Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Talking and Writing

“The spoken word and the written — there is an astonishing gulf between them.” – Hercule Poirot 

The above quote from an Agatha Christie novel made me think of CPAs and all the other people working inside accounting firms.

Talking – – You have developed your own language. You never say individual tax return, you say 1040. You don’t say:

  • We need an Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate; you say we need a W-4.
  • We have the U.S. Return of Partnership Income; you say 1065.

Be careful, especially when talking to clients and new hires, that you answer questions in a way that is easily understandable for people not familiar with life inside a CPA firm. As for your new hires, they will soon be very comfortable with form numbers.

Writing – – So much is conveyed these days in writing. Email is our main form of communication with clients, business associates, and employees. I see first-hand that many CPAs rank poorly with grammar and spelling! After all, they are numbers people. More than once, I have talked with firm administrators and partners who are actually embarrassed, for the firm, because of a way a partner corresponds via email.

So, back to the quote. Are you easily able to put in writing clear, concise answers to your clients’ questions? Are you careful not to use CPA lingo that might not be understood by outsiders?

Some CPAs are skilled at putting things in writing yet find it difficult to convey verbally, and vice-versa. Talking and writing are things we can all work on to become more skilled and proficient.

  • It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
  • Robert Benchley

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

You Will Be Receiving Performance Feedback. Are You Prepared?

“Don’t spew about your weaknesses. Affirm your aspirations.” – Dan Rockwell

It’s that time of year. Firm leaders are gathering and preparing feedback information to communicate to various team members.

You are a various team member. What are you thinking? How are YOU preparing?

I have conducted a huge number of performance feedback sessions during my decades in public accounting and I have always been surprised and impressed when the team member had actually taken time to prepare.

Be prepared to talk about the future and don’t dwell on the past. Be prepared to talk about all the good or even outstanding things you accomplished in recent months. Everyone has weaknesses. Acknowledge them and work on them but start a conversation about your career progress, what excites you about your role and your hopes, desires, and aspirations going forward.

  • By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
  • Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

More About Client Acceptance

“You get to choose your customers, not the other way around.” – Seth Godin

Yesterday I wrote about providing too much information and spending too much time with a potential client before you know they are a suitable fit for your firm.

This is a tough issue inside many CPA firms.

Firms are competing heavily for new clients. You need them. So, you add new clients without subjecting them to a rigorous client acceptance process.

Has your firm grown by accepting every client that comes along and keeping them even when they are a collection headache?  Is there pressure on your partners to bring in new business so that they can claim their share of the profits during the year-end compensation dance?  If these type of actions are in your past, think hard about your future.

Ask your team members about the quality of your client base.  They will tell you immediately which ones they would nominate for out-placement.

Even though you really know you should serve clients that fit your mission, clients you like and admire and get rid of those that are poor business people, most of you will continue to work with clients that you really don’t like very much, who treat your people disrespectfully and then don’t pay you.

Seth Godin had a good post on his blog about Choosing Your Customers. Seth says, “Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your pricing, your content, your promotion, your outreach and your product line.”

  • The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.
  • Michael Porter

Monday, June 4th, 2018

The History of Your Firm

“History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.'” – Eduardo Galeano

Last week, I was on vacation in Gettysburg, PA. We have always liked history vacations and have done many and it usually involves visiting national parks. The Gettysburg National Military Park is one of our favorites.

We have been to Gettysburg numerous times and we always learn something new and see things we have never seen before. It is because they are continually updating the park and making it more like it was in 1863. They want to make it “real” for visitors.

How much do your people know about the history of your firm? Many firms do have a summary on their website and many do not. Why not make it more real for them?

To help your people better understand the firm and its leaders, try a timeline exercise at your next full-firm meeting (or do a lunch and learn).

Get a large roll of paper and affix a long sheet to a wall in the staff room – make it about 15 to 20 feet wide. Draw a long line and put the date of the firm’s founding at the beginning on the left. Note the current date (month) at the other end of the long line. Then have everyone (using markers) mark on the sheet when they joined the firm. For many firms, it will span several decades. Then have random people talk about “what it was like” when they joined the firm and encourage people to ask questions.

Some very interesting discussions will follow!

Follow this up with another session a month or so later and talk about something even more important – the future.

 

  • I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
  • Thomas Jefferson

Friday, June 1st, 2018

The Best Agreements – Flashback Friday

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” – William Shakespeare

It’s Friday again. The week has flown by and it is time for a flashback post. You read lots of agreements – ones pertaining to your firm and others for your clients. Please put a book called The Four Agreements on your summer reading list.

Read more here.

  • Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage and confidence in the doing.
  • Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Summer Hours

“You need to stay with the times and keep evolving.” – Corey Feldman

Yesterday, I received a spring/summer newsletter from the CPA firm that expertly handles my tax filing requirements.

It provided a few prominent highlights about the TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act plus lots of other financial information and business solutions. They even included a picture of the team with some artistic creations they each did one Saturday afternoon during busy season.

It ended with the following message that I hope might serve as an example for your firm:

Our summer office hours will be from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday, May-August.  We will resume Friday office hours in  September. 

  • Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.
  • Max McKeown

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Performance Feedback

“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

For many firms, it is the time of year when you begin your performance feedback sessions. Hopefully, you have modified and updated your methods over the last few years. While some firms have theoretically eliminated the annual performance review, it is certainly not dead yet.

If you use the same format year after year after year, your employees and those who are giving them feedback come to dread the entire process.

Sometimes partners are expected to give feedback to 7, 8, 9 or more people. That takes a lot of time. The bigger issue is, after all the preliminary information gathering is done, how you structure the actual feedback face-to-face meeting.

One step in the right direction is to have more performance conversations throughout the year and not put so much focus on the big, annual evaluation.

Another modification is to work with your partners and managers in learning how to provide more meaningful feedback. Historically, managers have focused on past performance rather than talking about the future. Managers have also tended to focus on weaknesses rather than strengths.

Work to identify each individual’s strengths. Then, build momentum and career progression on those strengths. Develop a system of more frequent conversations and down-play the dreaded annual review.

 

  • If we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.
  • Thomas Edison

Friday, May 18th, 2018

How To Win Friends & Influence People

“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” – Dale Carnegie

Maybe you have read it, the book by Dale CarnegieHow to Win Friends and Influence People. I have read it more than once. It was written long ago but still has power today.

I came across a small pamphlet by Carnegie reminding us of the principles from the book.

Here’s an excerpt:

Become a Friendlier Person:

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest, sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  4. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  5. Smile.
  6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  9. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Try using these on your clients AND your employees or co-workers. Make them part of who you are!

  • Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
  • Dale Carnegie

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Workplace Distractions

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” – Christopher Columbus

Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report has been released and gives us some valuable information. You can download a full copy of the report here.

Highlights:

  • 70% agree that training can help people get better at blocking out distractions and achieving focus.
  • 36% of millennials/Gen A say they spend 2 or more hours per workday looking at their phones for personal activities.
  • 66% have never talked to a manager about their struggles with workplace distraction.

It is not just technology that distracts people. Chatty co-workers were reported as the number-one contributing factor to workplace distraction (80%).

Read more about the survey and talk about how to cure some office distractions at your firm.

  • Happiness can only be found if you can free yourself of all other distractions.
  • Saul Bellow

Monday, May 7th, 2018

A Fun Way To Build Your Presentation Skills

“Tough issues need soft skills.” – Kristen Rampe

My friend and CPA consultant, Kristen Rampe has unveiled an amazing new service. She is intent on helping CPAs become better speakers and presenters. For many CPAs, it is a very difficult challenge. It is called Slide Deck Improv.

Here’s a message I received from Kristen:

I wanted to share with you this fun service I’ve been working on lately. It involves helping professionals improve their speaking and presenting skills – e.g. when presenting to boards or at community/industry events. As you know, this isn’t always a strong suit for the technically-minded CPA, but I’ve found a way to help get them some practice in a fun and safe environment. It involves improv, and I’ve even captured some video of a tax manager rising to the occasion: https://kristenrampe.com/slide-deck-improv  

I enjoyed watching the tax manager in the video make his way through the improv session. This is a great way to learn!

An insightful book to read about the benefit of improv is Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face?

  • With improv, it's a combination of listening and not trying to be funny
  • Kristen Wiig