If you are a CPA firm managing partner, you probably have a right-hand person who supervises the day-to-day business activities of your firm.
Perhaps YOU, the person reading this blog post are fulfilling that role inside a busy CPA firm.
If you are the managing partner think about the benefits you receive from your state CPA society and the benefits you receive from your memberships in the AICPA. If you are actually taking advantage of all the resources, the benefit list is probably quite extensive. To put it in a few words…. you keep current in order to offer the best possible services to your clients and you meet people (just like you) that offer support, ideas and motivation.
That is exactly what CPA firm administrators get from the Association For Accounting Administration. HR people belong, technology people belong, marketing people belong and managing partners belong. Why? Because of the benefits (keeping current and meeting others who act as resources).
I first attended the national conference in the mid-80s and have not missed a single national conference since simply because it is a phenomenal learning experience.
For example, this year you can hear bestselling author, Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie.
You will be able to learn from many of the best CPA practice management thought leaders in the areas of marketing, social media, human resources, lean principles, M&A, public speaking, change management and succession.
And yes…. Rita Keller. I will be providing a keynote on Friday morning on a critical topic for CPAs – succession planning.
Why do I tell you all this when the pre-conference sessions begin today and the main conference on Wednesday? So that if you are not attending this year, you can begin to plan for next year.
I have probably attended more practice management conferences than almost anyone working in the profession today. When I speak at practice management events, meetings and conferences – unlike most consultants who fly-in, speak, fly-out, I actually attend as many sessions as possible. The AAA National Practice Management Conference is absolutely the best Practice Management focused public accounting conferences there is.
Firm administrators – If your firm is blind to the value of investing in your success – YOU should invest in yourself. Bargain with the partners if you must, negotiate, pay part of the expenses yourself. You need to invest in your own success.
It is a story about a leader. I saw similar stories unfold first-hand many years ago but not as much these days. It seems everyone is in a hurry and too busy to take the time to act upon good intentions.
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
Today, I would like to recommend a book that maybe you are not as familiar with as some of the others I recommend. When I first read Leadership and Self-Deception, I was amazed and it opened my eyes to many behaviors that I had never explored before. It also opened my eyes to what others often did in the workplace (and in home life) that they don’t even think about.
I don’t often re-read a book. I have read this one 3 times over the years and given copies to people working on their leadership skills.
From the book:
Self-betrayal – An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of “self-betrayal.”
Self-betrayal is the most common thing in the world, Tom,” Kate added, in an easy manner. “Let me give you a few examples.”
You are in bed and you hear the baby cry at 1:00 a.m. You should get up and tend to the baby but you pretend you are asleep and wait for your wife to hear the baby.
You jump on the elevator, in a hurry, an see a man hurrying to get aboard but you just let the door close. You have the immediate sense, I should have caught the door for him but I didn’t.
Maybe it’s a time when you felt you should apologize to someone but never got around to it.
There was a time when you had some information that would be very helpful to a co-worker but you didn’t share it.
They are all examples of self-betrayal, times when I had a sense of something I should do for others but didn’t do it.
Here’s a short video setting the stage for reading the book.
The book focuses on a problem. As Bud says to Tom, “You have a problem. The people at work know it; your spouse knows it; your mother-in-law knows it. I bet even your neighbors know it. The problem is that YOU don’t know it.”
I focused on and inflated her faults when I needed to feel justified for mine.
If you have heard me speak or if you are a loyal follower of this blog, you know that I often quote David Maister. My “book week” would not be meaningful if I didn’t recommend at least one of his books.
Maister focuses on professional service firms and although he is now retired, you can gain so much knowledge about managing a CPA firm from his writings.
Everyone in the firm should read True Professionalism. I believe you should give a copy to every entry-level accountant that enters your firm. Ask them to read the first two chapters within a week and the rest at their lesiure. The first two chapters will get them hooked.
From True Professionalism:
Ask professionals what they consider to be the difference between a good admin assistant and a great admin assistant. The answers flow freely:
Take pride in their work and show a personal commitment to quality
Reach out for responsibility
Anticipate and don’t wait to be told what to do, they show initiative
Do whatever it takes to get the job done
Get involved and don’t just stick to their assigned role
Are always looking for ways to make things easier for those they serve
Are eager to learn as much as they can about the business of those they serve
Really listen to the needs of those they serve
Learn to understand and think like those they serve so they can represent them when they are not there
Are team players
Can be trusted with confidences
Are honest, trustworthy and loyal
Are open to constructive critiques on how to improve
This list can be summarized in one phrase: Great admin assistants care. Two points about this list.
First and foremost, it is applicable to all of us, not just admin assistants. This list could serve to delineate the defining characteristics of what differentiates a great CPA from a good one. Indeed, this list is a reasonable definition of what it means to be a professional.
Second, this list has nothing to do with technical skills. Few admin assistants are deemed to be “great” because of their ability to type 95 words a minute.
The opposite of the word professionalism is not unprofessional, but rather technician.
I think just this brief excerpt will capture your curiosity and you will read this book.
Professional is not a label you give yourself - it's a description you hope others will apply to you.
Soon it will be summer reading season. This year, why don’t you take part? There are so many great books to help you better manage your professional service firm. But wait, there are so many good books about business issues in general that definitely apply to the CPA profession. You can even get a firm-changing idea by reading a fictional novel or a biography.
This week I’m going to write about a different book each day. A book that I think will help you and your CPA firm.
It is the 31st Century – Earth is different. Instead of males and females in the business world, it is dogs and cats. Here’s the dedication:
From the dedication page: ”This story is dedicated to all of the Cats and all of the Dogs who work together every day and wonder… Why it is that Cats must be so Feline. And why it is that Dogs must be so Canine.”
I love this book, told in fable format about dogs and cats in the business world. It’s one of the best books I’ve read on the male/female topic (and I have read many). It addresses many of the issues faced by males and females working in a CPA firm (or any business).
While it addresses the issues that are written about in many of the male/female relationships in the workplace books (and I will feature more this week), it is a fun and easy read with an important message for both men and women.
Thus a skilled warrior subdues enemy troops without raising arms; captures cities without laying siege; destroys countries without lengthly warfare."
Traditionally, public accounting firms focused all their recruiting activities around the “fall season.” Students were fresh.. back on campus… and their professors had prepared them for the beauty contest of the very active fall season.
I talk to many firms that still operate this way. I also talk to many firms who are just finishing-up the “spring season.” It involves just as much work and intensity from firm HR professionals, firm administrators and partners as the fall campaign.
If you are not hiring summer interns – wake-up. If you are not identifying and getting to know the students you will be talking to in the fall – wake-up. If you think that being visible on campus just in the fall is enough – wake-up.
Accounting majors at prominent universities don’t know much (if anything) about local and regional accounting firms. Read more about why and how four students were surprised to learn that they could have the resources and support they thought was only available at the national firms at a local/regional firm.
Just a few years ago (including at my former firm) we did not hire summer interns because we didn’t have anything for them to do. Now, you must find something for them to do to keep them in your hiring pipeline. Some of the best students need a summer job!
Find projects where they can help. Let them shadow the summer auditors – there is always some repetitive work they can help with on an audit. They can also shadow in the tax area – have your tax team become your tax teaching team in the summer by establishing mini seminars on tax research, state & local tax, etc.
Craft your sales pitch. Even if you think your firm’s value proposition is obvious, dig deeper. Think hard about what a twenty-something is going to get out of 8 to 10 weeks of working side by side with your experienced, knowledgeable people.
What will your intern walk away with? What skills and insights will he/she learn on the job that will shape their career path, strengthen their network or help them decide once and for all that accounting is the way to go long term (and that your firm is flexible, fun, cool and prestigious).
My friend, Rebecca Ryan is a member of The Advisory Board, along with Gary Boomer, Gary Shamis and Allan Koltin. Many of you managing CPA firms have heard Ryan speak on the topic of employing and retaining the next generation of worker. She definitely makes you think! Some call her a human spark plug.
Her new book, ReGeneration, is coming out in June. It’s about the future of America, and it’s based on key trends. It’s not targeted at CPA firms…but towards leaders who want to make a difference and be out ahead of trends. The most innovative CPA firm leaders will get a lot out of it.
How’s your administrative team performing? How would you rate their performance, as a team, on a scale of 1 to 10? I’m just asking you (CPA partners/owners) to think about it.
Often, leaders don’t really think about the admin team unless something goes wrong.
Your admin team are really key ambassadors for your firm. Often they have more conversations and interactions with the firm’s clients than the partners do. A partner might only know the clients he is responsible for and perhaps have never met many of the other clients in the firm.
Your admin team probably knows almost all the clients, especially in mid-size and smaller firms. What kind of investment are you making in their success? Do you invest in an annual administrative team retreat? Do you educate all of them on the financial aspects of the firm – how the firm really makes money? Are you proud of them and the way they present themselves as part of a professional services organization?
A new trend is developing. The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma and is the new minimum requirement for getting even the lowest-level job.
Per an article in the New York Times, a 45-person law firm in Atlanta has seen tremendous growth in the college-educated population. Like other employers across the country, the firm hires only people with a bachelor’s degree, even for jobs that do not require college-level skills.
At this law firm, this prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” (the in-house courier who makes deliveries for $10/hour) went to a four-year school.
The managing partner of this law firm says, “College graduates are just more career-oriented. Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures and are not just looking for a paycheck.”
I am not saying you should replace everyone on the admin team who does not have a college education. I am stressing that when you have great people, whether they are accountants, bookkeepers, IT specialists or administrative professionals, you should be investing in their success. You should also be encouraging them to invest in their own success!
Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, it will improve the lives of all those around you.
It’s April 16th. You are well into your performance year – for your team members and for your owners.
You probably have already scheduled counseling sessions for your team members to give them feedback on performance thus far for 2013.
What about your partner group? So many firms don’t even establish and document goals for their partners. More and more firms understand the importance and actually go through some sort of partner goal setting procedure. The trouble is, once set, there is little follow-up and few consequences if partners do not meet the goals.
I call this type of goal-setting – The Partner Wish List.
I wish I could bring in more business, that should be a goal.
I wish I Mary Manager and Mike Manager really understood the client service dynamics. I should work with them this year.
I wish I had more personal productivity (profit, charge hours, write-ups, etc.), I should work on that in the fall.
I wish we have done more with that new service line. I should spend more time on that.
Partner goal-setting is the managing partners job, responsibility, duty….. how is your MP performing? If you are the MP, set those goal check-up meetings with your partners for May, August and November. Pay for performance should apply to everyone inside the firm – poor performance means poor pay – or something worse.
It’s the, “If I don’t succeed here quickly, I’ll just quit and move on” mindset. The fact is this mindset simply doesn’t work in public accounting. You learn by experience, by never-ending learning and it takes time.
If you are a new hire in public accounting, be bold and seek counsel from the partners in the firm, individually. Have them tell you their success story. They have spent years enhancing their skills and their career and they are doing very, very well.