Archive for the ‘Crafting Your Career’ Category

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Cubicle Courtesy Guidelines

“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.” – W. Edwards Deming

A long time ago, I did a blog post about tips for living in a cubicle. Many accountants who have their own office (like partners and managers) sometimes forget how cubicle life can sometimes be very frustrating.

Keep in mind, that some millennials like the open floor plan concept, but most people aspire to have a private office. I like to see cubicles arranged in quads so that four people can have their backs to each other yet are able to swing around to a centralized round table to confer with colleagues.

Working in a cube when you are a beginner is often very helpful in that you can overhear what others are learning and benefit from the conversations in the adjoining cubicle.

A big frustration, however, is the lack of privacy and the fact that associates and coworkers stop by whenever they want resulting in many interruptions.

To remedy that, how about establishing some Cubicle Courtesies to protect those working in cubes and those visiting them.

The following is a modified re-post of the cubicle post I did in 2008 – maybe it will help you design your own office cubicle and shared space protocol.

    • Keep your voice down. Be aware of how it projects, especially when laughing.
    • Don’t enter someone’s cubicle or stop to chat unless invited to do so.
    • Never take something from someone’s cubicle or desk without asking first.
    • Be respectful of those people passing your desk. Don’t assume they have time to chat.
    • If you don’t want to be interrupted, don’t make eye contact with those passing your desk.
    • Respect other’s work time and flow of concentration. If they look deep in thought, they probably are.
    • If the person is on the phone, do not interrupt.
    • Confidential information should not be discussed in an open setting. Move to one of the meeting rooms.
    • Avoid using speaker phones.
    • Do not read what is on someone elses desk or computer screen.
    • Reduce clutter in your desk area or cubicle.
    • Don’t leave food and trash at your desk.
    • Keep eating and snacking at your desk to a minimum. And avoid foods that smell up the office. (Some firms have a “no eating meals at your desk” policy.)
    • Return items to their proper place after using them.
    • Replace immediately anything you use up (paper, staples, etc.).
  • Other people's interruptions of your work are relatively insignificant compared with the countless times you interrupt yourself.
  • Brendan Francis

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Silence Is Often Not Golden

“Organizations are destroyed by behaviors that should be confronted but are condoned by silence.” – Dan Rockwell @leadershipfreak

I have often operated by that old phrase, “Silence Is Golden”. There were just times when it was very appropriate, in my opinion, to say nothing. For instance, when someone was very angry.

I have also often operated by another old phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.  That advice came from my mother and maybe from Thumper.

Communication is a difficult subject and a constant struggle inside many busy accounting firms.

However, never forget – You owe people feedback. You owe your partners feedback. You even owe your bosses feedback.

You should be comfortable speaking up immediately when you notice someone doing something wrong. Many “bosses” in CPA firms seem to have missed this message.

  • A partner notices that Judy is not following firm procedures, yet the partner saves up constructive feedback until there is a performance evaluation meeting or exercise.
  • Joe is new and struggling with some tax preparation issues. The manager is aware but is silent and instead writes 57 review notes.
  • Most of the partners notice “things” that should be addressed with a staff person or an admin team member and rather than address it on the spot, they ask the firm administrator… “Can you talk to Sally?”
  • Ted, tax partner, is what we call a “wild card”. The partners are even concerned about how he might be advising clients. Nothing is said.

Yes, you can bring a lot of negativity into the work place by saying too much, talking too much and whining too much. However, there are many times when inappropriate behaviors need to be addressed.

 

 

  • Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.
  • Hermann Hesse

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Yes! Reading Can Make You More Successful

FullSizeRender“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” – P.J. O’Rourke

I am a firm believer in the fact that reading is an invaluable career-building and character-building activity. I read for education and for pleasure. Last year I began keeping a log of the books I read (mostly I read on my Kindle). I read 20 books in 2016 and I am already on my 9th book for 2017.

It helps me have a broader understanding of the world – the whole world and the business world. I also read many blogs, articles and newsletters. I always recommend – read, read, read.

If you select the category “Reading” on the right-hand side of my webpage, you can read the many blog posts I have done about reading.

Recently I read a blog post on Self Development Secrets site, titled 10 Reasons Why Reading Is Important. 

Here are the 10 reasons:

Sharpens Your Mind (I certainly can benefit from this one.)

Increases Your Vocabulary (I love the Kindle feature where you can press on a word and it gives you the definition. I also love to read books that challenge me in this area. An example is Lincoln at the Bardo.)

Lowers Your Stress (Almost every day at 4:00 or 4:30pm, I stop working and spend an hour reading. It relaxes me.)

Decreases Your Depression (In my case, it “lightens my spirit”.)

Improves Your Memory and Focus (I need all the help I can get here.)

Strengthens Your Writing Abilities (Oh yes, I have learned so much about writing by reading.)

Enhances Your Imagination (Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, 11/22/63 sure helped my imagination. I also love ones that are mildly creepy – Stephen King, Dean Koontz. My favorite detectives are Harry Hole and Kurt Wallander.)

Boosts Your Sleep (On an airplane, I begin to read and keep nodding off.)

Enjoy Your Entertainment and Peace (Quiet time. Reading enhances expanding thoughts.)

Reading Can Brighten Your Day (I cannot read Dave Barry books on an airplane because I laugh out loud.)

Click here to visit the article and read their reasons for each of the ten (they are quite a bit more informational than my ramblings).

  • There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Friday, March 24th, 2017

CPAFMA – The CPA Firm Management Association

I hope you are a member of CPAFMA. I also hope you have the opportunity to attend chapter meetings that happen around the country.

Here is where you can find a chapter near you.

I recently attended the Ohio Chapter of CPAFMA, hosted by the Ohio Society. To help you understand the value, I am listing the topics that were discussed in the after-lunch roundtable discussion. In the morning we had an amazing update about employment law, always an important topic for firm administrators, COOs, and HR Directors.

  • Practice Management Software
  • CCH Engagement vs. Thomson EngagementCS
  • Employee recognition
  • Fun things during tax season
  • Banking verifications (confirmations)
  • Competition
  • Thomson UltraTax (problems and issues)
  • Partner retirement
  • MP Transition
  • Helping partners find their seat on the bus
  • Employee time off during busy season.

If you need some answers and some quality advice from others facing the same issues – join CPAFMA.

  • It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.
  • Napolean Hill

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

We All Must Learn To Deal With Difficult People

“If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” – John W. Gardner

Yes, difficult people are all around us – friends, relatives and the people at work. We need to especially be equipped to deal with those difficult work people!

The Nitpickers: Critical, judgmental and perpetual complainers. (You don’t know any of these do you??)

The Megaphones: We answer the phone or we walk down the hall and these people talk non-stop for 20 minutes.

The Voiceless: These people have zero confidence or assertiveness. They’re full of whine, but rarely express an opinion.

The Bubble Busters: They have to be right – all the time. They love controlling and micromanaging.

The Volcanoes: The ones who are ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. They explode and leave a trail of damage.

What do you do? Remain neutral. Without compromising, protect your space and maintain your emotions.

Don’t take things personally. You can’t control their behavior but you can control your reaction to it.

I like the description – “cool, calm and collected.” – – That’s you!

  • The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.
  • Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Seven Secrets of Career Success

“If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.” – Latin Proverb

I was browsing through some old digital files and found the following. I remember using these “secrets” many years ago in a presentation I did for a community college’s new graduates.

I think they definitely apply to life inside a busy accounting firm.

Seven Secrets of Career Success

Become a quick change artist

Commit fully to your career

Speed up

Behave like you’re in business for yourself

Practice lifelong learning

Manage your own morale

Be a fixer – not a finger pointer

  • Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for it.
  • Katharine Whitehorn

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Don’t Hide The WELCOME Mat

“No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” – Mary Kay Ash

You made it through March 15th. It was challenging and sometimes very stressful. You have another month of the busy season life before you can relax a little.

And then, it is those darn clients. They keep emailing you and calling you. Don’t they understand how busy you are?? You just want to hide from them!

welcomeIf you are working in public accounting, please never forget that you are in the service business. Compare it to being in a restaurant and you ask the waiter for a water refill or another glass of wine. He flippantly and quickly responds. “I’m too busy right now. You’ll have to wait.” How much of a gratuity would you leave? Would you return to that restaurant anytime soon?

I email a lot of CPA practitioners and have received a lot of clever “out of office” automated responses. Here are two examples of the bad and the good.

I was saddened to receive one similar to this:

Due to the tax deadlines, I will not be able to respond in a timely manner to voicemail or email. If you need immediate assistance please contact Sally (phone number) and she will get a staff member to assist you.

What kind of message does this send to your client base? How many clients will hang around until you are not so busy? Never let clients know you are TOO BUSY for them and their needs. I guess the above message is better than never hearing back at all.

A few years ago I received an automated message from a long-time client when I emailed him during busy season. This message was warm and welcoming and explained an acceptable process for the busy time of year.

Greetings, Friends & Clients:

Due to the normal tax season high workload and to allow me to completely focus on the tasks at hand, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail daily at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm and 5:30 pm CT. You & your email is important to me and at the scheduled times, I will respond.

If you require urgent assistance please contact my assistant Juli Moses at (he provided phone number) or you can email her at (he provided her email address).

Even though you get this auto-response, rest assured that I do receive and am able to view the email you sent. Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more and serve you better.

Sincerely,

Mike Shost

CPAs are in a business filled with tax due dates. Never be too busy for your valuable clients. Always have the WELCOME MAT prominently displayed, in your responses and in your personal behaviors.

  • The busy have no time for tears.
  • Lord Byron

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Create An Inspired Workplace

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins

Recently, Sharlyn Lauby, HR Bartender, posted a story about Kronos (a provider of human capital management cloud solutions) and how they have created an exceptional candidate and employee experience.

“Being a great place to work is quite literally one of a small number of high-priority imperatives that are communicated to all employees each year as part of the company’s overall business strategy. In other words, being a great place to work is every bit as important as our traditional business priorities as a global software provider, such as application development and migrating customers to the cloud.”

Can your CPA firm make a similar statement?

Here are 3 ways to improve the candidate experience. The headlines are from the article, the descriptions are mine directed to public accounting:

Make it easy for job seekers to find and apply for jobs – Visibility on the college campus is imperative. For experienced hires, you have to be where candidates are and that means social media. One experienced tax manager I met recently told me she joined my client firm because she moved to their city and found them online. From her online assessment, they looked like a firm she would enjoy… and she does!

Create a robust internship experience – I strongly recommend that you treat your interns like full-time employees.  Subsidize their parking, provide them with business cards, involve them in all team meetings and in some committee meetings or task forces. The MP should take them to lunch, individually and in small groups, etc.

Give candidates a realistic job preview – Be very open and honest when you talk to candidates. I know a very successful CPA firm that has an extensive interview process. People of all levels are involved and they tell the truth! Working in public accounting requires intelligence, hard work and flexibility. There will be extended hours during certain times of the year.

Read the full article to learn about 3 Way to Improve Employee Experience, too. Upward feedback is part of it!

  • Human resources isn't a thing we do. It's the thing that runs our business.
  • Steve Wynn

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Excuses!

No excuses“Don’t make excuses, make good. – Elbert Hubbard

Sometimes, I see a lot of finger-pointing going on inside CPA firms. “Mary told me to do it that way.” “The partner didn’t tell me it was due today.” “The client won’t return my calls.” – – and so on. You have all heard them or maybe even made several excuses yourself.

I read a term this week – – EFE – Excuses for Everything.

After working a CPA firm for thirty years, I can assure you that I have heard a lot of excuses!

Some excuses are self-imposed – “I don’t have enough experience.” “I’ve never prepared that type of return before.” “I need more time to study.”

Some excuses are truly finger-pointing – “Mary said it was okay if I left early every day this week.” “Joe says we always do it this way on non-profit audits.” “No one told me the client was leaving town.”

Rather than focusing on all of the why’s you can’t do something, how about stop making excuses and move into action.

I have observed that in some firms, a lot of time is wasted trying to find out who was at fault for some mistake or miscommunication. Forget who is at fault, fix the problem and move forward.

If YOU are at fault, admit it, apologize and move on. Don’t waste time on excuses. Banish EFEs from your firm.

  • Don't do what you'll have to find an excuse for.
  • Proverb

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

How Do You See Yourself?

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

A very interesting topic was explored in an article via Accounting Today last week by Bill Tsotsos – – Do accountants have low self-esteem?

In his opening, he describes what I have observed, first-hand, in dealing with probably thousands of CPAs over the last 30 years.

Many male CPAs, to me, have split personalities. Or, maybe to describe it better, they have a public persona and a private persona.

Outside the firm, they project (and I think many of them force themselves to do it) a fun-loving, knowledgeable, highly intelligent professional. They have all the answers and love to help clients. They love being around people.

Inside the firm, they display many of the characteristics listed in the article:

  • Poor communication skills and poor social skills;
  • Don’t make/sustain eye contact with others;
  • Don’t engage with others;
  • Don’t take risks (risk-averse);
  • Unable to discern who and when to trust;
  • Fear and anxiety of making a mistake, being rejected, looking foolish or inadequate;
  • Self-focused: Only viewing and thinking of what goes on around them on the basis of their own wants and needs; and,
  • Rigidity: Motivated by fear of doing something wrong and receiving negative feedback. Those with LSE seem to narrow their choices to be safe from erring.

Demonstrating these characteristics does not mean they do not care about their clients, their team members or the quality of services they provide.

I like to describe it as they are not truly aware of their worth, the value they bring to the marketplace. This always comes out when it is time to bill – – they dread billing the client for the dollars revealed in WIP and usually bill them less. They can’t imagine what value pricing would be like!

I once talked with a CPA partner, very well-known and respected in his business community. He built his image up over many years and yet he disclosed that he dreaded networking and when a client came in to talk one-on-one, his stomach hurt before the meeting because he was dreading it.

I have not observed as much of this “split” in female CPAs. They need more of the outside persona.

My message: YOU are worth it! You have spent thousands and thousands of dollars getting your education and keeping current on financial and tax topics. What’s in your head is VERY valuable to others – don’t under rate yourself.

You provide your clients with peace of mind. What a great mission – enjoy it.

  • You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
  • Buddha