follow-up support or accountability for transferring learning back to the job.

The rationale problem – Leadership development programs are often launched for questionable reasons.

Where do you go, what do you do? Read the detail in this article and discuss it with your partners and other internal leaders. The article provides seven recommendations that are not expensive but do require learning leaders to think differently about leader development.

  • Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.
  • Jim Rohn

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Busy – Busy – Busy

busyHow are things going for the firm? – – Something I naturally ask when conversing with CPA firm leaders. I ask this question very often and direct it to various people working behind the scenes in CPA firms, not just partners.

Here’s the response I almost always receive. First, a big sigh followed by a lament on how busy they are.

“Sorry, I didn’t get back to you sooner, things are crazy here.”

“I didn’t get a chance to call you this morning, we were in a meeting and it ran over.”

“I can’t get all my vacation in this summer, I’m just too busy.”

“I won’t be going to the conference this year, I just can’t get away from the firm.

Here’s my advice:  GET AWAY FROM THE FIRM!

Message to partners:  Young people don’t want to become a partner in your firm because YOU are always TOO BUSY. You might even be scaring new clients away because you always appear SO busy. Some of your best clients hesitate to refer their friends to your firm because you are already TOO busy.

It’s catching and it spreads and soon you have a culture of BUSYNESS. If you don’t stay until 10:00p during tax season you might get frowned upon.

Focus on delegation and efficiency. I see a huge amount of time wasted inside CPA firms. Being too busy is often a reflection of personal choice.

Get a large jar or fish bowl and put it in the lunch room. Every time someone get’s caught SAYING the work BUSY they must deposit 25 cents into the jar. Maybe if you don’t say it all the time and talk about it all the time it won’t become a dark cloud that continually hangs over your head or a hurdle that blocks your way toward real progress.

 

  • Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
  • Socrates

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Michigan Association of CPAs – Women’s Leadership Discussion

Photo on 5-2-15 at 9.00 AM #3I have encouraged many women in accounting to read the book Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman by Gail Evans. Once I read it, I wished I had read it YEARS ago!

I am so pleased that the Michigan Association has asked me to facilitate a webinar where we will actively discuss the book and its implications.

Please join this the brand new VIRTUAL Women’s Leadership Discussion on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 from 11am – 1pm, developed by the MICPA‘s Women’s Initiatives Task Force. Women are encouraged to attend, bring colleagues to the table and participate in an open and honest conversation .

If you have read the book (or even if you haven’t), I hope you will join me and other women (and hopefully men), to talk about the topics and how we can put them to use in the workplace and use them to advance our careers.

  • Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt