“Live your life and ignore your age.” – Norman Vincent Peale
I’ve done many presentations about and written extensively about generations in the workplace. I am convinced that ALL generations better understanding each other, and not putting each other in “boxes” because of their age, can solve most if not all of the misunderstandings inside the firm.
That being said, I do probably focus more on the Millennials. This week, I read an article on the Forbes site by Paul Armstrong. It was directed to marketers and listed three things they need to know so they can better understand the Millennial customer.
You can read the short article and take what you need because the Millennials working in your accounting firm ARE your customers.
The second of the three things was the most important to me because it stressed the fact that we need to hear directly from Millennials so we can better understand what they want and how they feel.
I’ve been guilty. I stand before an audience and tell them what Millennials are like, how they behave (in general) and what they want. I do get much of this directly from Millennials and a lot of it from research, articles, etc. What you really need is to hear it directly from them.
Here’s a quote by an IBM executive from the article: “I still don’t get how middle aged men on stage can tell us what Millennials want. Surely we should hear this from real Millennials?”
Rather than listening to us older, non-Millennial male and female consultants tell you what Millennials want, why not ask them yourselves?
Host some roundtable discussions at your firm. Put an older partner at each table with several Millennials and begin gathering information. Ask specific questions and just listen.
One of the first things that caused me to focus on Millennials was a statement from a Millennial panel at a conference several years ago. The young man said: “I have an 18-month old daughter at home. Bath time is important to me. At my current firm, I can go home for dinner and bath time and then work for several hours after she goes to bed. That’s why I joined this firm.”
“People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” – Marcus Buckingham
Back in 2013, Gallup released it’s eye-opening report that showed 70% of American workers were not engaged at work.
In 2015, Gallup updated their findings and it showed that 32% of employees are engaged. Not much of an improvement.
Many firms have used employee satisfaction surveys to find out what their employees really think about the firm. I wonder how many firms have actually acted upon the information they received.
I strongly urge you to do employee engagement surveys, but not if you are not prepared to act upon the information you receive. Employees are looking for an exciting vision and a clear picture of how and when their career will move forward.
If you want to improve employee engagement in your firm, look at your managers first. One of the most important decisions the partner group needs to make is who they promote to manager. In most firms, people are named manager because of longevity with the firm, not because they are skilled at inspiring people and nurturing the career growth of others.
Keep in mind…. 70% of people leave a company because of their manager.
If you want your firm’s employee engagement to improve, focus on your managers. Offer them resources to improve their management skills, provide workshops and training on how to manage people (especially millennials). Partners and managers should be fully involved in creating a culture where young accountants want to stay and build their careers.
The true genius of a great manager is his or her ability to individualize. A great manager is one who understands how to trip each person's trigger.
On the topic of salary transparency. We need more of it.
Thanks to Jennifer Wilson for pointing out the article on salary transparency via Going Concern. I think it is right on target. Younger CPA team members are reading Going Concern. Older team members should also be reading.
From Going Concern:
Salary transparency We’ve touched on this topic a coupleof times, but this HBR post has an example that could come in handy for anyone toying with the idea of salary transparency:
Whole Food’s John Mackey says that salary disagreements have a purpose at Whole Foods and spur a deeper conversation about pay. When people challenge him about a particular person’s salary, comparing it to their own, he often responds, “That person is more valuable. If you accomplish what this person has accomplished, I’ll pay you that too.”
I’m not sure most accounting firms have the will to tell the majority of their people that they are underachieving. But, HEY, this could be the kind of detailed feedback Millennials are looking for. Although, most of us need to work on the whole communication thing.
I have strongly urged my client firms and others who attend my presentations that when a staff member complains that a “superstar” is getting more perks, more opportunities or more salary to address it directly. Let the “middle star” know exactly what they have to do to earn superstar status. You also owe it to the “falling stars.” Coach them to become middle stars, then superstars. If it doesn’t work, coach them to become a “former” star.
Truth is always exciting. Speak it, life is dull without it.
It is quite disturbing and I am observing more and more of it happening. Just because someone is of a certain age, those around them assume they will act this way or react that way.
We read an enormous amount of data that tells us millennials, in their twenties, move from job to job looking for just the right fit, something that makes them feel challenged, appreciated and happy. If they seek out challenging work, they are viewed as entitled. If they don’t, they are assumed to be lazy.
So, inside your firm, you might not rely on them for long-term projects or put them on your largest, most important client because they might be “gone” next year.
What I am also beginning to observe is that in many firms, if you are over 50 or 55…. you might be perceived as out-of-touch, stuck in your comfort zone and hopeless for the future.
Some view Boomers as becoming obsolete, worthless and a road-block to younger professionals. For some, that may be true but I know a lot of Boomers who are skilled with technology, anxious to learn new things, willing to change (for the better) and a great knowledge resource for millennials.
Millennials when they are 24 or 25 are known as job-hoppers. However, studies tell us that Gen Xers changed jobs just as frequently at that age and if you dig into the stats, once they graduate from college they don’t change jobs more frequently than Boomers did!
Firm leaders, whether you are 60, 40 or 25, please don’t fall into the trap of pigeonholing someone simply based on age.
In my continual viewing of CPA firm websites (so I can see how you are doing with that important tool), I have noticed that even in these times of fierce battles for top talent, many firms appear to have let their career page go unattended.
Many do not have the Career page as a prominent topic link at the top of the page (where you have About – Services, etc.). Career is hidden under the “About” topic.
Many simply have a list of job openings when you select “Careers”.
Most do not have a career video.
Now check-out the Career page of PKF Texas, a very prominent, forward-thinking firm that has experienced amazing growth. When you hit their home page you see Careers right away. Arrow-over Careers and you see a list of topics with the first one being:
I hope you are a digital firm doing work on the frontier, on the edges of creativity and where answers are being found. The preceding thoughts come from a recent blog post by Seth Godin. I periodically share one of his entire posts because I think they actually speaks to the CPA profession. I love the words, “attitude trumps background”. People may tell you that you are too young or that you are too old. You are not.
It’s not your turn, is it?
If you’re moving forward and moving fast, you’ve no doubt heard it:
People who look like you aren’t qualified to do this work.
Your resume is thin.
You don’t know the right people.
You’re too young to take this one on.
This isn’t for someone as cute as you.
The thing you failed at, all those years ago, that disqualifies you from this.
I don’t trust the ___s.
You live where?
We were hoping for someone younger.
I’m not sure you’re a good cultural fit.
You’re particularly overqualified to do this.
I once knew someone your age/race/demographic and they let me down.
I’ll get back to you.
Hear these lines too many times and you might begin to believe them.
Now, more than ever, attitude trumps background, productivity defeats ignorance, particularly when it comes to the work done on the frontier, on the edges of creativity, where answers are still being found.
Too many people have told you ‘no’. And many of them were wrong. Not wrong about what they wanted–perhaps what you have isn’t for them. But wrong about what you could contribute.
Pick yourself, and keep making art until someone can’t ignore you any longer.
It’s not fair, but it’s better than the alternative.
Don't try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody.
How do you instill enthusiasm for practice development (marketing) in your younger accountants?
How do you build loyalty and trust?
I advise that you simply TAKA – Take A Kid Along. I don’t call them “kids” to be disrespectful. It is because they are very young in their accounting career.
I read a lot of responses to upward feedback surveys and employee engagement surveys. Many, many times someone says something like this: “Bill asked me to go with him to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast event. He talks about the firm in such a professional and informative way. I learned so much.”
Think of it as having a shadow and even non-partners should have a shadow when they go to events, client meetings or business lunches. Less experienced people need to see, first hand, how it’s done.
Young accountants – If they do not invite you, speak-up and ask! Sometimes partners and managers simply forget to include you.
Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
When I ask my audiences: “You don’t have any whiners in your firm, do you?” – I get a room full of giggles. At your office, of course you have people who whine. You have people who complain. You have people who roll their eyes at new ideas or even at a verbal reminder that everyone should follow procedures to provide better client service.
I am a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964). My parents were part of the Silent or Veteran generation (born before 1946). Some are still in the workforce. Here’s a description:
Silents.Silents are considered among the most loyal workers. They are highly dedicated and the most risk averse. Their values were shaped by the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom years. Silents possess a strong commitment to teamwork and collaboration and have high regard for developing interpersonal communication skills. Silents now consist of the most affluent elderly population in U.S. history due to their willingness to conserve and save after recovering from the financial impact of the postwar era.
The interesting thing is, I never heard my parents complain about their jobs. Both of them worked to provide a comfortable life style for my brother and myself. Everything I heard about their work and their co-workers, at our dinner table, was positive.
I never thought much about it then. I think a lot about it now.
In my work I counsel and advise people working inside accounting firms. I have observed that nearly all Silent generation workers are gone. Most Baby Boomers complain some. However, as you go down through the generations in the office it gets worse. GenX and Millennials complain the most.
My parents worked hard. Neither had office jobs. I have always thoroughly enjoyed my work and still do. Yet, as even office work has become easier (more technology, more holidays, free coffee, free soda, free food, free continuing education, casual dress), there is more whining and complaining about work.
Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.
CPA firms lose so many bright, savvy females because of the long-talked about stigma that when you want to start a family, you cannot work in public accounting.
Too many young female professionals tend to heed the old-fashioned advice that they should work in public accounting for a few years, get their CPA designation and then get a job in a private company so they can then raise a family. Fewer actually become “stay at home” moms because the millennials need two incomes to live the life style they desire.
So, I urge all young women in accounting, stick it out. The accounting profession is becoming more and more flexible all the time. It is a profession that can provide the career development and prestige that you desire.
Don’t feel guilty if you are working and also raising children. Children of working moms actually reap many benefits because they have working mothers.
According to a survey of 1,000 grown children of working mothers, many substantial benefits were identified
Strong Work Ethic – The grown children reported that watching their mothers go to work every day instilled in them a strong work ethic.
Independence – Working mothers know they won’t be there for everything so they have deliberately taught their children to be more independent.
Resilience – The children of working mothers reported being able to solve their own problems and bounce back from tough times better than children of stay-at-home mothers.
Prepared For The Work World – Watching their mothers face the many challenges at work helped the children feel better prepared for the working world. They have a better sense of what to expect when they enter the work world.
Daughters Benefit Most – Harvard found that daughters of working mothers earned 23% more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers.
There is so much opportunity for young women entering the accounting profession. I truly believe it offers the flexibility and opportunity where females can continually develop their careers and still have a life.
Much of this is thanks to Millennials – males and females – who have figured out that work is not the be all and end all.
Here’s a song with right-on-target lyrics written by Pete Seeger’s sister, Peggy, also a singer/song writer.
Maybe many of you hard-working, professional women of today can relate. The story starts out with “when I was a little girl, I wished I was a boy.” Be sure to listen to the end to hear how the story ends.
That was me, an all-out tomboy who bullied the neighborhood boys. If they didn’t do what I said, I would make them eat dirt. Can you believe it? They still tease me about it. There were times at my firm when I wished I could have still done that!
If you don't like being a doormat, get off the floor.