Archive for the ‘Crafting Your Career’ Category

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Look Around

After this weekend, accounting firms will roll into mini-busy-season, dealing with all of those corporate extensions that have lagged since spring.

When you arrive at the office on Tuesday, take note of the people you hang-out with at work. Maybe even the people who sit nearby.

It’s almost like school. If you sit with the goof-offs, you become like them and adopt an “I don’t care” attitude. You just get-by with doing the minimum required.

If you are surrounded by people who keep focused, work quickly, are friendly yet don’t waste time, they are probably the ones going home at 5:30 rather than burning the midnight oil to hit the deadline. They are also the ones getting the best assignments.

Choosing who you want to be at work also flows downward to those watching you. What do they see? Who do they want to be around?

  • Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them
  • James Baldwin

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Did You Set Goals For 2014? How’s That Going For You?

It’s almost September. We are entering the third trimester of yearly CPA firm life.

  • First Trimester – Busy season (the I don’t delegate very well season)
  • Second Trimester – Recover season (performance reviews, vacations and CPE season)
  • Third Trimester – Gear-up season (end extension season and get ready for busy season)

Somewhere during these seasons you set some goals for yourself. For partners it is usually on a calendar year and for employees it is probably on a “performance” year – May thru April.

I rarely talk to a firm where goal-setting is not part of everyone’s performance plan. The challenge I notice is not the ability to set goals, it’s the ability to achieve them. One of the “seasons” noted above always gets in the way. The usual excuse is “I’m too busy.”

Want to explore your goal-setting approach. Visit Mindtools and take their short goal-setting quiz to learn about some of the obstacles that can get in your way.

  • If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.
  • Yogi Berra

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

As A Leader You Worry About Others – But Don’t Forget Yourself!

SWOT Analysis WorksheetKA

Whether you are an actual owner, principal, firm administrator, marketing director, HR director or a talented up-and-comer inside your CPA firm, the fact that you are following this blog means that you deeply care, and worry about the firm, the client and your team members. But what about YOU, personally?

Many of us in CPA firm management are servant leaders; we think of others first. That is what makes us good at what we do. I firmly believe that we should all put the good of the firm above any one person or group of people. If the firm does well, we all do well.

That being said, I also believe that YOU must not forget about each individual and their career success. Most progressive CPA firms have worked through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats), crafted a vision statement and documented beliefs to live by.

Have you, as a leader in your firm, done this personally? This is something I sometimes use in my individual coaching sessions and you can do it for yourself. Give it a try and see what develops. You might identify and clarify a path to where YOU are going and how you are going to get there.

Each person, no matter what their level inside a CPA firm, that continually improves their performance helps the firm to continually move forward and become more successful and an engaging place to work.

If you need a sample form (matrix) to use, just let me know.

  • If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn't need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.
  • Jim Rohn

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Suffer In Silence. In Accounting Firms We Need More Talking.

New revised slides to useNow is the time to take care of your talented CPAs.

As usual, I am hearing some scary stories about the lack of communication inside accounting firms.

In the summer months and into the fall, many firms are in the midst of performance evaluation/feedback sessions and salary increases.

Notice I said “summer months and into the fall” meaning that it takes WAY TOO LONG in most firms for this process to play-out. It’s time to speed-up this process.

I am reading a lot about doing away with the formal annual performance reviews and holding managers accountable for on-going feedback, mentoring and coaching of employees. Please note that this isn’t happening in many CPA firms. The reason: partners and managers have not been well-trained nor held accountable for the performance of people they supervise.

The real story often goes like this:

  • In May, several supervisors/managers/partners are asked to rate specific employees.
  • Most of these “evaluators” have to be reminded and nagged so that the information is actually accumulated.
  • In June, performance meetings are to be scheduled and the feedback presented to the individual employees.
  • Some meetings get scheduled, then postponed.
  • Some meetings don’t get scheduled at all (waiting on the bosses to review everything, etc.)
  • Before you know it Fall has arrived.

Meanwhile, the employees talk among themselves, wondering about the feedback. Rarely does any team member speak-up and ask the partners (bosses) what’s going on… why the delay?

Meanwhile, the bosses (partners/managers) are too busy to get to the evaluations and never explain why they are delayed or when they will actually happen.

Employees shy away from speaking-up. Partners shy away from speaking-out.

Silence happens.

After the CPA employee suffers in silence for too long or too often – they leave the firm.

  • Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.
  • Paulo Coelho

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Growing Your Firm – Growing Your Career

Dillard150x150Jeremy Dillard, CPA recently presented on “Networking and Sales Best Practices” at the recent AICPA EDGE Conference in New Orleans. He offered some practical advice and his article was published this week via the AICPA.

I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment about the many misconceptions CPAs have about networking, such as it should be tackled only when billable work isn’t pressing and never during busy season. A networking plan should consider each of the following groups:

  • Firm/Organization
  • Clients
  • Industry
  • Others

Follow the link, above, to read more about each of these groups.

I contend that growing a book of business begins with a simple question – How many people do you know?

I also like Dillard’s “best sales practices.”

Know – Referral sources need to know (understand) your expertise and what differentiates you. Use LinkedIn!

Like – You need your referral sources to like you because you are counting on them for introductions. Clients must like you and staff/co-workers must like you. Make yourself likable by simply being helpful.

Trust – Earn their trust (keep your word, it’s as simple as that).

Refer – If you receive a referral, you owe a referral. If you refer, you should expect one in return – it’s how the game is played.

Thanks to Mr. Dillard for sharing his insight and experiences. Here’s a link to Dillard’s website:

 

  • Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.
  • Zig Ziglar

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Are You Still Waiting To Be Paid For Work You Did in March?

Most of what I write about is based on real-life observation. This is one of those topics.

New clients, at many CPA firms, are accepted without a very specific conversation about fees. It seems the CPA partners (the people responsible for those upfront conversations) are afraid. CPAs afraid? Yes, definitely.

  • Afraid of scaring the prospective client off
  • Afraid the potential client won’t grasp the value of the services
  • Afraid of not being able to explain exactly why the services are so vital (and expensive)
  • Afraid of confrontation

Some of this fear is based upon the fact that CPAs are humble and quite often don’t even perceive the value of their knowledge and expertise. Comments like, “I can’t bill the client for that, it only took a few minutes.” Or, “I’m not sending an invoice for that advice, I knew the answer right away.”

I believe the upfront conversation could eliminate so many uncomfortable moments later on. As you work with clients it is very important to develop and practice “fee talk” skills as you advance in your accounting career..

A blog post that my friend and CPA consultant, Steve Erickson, did a few years back is still very helpful. It is right on target for what I witnessed over many years inside my firm. Here are the points about talking to your clients about fees:

Stop quoting fee ranges – This is a very common practice. CPAs will tell the client that their annual work will cost between $8,000 and $10,000. The client immediately thinks and expects $8,000 and the CPA is actually thinking $10,000 (or more).

Initiate the conversation about fees with all your clients – Provide a general letter about fees and share the Firm Credit Policy. I recommend a general “welcome” letter to new clients from the firm administrator or the CEO that includes a copy of the firm credit policy.

Negotiate the scope of work not your fees – If a client wants to pay less, explain the services you can provide for that amount – negotiate and provide examples of what many clients do that increase the fees (messy records, lack of response, etc.)

Stop extending excessive credit – get retainers (you won’t have to wait until August or later to get paid for work you did in March).

Call before sending an unexpected bill – I have seen partners shy away from a phone call that could save headaches down the road. If the work is expanding, stop and call the client before you have your staff proceed with the work.

Perhaps a better answer is to move to value pricing where you have the upfront conversation every year. Read my blog post about Pricing On Purpose.

  • There is no victory at bargain basement prices.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Good News Story – Give Your Next-Gen People A Voice

IMG_2387

I was so pleased, when talking with the managing partner of one of my clients firms recently when he mentioned that since my visit last year they have accomplished so much.

I have several clients like that. But, I have to be honest the majority of the accounting firms I work with and talk to during my travels, have major struggles with implementation.

While I often write and talk about the dangers of procrastination inside CPA firms, perhaps I don’t share enough of the good-news stories. This particular MP shared the following great news:

  • We used the retreat with you to act as the backbone of our plan.
  • We have accomplished implementation the AICPA core competencies.
  • We have accomplished a successful first-year of an acquisition.
  • We have formed a Next Gen Council comprised of people under the age of 35. They meet monthly and identify things to make the firm better and present their ideas to management.
  • We have begun a “make friends” initiative stressing the importance of knowing other people. It involves personally networking and making “friends” who can help them grow in their career.

Imagine what a difference it would make at your firm if you  simply accomplished one or two internal initiatives each year.

One of the most important things the managing partner mentioned during our conversation…. we are doing lots of things to help the firm grow because if we do not grow staff will leave.

  • Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.
  • William James

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Let’s Talk Teams

Together

In the world of public accounting, I have been talking TEAMS for years and years. From practical experience with “staff” inside an accounting firm, I noticed that when we used the actual word TEAM rather than STAFF or EMPLOYEES it seemed that we began to work more like a team.

An article via the HBR Blog Network by Heidi Grant Halvorson titled:  TOGETHER – Managers Can Motivate Employees With One Word.

Research has determined that human beings are profoundly social. That’s probably not a big surprise to you. We are hardwired to connect to one another and to want to work together. The species would never have survived without our instinctive desire to live and work in groups.

These days, many people work in teams but they are often physically located in different offices, cubicles, or even in different cities and countries. Recent research conducted at Stanford tells us one powerful way to give team members the feeling of working as a team (when they physically aren’t). Use the word TOGETHER. Using this word and planting it in the minds of workers actually leads to better performance.

Enough with all the research talk. Inside your CPA firm, rather than tell someone how to do something and walk away – back to your comfy office, sit down beside them and work through learning experiences WITH them.

In an accounting firm, we hear over and over from new college graduates entering the profession, “We never learned that in school.” Much of what you need your new team members to do is learned via OJT (on the job training) – they learn by doing.

Some of the best training happens when a partner (or manager) actually sits beside a new hire and works through a task with them. Sure, it takes time but once you have done it you don’t have to do it again down the road. The new hire seems to retain it much better and feel more appreciated when you teach by doing things TOGETHER.

 

  • Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.
  • J. C. Penney

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Would Your Employees Cheer If You Eliminated Formal Performance Evaluations?

Why not do away with formal performance reviews inside your busy, growing accounting firm? Go ahead….. contemplate it, research how to do it, talk it over inside your firm with lots of people and then give it a try.

I’ve been an advocate of simplifying performance feedback for quite some time. It has been my observation that firms often make their process way too complicated and labor intensive. Too many people end up providing feedback on too may people. I have talked to partners who are filling out rating forms (with comments) on ten or more people. That’s a huge time investment. Eventually, the people providing the feedback dread “evaluation time” and the people receiving the feedback dread it, too.

Some of my clients are now trying the Keep Stop Start method and it is working well for them. But wait, many experts are now asking, why not do away with formal performance feedback sessions altogether?

There have been some heated debates about the merits of eliminating performance reviews but one large company has done it – Adobe, with over 11,000 people.

Adobe moved from yearly performance rankings to frequent “check-ins” where managers provide employees targeted coaching and advice. What a concept, managers continually talk to people!

When Adobe was considering the move away from formal feedback, the company posted a blog on the company’s intranet about the topic. Employees devoured the post, making it one of the most-read pieces in the history of Adobe’s intranet. Company-wide discussions ensued about the employees’ dissatisfaction with the review process.

Adobe’s VP of People and Places (Donna Morris) thought it was time for some disruptive change. Since the change, managers have more say in their people’s salaries and merit increases. The company’s aim is to give managers the skills, authority and responsibility so they can act much as if they were running their own business. Take some time and read more about the Adobe story here.

What do your accounting firm team members actually think about your process? Why not ask them and begin a conversation on how to make the process better and the managers better, all while providing dialogue to help the employee advance their career. It might be time for some disruptive change inside your firm.

 

  • One key to surviving in a world of disruption, where the external environment is changing at lightning speed, is to change the game internally.
  • Randy Ottinger

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

They Called Him “Fearless Leader”

JulyAugust 025You are the managing partners of a CPA firm. You are the PIC (partner-in-charge) of audit, tax, consulting or an office of the firm. You are a firm administrator. What do they call you? Don’t you ever wonder what they call you behind your back? Do they say you are a good boss?

You might think Steve Jobs was a fearless leader yet he’s described as egotistical and abrasive. Not exactly in line with the title: Good Boss

Jim Henson, on the other hand, by all reports was a Good Boss (and yes, his employees called him “fearless leader”).

  • His former employees say working for him was the best job they ever had.
  • His son, Brian Henson, says: He taught me to identify a person’s talent, nurture that talent, and encourage them to look to themselves for a solution.
  • His agent says Henson rarely spoke above a whisper.
  • His wife says he was so patient that she sometimes wanted to kick him!
  • He was a good listener, accepted ideas from others and used them.
  • If he thought something hadn’t been done well, he would never say that… he would say, “Hey, I wonder if we just should try…..”

A good boss, like a good teacher, empowers their employees. This is easy to say and very hard to actually do. Most of us have egos that get in the way.

As for Henson, no one ever saw him angry. Far from lazy, he worked harder than anyone in his company. He rarely slept. He was not fearful. Never afraid to try something new.

Instead of miserly. Henson was generous, going well over budget in order to give others the time and space to create.

I routinely encounter accounting firm leaders who are miserly (only spend CPE dollars on technical education, won’t send their firm administrator to a conference that could bring huge pay-back to the firm, won’t spend any education/training dollars on their administrative team and support team, etc.).

Read the full article about Henson on Fast Company. It contains so much information to absorb and contemplate. How do you stack up?

  • Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it.
  • Jim Henson