Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Show Appreciation by Utilizing Stay Interviews

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving forward.” – Albert Einstein

Some accounting firms have been utilizing stay interviews for a while. However, I have observed that there are still many firms that haven’t embraced this excellent tool.

Anytime you devote individualized attention to one of your team members, asking them for advice and feedback, it’s a positive exercise for both sides – management and staff.

Elizabeth (Bitsy) Watson, PHR, the HR Manager for Mahoney, Ulbrich, Christiansen & Russ shared the process they use for stay interviews. It would be a good best practice for you to emulate. Her comments follow:

BitsyWe started out with results from our recent engagement survey and identified about five areas where we wanted more insight, such as, if we felt our scores for recognition could be stronger or we wanted more insights into what aspects of compensation were most important to staff.

We then came up with some questions related to these areas and others (about 10 total). A few examples were:

  • What types of recognition are most meaningful to you?
  • What opportunities for development would you like that you may not be getting?
  • What type of work do you find most motivating or interesting?
  • Of the compensation and benefits we offer, what aspects are most important to you and what could be improved in this area?

We used a representative sample of our employees to participate in the stay interviews. I kept the names confidential. After the meetings were completed, our next steps were to summarize the overall themes and share the summary with the partners, not sharing names. I also included three recommendations for changes or new programs to implement. We’ll then share these new initiatives with the interview group. We want them to know that we really valued their opinions.

I tried to be as transparent as possible with everyone involved on what we were trying to accomplish and how valuable their feedback is. We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the interviewees. They mentioned feeling like it was helpful to have a channel to be asked questions they might never have been asked. I think the most interesting thing that came from this was bringing to light some wrong assumptions we, as management, had been making.

Our plan is to do this annually utilizing a different group of employees each year.

  • Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
  • Thomas Edison

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Challenging Problems

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” – John Foster Dulles

Do you shy away from challenging problems?

Certified Public Accountants are basically, nice people. They do not want to create contention or participate in confrontation. So, many challenging problems have a very long life-span inside accounting firms.

You have a renegade partner. They develop work-arounds to almost all of your processes and systems and rarely go along with the partner group’s initiatives. You even wonder what they are saying to clients.

You have a sacred cow employee. A person that apparently cannot be fired for continual poor performance. It’s someone who has been with the firm for decades and has evolved to the point where they have a very bad attitude. Even their work has become shoddy and they are beginning to drive people away from the firm.

The business world is quickly becoming digital and your firm is still not even paperless! You have a partner who absolutely refuses to move into the future. They must have everything in paper and they refuse to learn how to even review tax returns on-screen. Young, up-and-comers will soon find greener pastures.

Some partner groups are so afraid of confrontation that they pay a consultant thousands of dollars to come in and deal with the challenging problem.

Sure there is risk involved and it might feel very uncomfortable, but why not step-up to the plate and deal with your challenging problems? That’s what great leaders do.

(If you receive my blog via email, be sure to visit my website to read each days quote at the bottom of the page.)

  • One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment. If it doesn't turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Be Efficient With Your Email

“I’m really good at email.” – Elon Musk

It’s that old devil – the inbox! So many accounting firm citizens, from all levels inside the firm, lament how difficult it is to keep up with emails.

I have even heard partners talk about the number of emails they received in almost a bragging tone! “I get 100 emails a day!” “Well, I get almost 200!”

Don’t let email run your daily life. Don’t make it your default, open page on your desk top. Don’t feel compelled to reply immediately.

I have read lots of articles about how to deal with email and have shared several on this blog. I also practice what I learn! I do not continually check my email. I close my email window when I am getting real work done, etc.

AnthonyThis week I read a post by S. Anthony Iannarino, speaker and author about how he processes his email. I think you will find it very helpful.

He does not live in his inbox.

He works in 90 minute segments (without checking email).

He does a quick scan for anything urgent (that’s your challenge… what is urgent and what really isn’t urgent?)

There are really not very many emails that actually need an IMMEDIATE response. If you have one, then respond to it.

Every Wednesday morning he processes his email (he has five inboxes) and gets them all to zero.

I think you will enjoy reading his helpful, brief blog post. If you can’t give all of his tips a try at least try a few of his recommended actions.

If I let myself, I could sit and process email continually all day long! My method is to check email first thing in the morning, around noon and then again late afternoon. I rarely look at email after 5:00pm. My clients have top priority. I answer their emails first (but not always immediately).

Commit to a new practice for handling email and making your day more productive.

When you visit Anthony’s site, you might also learn some things to help with sales, after all Anthony’s site is thesalesblog.com.  And he has a book titled The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. 

  • The perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Voltaire

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Dig Deeper – It Might Not Be Your Fees

IMG_1192“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

Every tax season you wonder. Will all our clients return to our firm for their annual personal and business tax preparation?

There will be a few who will leave, for various reasons… they’ve moved, their brother-in-law now works for another local firm, they sold their business, etc. The most common reason the departing clients give is that your fees are just too high… more than they want to pay.

You review last year’s work and feel confident that the fees charged were valid compensation for the work performed. You contemplate giving the complaining client a reduced fee quote for their continuing work. Don’t do it!

Dig deeper. A client usually departs a CPA firm because of something other than fees. It is just easy for them to use fees as the excuse because they don’t want to tell you the truth. They feel neglected. They feel you are always reactive rather than proactive. They overheard something said by a member of the engagement team that was distasteful to them.

Studies tell us that a typical business hears from only 4% of it’s dissatisfied customers. Are you asking your clients, EVERY time you have a communication with them, “How are we doing?”

CPAs often spend much more time focused on NEW clients than they do on their OLD, faithful clients. You begin to take them for granted. Your existing clients are golden. Studies also tell us that the probability of selling to a new prospects is 5-20%. The probability of selling to an existing client is 60-70%.

Keep in mind:

  • It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.
  • For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent.

Clients are, of course, concerned about price but most will be willing to pay more for awesome service.

 

  • The customer's perception is your reality.
  • Kate Zabriskie

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Real-Life Valentine Messages

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles M. Schultz

When I worked every day in a busy accounting firm, I always loved having some fun and light-heartedness on Valentine’s Day. After all, it falls in one of your busiest times of the year, a time when people are gradually becoming more stressed as the days fly by.

I love the little valentine candy hearts with the positive messages. When I worked at a CPA firm I would spread them around the office on Valentine’s Day:

  • So Fine
  • Cutie Pie
  • Be Mine
  • My Guy
  • My Gal
  • Way to Go
  • Be True

What if you could put small messages about how you are really feeling today on some candy hearts? Would they be something like:

  • Get real
  • Too busy
  • Buzz off
  • Wake up
  • Go away
  • Wasn’t me

Lighten-up today and have some fun. Ask your team to submit Accounting Firm Candy Heart Messages. Sure they can include some nice and some irritating messages – share them at lunch time and have some laughs. I bet your people can be very creative.

Here’s my favorite candy heart message:

valentine pix

  • If you have only one smile in you give it to the people you love.
  • Maya Angelou

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“Do As I Say” Does Not Work

“Example is leadership.” – Albert Schweitzer

Your firm management group (includes partners, managers, and the firm administrator) works hard at defining and establishing the procedures that most efficiently enable the firm to provide excellent client service.

Your HR professional or firm administrator spends a significant amount of time and effort to update the firm handbook, the one that outlines the expected behaviors of all people working at the firm. It is approved by all partners.

You have job descriptions that document the duties of all levels of employees, including partners, at the firm.

At a staff meeting, the managing partner, speaking on behalf of all partners, explains a new policy or procedure and asks for everyone to get on board with implementation.

Do as I sayAll of this can be summed up as “Do as I say.” Then….

A couple of partners and a manager short-cut some of the documented processes or procedures.

Several leaders openly disregard a certain topic in the personnel handbook.

As far as job descriptions, we often find partners doing manager work and managers doing senior work.

Several partners procrastinate on visibly implementing the “new” procedure.

All of this completes the familiar saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

This phrase should not be part of your firm culture. The leaders’ actions are obvious to the employees and probably an on-going topic of conversation or even ridicule. What can you do about it now? What more can you do after April 15? Think about it.

  • A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example.
  • Joe DiMaggio

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

How Visible Is Your Firm On Campus?

“A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.” – L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I hope you have read Rosenberg’s recent post about accounting interns‘ lack of knowledge about public accounting.

He interviewed a group of accounting interns working for local firms in Chicago. The sad result is that their perception of the CPA profession – hours worked by staff, hours worked by partners, earnings of partners – is sadly off-target.

Read my post from 2009 to learn about my experience with college students. They did not know anything about local firms, they only knew about the Big Four. Why? Because the national firms are visible on campus EVERY week.

There is much smaller firms can do.  My firm was recruiting on campus when I joined the firm and we only had nine people! So, big firm or small firm, be visible on the college campus.

  • No man's knowledge can go beyond his experience.
  • John Locke

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

CPA Consultants’ Alliance

“Let no one think that flexibility and a predisposition to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell out.” – Paul Kagame

Today will be fun for me. I will be joining Jeff Phillips of Accoutingfly and Tamera Loerzel of Convergence Consulting to film a video podcast.

All the members of the Alliance will be involved in filming these brief video podcasts on different topics to help practitioners with specific areas of concern.

Our group today will be addressing the value of a flexible workplace and how to address many of the issues in implementing it into your culture.

Stay tuned for more information about this CPACA project in the Spring.

  • You must always be able to predict what's next and then have the flexibility to evolve.
  • Marc Benioff

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Employee Engagement Matters

“Paychecks can’t buy passion.” – Brad Federman

It is getting to be a rather tiring topic. To be successful, you must have employees who are engaged. You can Google the topic and find all kinds of advice.

The fact is, there is an overwhelming amount of people who are not engaged in their work. To me, that means they really don’t like what they do. Per Gallup, you have Three Types of Employees:

Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.

Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday, putting time but not energy or passion into their work.

Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work, they are busy action out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

My motto, on this topic as it is with most things inside a busy CPA firm – – Keep It Simple

Where do your people fit? I’m sure you have some in each classification. To drive engagement, it’s simple, you have to be proactive.

  • Be sure your people know what is expected of them.
  • Let them know how important they are to the success of your clients and your firm.
  • Make sure you explain to them how their career can, or will, advance.
  • Give regular feedback so that they know how they are doing and where they are going.
  • Be a caring boss.
  • Over communicate
  • Set a good example
  • Have a sense of humor

If you do some of these things and are proactive maybe your “Not-Engaged” people will become Engaged.

For the Actively Disengaged, give them the opportunity to get a new job elsewhere.

  • Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.
  • Zig Ziglar

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Positive Vibes

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” – Willie Nelson

Most businesses have a busy season. For CPA firms, that season is mid-January until mid-April. For decades CPA firm owners have strived to find ways to keep their people busy all year long and have been very successful in most cases.

Yet, January through April has always been the months of intense focus, numerous distractions, multiple interruptions, on-going questions, constant learning and career-building opportunities.

When the pressure is on, partners and managers sometimes become negative. When the pressure is on, all the other people working at the firm sometimes become negative!

Some people begin to say things like:

  • Joe is never going to make it. He just isn’t getting it.
  • Sally is so slow. What are we going to do?
  • Bill is a loner. He never asks questions and ends up doing it all wrong.
  • The way Betty dresses is horrible.
  • Tim has bad breath. Who is going to talk to him?

In times of stress, people tend to become more negative. The old 80/20 rule surfaces. People are negative 80% of the time and positive 20% of the time.

Let’s change that beginning this week. Begin to focus on things you like about people at least 80% of the time. I have always naturally been an optimist. Maybe that has helped me survive many busy seasons and still remain positive most of the time.

  • I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.
  • Walt Disney