Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Working Hard In An Accounting Firm? Need A Raise?

IMG_4817Research tells us that many women have NEVER asked for a raise. It is my observation that inside accounting firms, employees, in general, rarely ask for a raise.

Yes, accounting firms pay well for experienced people. Sometimes those coming in from the outside are paid quite a bit more than someone with longevity with the firm.

Don’t settle for less than you are worth. Here are some points to consider.

Has your list of responsibilities expanded since your last pay increase? Keep a list of tasks you have taken on and be ready to discuss these during your salary conversation. Your firm does not provide a salary conversation session? Ask for one.

If you are really dissatisfied with your pay increases/salary do some research in the marketplace. Again, it is my observation that many people in accounting firms are overpaid as compared to the market. This includes partners.

Do your research. If you determine you are underpaid, schedule a talk with your boss (partner/mentor/department head). If the result is “No, no raise at this time,” then ask them to describe what you have to do to earn more and get a follow-up meeting with them on the calendar for 3 to 6 months down the road.

It is healthy for both boss and employee to talk about salary. If you are the employee, it’s about your future and your career path. The firm should be prepared to paint a picture of the future for you.

  • Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.
  • Jim Rohn

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Cannot Afford To Leave

Today’s post is sort of a follow-on to yesterday’s Sacred Cow post (people who are protected, cannot be fired). There’s probably at least one of those inside your firm, probably more.

What about the people who really don’t want to stay at your firm but, over the years, they have performed adequately (but maybe not) and you have given them annual pay increases and now they make a VERY good salary. They are not passionate about the firm any longer (this could even be partners) and are just “putting in their time”.

EGHQ7ZDZI8I hear it all the time….. “There’s no where else in my area where I can make as much as I do here.” And from the other side, “She’s doing a pretty good job for us and it’s so hard to hire people now.”

Develop a “grow your own” culture where you are continually hiring new college grads and developing them. That way there is always someone who can stretch and fill a spot vacated by a more experienced person. People love challenges and promotions.

Identify your middle stars, people who are not all superstars but they are not falling stars either. Many middle stars are passionate about the firm. Challenge them and help them meet your expectations. If they are unwilling, and too comfortable with status quo, offer them the opportunity to work for another firm.

If you have someone who is working at your firm just because of the money – it’s time to deal with it. Give them a nice severance. Long-term, it’s the right decision.

From the other side, if you are that person, working for an accounting firm although it’s depressing, unchallenging, chaotic and poorly managed, don’t stay just for the money. Life is too short.

  • There's no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there's no excuse for boredom, ever.
  • Viggo Mortensen

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Sacred Cows

Sacred Cow – definition:

One that is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. Someone or something that has been accepted or respected for a long time and that people are afraid or unwilling to criticize or question.

If you are involved in merger discussions and are acquiring a firm, be sure to ask: What are your sacred cows?

When leaders of a firm want to be “merged-in” they might shy away from talking about their sacred cows until after the deal is done. Too late. The firm that is acquiring cannot facilitate the transition if they are not aware of the sacred cows.

cowWhat I usually observe is that it is a long-time employee who cannot be terminated. CPAs are kind and loyal. They keep some long-time employees just because “she has been with the firm for 25 years, even though she hasn’t adapted to our technology” or “he’s a partner, even though his performance hasn’t been up to par for many, many years.”

Sometimes it is tax software. “We will not change our tax package.” Period.

Remember, you are running a business. Why wouldn’t you negotiate a nice departure package and hire someone at half the salary who loves technology? Why wouldn’t you negotiate a retirement timeline and make departure easy?

As for technology and software, the entire firm should be using the exact same software and following the exact same procedures. That way any team member can work for any partner or office at any given time via remote connectivity. The same goes for basic office procedures. Of course, offices have some minor nuances and personality differences but the work gets done the same way and to meet firm-wide quality standards.

  • I don't want any vegetables thank you. I paid for the cow to eat them for me.
  • Douglas Coupland

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Make Sure Urgency Is Obvious

Thanks to my good friend, Anita Goetz (former CPAFM national president), for sending me a great blog post by Kris Dunn on The HR Capitalist blog site.

It is about the situation at the University of Missouri. There are lessons to be learned for many and specifically CPA firms which is a “people” business.

Read the entire blog post here.  The title is: Make Sure Urgency Is Obvious to All…

Here are some “things we can learn”:

When you see low level hate activity with no names or individuals to attach to it, it’s not enough to say we’re “looking into it” or “we’re going to work on that”. You have to take action, and if you don’t, you may be held accountable in a way that is career-threatening and embarrassing to you.

(It’s not hate activities at your firm but how many time have you told your employees, “we’re going to work on that”, and then you don’t?)

You can’t be stand-offish to small interest groups that form. You have to engage, or the problem is probably going to get worse.

(At CPA firms, unhappiness of one person spreads. If a star performer is unhappy, they won’t engage, they will just leave and get more money down the street.)

Social media can blow any situation through the roof.

(Be aware! Do you, as a firm leader, even follow social media? One unhappy employee can tell thousands about your firm with one tweet or post on a hiring site.)

All it takes is one group with over-weighted power to take a stand and you’ll be out. Let’s face it, the deans of the various schools came forward and recommended to the president to stand down. Crickets. The football team came forward and it was all over for that president in less than 48 hours. Money and viral pressure from social media, the kind that maybe only sports can deliver in our country, reigns supreme.

(Managing partners, how are you doing? Do you have the support of your partners and your team? Ask them. Talk about it.)

As the author says, take action when you see bad stuff.

  • To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy, a whole heart and a free mind.
  • Pearl S. Buck

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Conversations That Move The Firm Forward

I think I am fairly safe in saying that inside every accounting firm there is a naysayer. Maybe more than one! They always seem to see the glass half empty.

In progressive, successful firms you will find people having conversations about the firm that are positive, conversations that move the firm forward.

When someone whines and says, “Nothing good is happening here,” someone else will often say, “Oh, what about the additional holiday they added last year?” or “Didn’t you just get assigned to one of the firm’s top five clients?” Negativity is discouraged. And, if something truly negative is happening, management deals with it immediately.

Often, negative conversations (even less than tasteful jokes) about some of the firm’s clients frequently occur. Be realistic, do some of your clients need to go elsewhere?

In firms that get it, you will find people who are keeping the vision alive. The vision lives in the conversations inside the firm. These positive conversations about the firm and the firm’s clients will help the firm grow and prosper.

Here’s an action step for you: Identify STRENGTHS of your firm and remember to speak up for them.

  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • Winston Churchill

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Building A Positive Attitude

Some years ago, when I was actively working in a growing firm, I faced an issue with our administrative team. They, like administrative teams in many CPA firms, were finding it difficult to keep a positive attitude. Honestly, they were whining, moaning, groaning, complaining and playing the drama game. It is easy for a CPA firm admin team to get caught in this trap.

In their eyes, they are at the bottom of the org chart. It’s hard for them to see the light at the top. I believe that the admin team, is the heart and soul of the firm. If they are not happy, no one is happy. They have great influence and their attitude affects all the people they come into contact with during the day.

yesI believe a positive attitude can make a huge difference in your career success and in your personal life. How do you attain or regain a positive attitude? I look to sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer. To help our admin team, I purchased his book, YES! Attitude for every team member and asked them to read it and keep it handy to pick up and read randomly when challenging situations arise. We often discussed chapters from the book at our administrative staff meetings.

Positive attitude is certainly not only an admin team issue. It is difficult for new hires, experienced accountants and even partners to keep a positive attitude. Per Gitomer, 80-100% of your success is dependent on your positive attitude.

Many of you reading this think you have a positive attitude but do you? Have you studied it?

Gitomer recommends reading and studying these four books:

  1. Think and Grow Rich — Napoleon Hill
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie
  3. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living — Dale Carnegie
  4. The Power of Positive Thinking — Norman Vincent Peale

For a positive attitude read the complete list of Gitomer “tidbits” here.

Here are just a few of the 19.5 tidbits:

  • The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare to win.
  • You will get whatever you want if you help enough people get whatever they want.
  • Self-talk equals self-performance.
  • Hard work makes luck

Make today the first day of renewing your positive attitude. Keep in mind, you become who you surround yourself with. Stay away from the whiners!

  • Quality performance and quality service starts with a positive attitude.
  • Jeffrey Gitomer

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Bad Meetings Are A Reflection Of Bad Leaders

Inside your accounting firm, do you think you have too many meetings? Are they pointless in the eyes of the attendees? Are they boring? Are they unproductive?

Patrick Lencioni (author of Death By Meeting), in his helpful article, urges you to Avoid Death By Meeting. I urge you to read it if you are the leader of your firm and even if you are not the leader, you, as a firm citizen, have influence in your firm. Make others aware that properly defining meetings is what leaders do.

Bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders and they take a devastating toll on a firm’s success. Perhaps it’s time for your firm to transform meetings into something productive, focused and even energizing.

Lencioni contends that there are two basic problems. Meetings lack drama. Which means they are boring. And, most meetings lack context and purpose. They are a mixture of trivia, administration, strategy, meandering and lack of resolution.

To make meetings more engaging means you need to encourage the drama… the conflict that should exist.

Consider movies and TV shows. The first couple of minutes grab you attention so that you will continue to be engaged.

In your firm and partner meetings rather than putting the tough discussions off until later in the meeting, put them first. Wrestle with the tough issues first and you have a better chance of engaging your attendees.

Lencioni recommends four distinct meetings:

The Daily Check-in (10 minutes – an administrative type meeting to keep team members aligned).

The Weekly Tactical (known as the Staff Meeting – 30 to 60 minutes to quickly review priorities and then decide what should actually be discussed).

The Monthly Strategic – This is the appropriate place for partners to discuss the big issues. It is a time for debate, brainstorming and pursuit of topics that have a long-term impact the firm.

The Quarterly Off-Site Review – A time to step away from the firm and  reassess a variety of issues: team performance, company strategy, morale, competition, possible threats and industry trends.

Take a few minutes to read Lencioni’s helpful article and see how it can apply to your firm. There is no escaping some meetings. Make sure your meetings are lively, interesting and engaging.


  • While it is true that much of the time we currently spend in meetings is largely wasted, the solution is not to stop having meetings, but rather to make them better. Because when properly utilized, meetings are actually time savers.
  • Patrick Lencioni

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

November Is The Month To Talk

CPAs and their teams are very busy…. almost all the time. I always hear the standard excuses:

It’s December… we are too close to tax season to talk about “that”.

It’s tax season (JanuaryApril 15).. we are too busy with client demands to talk about “that”.

It’s May… we need some time to recuperate from the long hours of busy season. It’s not a good time to talk about “that”.

It’s June and July… we are too busy with our performance evaluation process to talk about “that”.

It’s August, too many people are on vacation to talk about “that”.

It’s September and October… you know what this means – 2nd “busy” season.

Then comes November. Now is the time to at least talk about those tougher firm management topics and about those partner vision topics.

If you never make the time, things won’t change, top talent will not be able to buy-in to your vision and they will move on to greener pastures. And the annual cycle will just keep repeating itself.

  • I talk in subjects and verbs, and sort of wind around in concentric circles until I get far enough away from the beginning so that I can call it the end, and it ends.
  • Garrison Keillor

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Rita Keller Newsletter

Newsletter pictureAre you on my newsletter list? You can sign up here.

The October issue of my “Solutions For CPA Firm Leaders” newsletter was sent on Friday afternoon.

October featured the following articles:

  • The Difference Between A Managing Partner and A Leader
  • What Your Competition Is Doing To Recruit Top Talent
  • Young CPA Survey – Ask Your Team To Participate
  • Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
  • Benjamin Franklin

Friday, October 30th, 2015

There Is Something Worse Than Micromanagement

We hear it talked about often inside accounting firms. I’m referring to the ugly label of being a micromanager.

Accountants, generally speaking, are detail oriented. CPA firms must, yes MUST, issue work that is accurate, perfect in every way (even if there is a small, black speck on the page of a financial statement, it cannot go out the door, perfect).

So, partner and managers MUST pay attention and closely supervise. I bet you can quickly name one or two people inside your firm that have the label of micromanager. Some people complain about them but there is something worse (and I see it often in CPA firms).

pat1Author Patrick Lencioni calls it the abdication manager. In his work with people at the top level in organizations, for every real micromanager, he sees dozens of abdication managers.

Abdication managers know few details about what their subordinates are working on. They fail to set clear expectations and give timely feedback. They don’t have meaningful conversations about career paths or the challenges the employees are facing. They use the excuse that they are too busy.

I see more abdication managers in my work with accounting firms than I do micromanagers.

  • The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.
  • Benjamin Disraeli