Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

As You Advance – Be Sure To Ask For Feedback

Thanks to the Ohio Society of CPAs for once again featuring a conversation with me on their Spotlight Video Series.

This time we talk about the fact that as you advance in your career and become a partner in your accounting firm, you probably won’t get as much feedback as you did as a staff person or a manager.

It’s up to you to seek out feedback, make people comfortable talking to you. Make yourself approachable.

  • Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success.
  • Paul J. Meyer

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Most progressive CPA firms guarantee their work. Do You?

Firms are including a guarantee in the engagement letter or proposal.

Here’s what I put in my own Engagement Agreements:

Service Guarantee and Confidentiality

Rita Keller’s services are unconditionally guaranteed. If the services do not meet your expectation, you may end the arrangement and pay only the value you deem acceptable. Confidentiality is extremely important. While Keller may serve other CPA firms in your market, absolutely no information about your firm will ever be discussed or disclosed. If I discover a best practice during my association with your firm, I may request permission to feature you and/or your firm on my blog.

Sometimes these guarantees are structured in the form of a Commitment Statement to the client that includes things like:

  • You will be respected and never taken for granted.
  • We absolutely respect the confidentiality of our working relationship with you.
  • We will return phone calls and answer email within 24 hours.
  • …. and so on.

Some even include asking the client for some commitments as a second part of the statement, such as:

  • You will give us all the information we need to complete the assignment.
  • You will meet mutually agreed upon deadlines. In the case of circumstances beyond your control, you will notify us immediately of the situation.
  • You will pay our fees per our engagement letter.
  • … and so on.

Just something you might consider for your firm. It makes a bold and important statement to your clients.

Here’s a sample of a Client Commitment Statement.

  • The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.
  • Morgan Freeman

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend: It Is Not The Dream Of Being Big. It’s The Dream Of Being Real.

“Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes.” – Joseph Roux

I recently read (in O magazine) that Bill Murray really is a poetry lover. Here is a favorite passage from him that I can identify with and I also think applies to all the special CPAs I know.

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so…

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

Here is a video of Murray reading poetry to a group of construction workers at Poets House.  Enjoy the weekend.

  • Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
  • Carl Sandburg

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Hear It From Them

“Live your life and ignore your age.” – Norman Vincent Peale

I’ve done many presentations about and written extensively about generations in the workplace. I am convinced that ALL generations better understanding each other, and not putting each other in “boxes” because of their age, can solve most if not all of the misunderstandings inside the firm.

That being said, I do probably focus more on the Millennials. This week, I read an article on the Forbes site by Paul Armstrong. It was directed to marketers and listed three things they need to know so they can better understand the Millennial customer.

10363724_10154114657826535_4176653492470208085_nYou can read the short article and take what you need because the Millennials working in your accounting firm ARE your customers.

The second of the three things was the most important to me because it stressed the fact that we need to hear directly from Millennials so we can better understand what they want and how they feel.

I’ve been guilty. I stand before an audience and tell them what Millennials are like, how they behave (in general) and what they want. I do get much of this directly from Millennials and a lot of it from research, articles, etc. What you really need is to hear it directly from them.

Here’s a quote by an IBM executive from the article:  “I still don’t get how middle aged men on stage can tell us what Millennials want.  Surely we should hear this from real Millennials?”

Rather than listening to us older, non-Millennial male and female consultants tell you what Millennials want, why not ask them yourselves?

Host some roundtable discussions at your firm. Put an older partner at each table with several Millennials and begin gathering information. Ask specific questions and just listen.

You can always survey your Millennials first and then use the results for some lively roundtable discussions.

One of the first things that caused me to focus on Millennials was a statement from a Millennial panel at a conference several years ago. The young man said: “I have an 18-month old daughter at home. Bath time is important to me. At my current firm, I can go home for dinner and bath time and then work for several hours after she goes to bed. That’s why I joined this firm.”

Photo: Lumsden McCormick Facebook

  • Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.
  • Aristotle

Friday, April 1st, 2016

The Skill of Writing and Replying to Review Notes

“If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” – Mark Twain

I rarely repeat a blog post. However, I am doing that today because this is an important topic relating to the learning and development of young accountants. So, this Friday, read the following originally posted in 2013.

The topic of review notes always amuses me.

When I first joined a CPA firm, I was amazed that things were “proofed” and “reviewed” SO many times. Why didn’t people “do it right the first time?”

Just to make you smile today, here are some review note observations.

  • Some partners use review notes as a means of not having to actually talk to staff members.
  • Many partners have told me that review notes are the way they “train” their new people.
  • In the old days, CPAs kept review notes in the client file and new people were told to look at last year’s review notes so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Then they wised-up and realized that proof of errors should probably not be retained in the file (what a concept…. they learned this from their liability insurance provider).
  • In many firms, you will find a partner who is known as the review note Gorilla – the more review notes, the more the young staffer is learning.  Staffers will begin to compare and take pride in mocking this behavior….. “Hey, I got 25 review notes from Old Joe.” – – “That’s nothing… I got 44 on the Smith Manufacturing job!”

Inside many firms, standard “replies to review notes” have evolved.  The two-year associates will share with the “first years” on what to reply.

I had the following list of Review Note Replies in an old paper file. See if they sound familiar. Got any to add?

  • I didn’t do it.
  • Why don’t you look in the work papers?
  • When you give me enough time to do an audit, I’ll do an audit.
  • How far into the ground would you like to beat this?
  • Who cares? We already reviewed the report with the client.
  • Webster defines immaterial as “that which does not matter, not pertinent, unimportant.”
  • Well, if we could get a little planning on these jobs….
  • The senior told me to do it that way.
  • You must have “discussed” this with someone else.
  • Noted for next year (I’m not up to it this year and maybe I’ll quit by then).
  • Watch it! I have a standing job offer with another firm.
  • Frankly, it didn’t even cross my mind.
  • I must have missed staff training that day.
  • You are assuming the client has a basic knowledge of accounting.

Honestly, I do see the value in review notes. It is how young people learn and expand their knowledge in public accounting. At least, the team members are getting important feedback from the more experienced accountants. If you are a reviewer, I hope that you provide some verbal discussion along with the written review notes. Do not use them to side-step actually talking with the people you are supervising!

  • The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.
  • Colin Powell

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

You Are Never Too Busy To Provide Recognition

“Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca

I have observed that employees in accounting firms really don’t demand too much of their bosses. If you are a partner, manager, supervisor, senior or an associate, there are times when someone else in the firm is looking to you for guidance. What you owe them is something very easy… simple recognition. A kind word, a quick “thank-you” or “good job” goes a long way.

Take about 3 minutes to listen to why recognition is so important, especially during busy season.

  • Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.
  • Abraham Lincoln

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Giving Upward Feedback

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard

I facilitate a lot of surveys for CPA firms. It is a very valuable activity for firm leaders. You want to know what your people think and what your clients think.

But, that’s not enough. You have to act upon the information you receive.

When conducting an upward feedback survey, one very important step you need to take is to take away any fear they may have. Some employees are truly afraid of repercussions or retaliation of some sort, which I rarely ever see from partners. It is important to assure them of the firm’s desire for honest feedback and that each partner will use that feedback to establish improvement goals for the future.

I also ask firm leaders to help educate the employees about how to give feedback. Many people do not really understand the process. I explain that they should limit their suggestions to their own opinions and not convey feedback that comes second or third hand.

Here’s a good way to frame feedback: Describe the action, the result and the solution, such as, “When you (do this), it (causes this). Going forward, I would recommend (fill in the blank.)”

Here’s an example: “When you take a very long time to get back to me with review comments, it causes me to use a significant amount of time to refresh myself about the tax return. If you could improve turnaround time, even slightly, it would help me be more efficient and learn from my mistakes.”

Now is the time to schedule your upward feedback project for 2016. Contact me for information about how I can help.

  • 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 think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.
  • Elon Musk

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – What Teachers Really Do All Day

Those of us working in the profession of public accounting sometimes think we really have it rough. Long hours, stress, government deadlines, grumpy clients and so on.

What if you were a teacher? Take a minute and a half to listen to what teachers really do all day.

Click here.

Have a great weekend!

  • I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
  • Socrates

Monday, March 21st, 2016

There Is A Lot More Than Just Satisfying The Client

“If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up.” – J. M. Power

Many years ago when I attended Accountants’ Bootcamp, I learned a whole lot about quality service and pleasing clients.

Satisfying the client is just the bottom of the Hierarchy of Satisfaction ladder.

You SATISFY the client – that’s that! You correctly prepare their taxes or financial statements.

Better yet… You EXCEED expectations. You do something they didn’t expect. Simple.

Better yet… You DELIGHT the client. Maybe you personally deliver their taxes.

Better yet… You make them say “WOW!” I always thought that was the goal, but there is more

Better yet… The client becomes a RAVING FAN. They talk about you and your firm with their friends and business associates.

Better yet… You create WAVES OF LUST. They want you (and your firm) no one else when they need help. Can there be more? – Yes!

The best – You are the ONLY ones who DO WHAT YOU DO the way you do it. Period.

Are you the ONLY ones? If not, make plans now to get that reputation. Provide a client service workshop for your entire team. Ask them what you, as a a firm, should be doing to better serve the client. Some of the things should be “over the top,” if you want to be the ONLY one.

  • Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set ourself on fire.
  • Arnold Glasow

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Bring Value To Your Clients By Offering Additional Services

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter

It is important for CPA firms to continually demonstrate the value they bring to their clients.

“Value-added” has been bantered around the profession for years and still some accountants find it difficult to put into words. One way is to offer your clients additional services. Usually, they don’t realize that a service they are contemplating from an outside consultant is already offered by their CPA firm.

It comes back to that magic word: Communicate!

You not only need to communicate with the clients, you need to communicate with your own staff.

Do all of your team members, even the most recent college recruits, know what to look and listen for while they are at the client’s location? Have experienced partners tell them stories how they landed a lucrative engagement by chatting with a client while they were working at the client’s site.

Have you educated your team about all of the firm’s service offerings? Sometimes the newer employees really don’t know what the firm offers in addition to tax, audit and accounting. At a lunch & learn, set up a panel of 3 or 4 niche leaders to talk about how the services from their niche can benefit clients.

Can all of your team members talk intelligently about your menu of services? Provide them with an Additional Services Checklist so they can at least convey the opportunities (and who to talk to at the firm) to the client.

Design a Cross-sell Brochure to help your team and make it nice enough they can even leave it behind with a client. Here’s one-side of a sample I share – it is in tri-fold format. If you want a sample, let me know. Sometimes a piece of paper still gets your message across!

CrossSell Sample KA

  • Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.
  • Kevin Stirtz