I love the following story from the Ohio Society of CPAs. If you follow this blog you know how much I love the world of marching band and appreciate what CPA firm leaders can learn from it.
Here’s a great story of a CPA firm’s flexibility and how it helped fulfill a dream a young accounting major and future employee. I have embedded a short video below….”Doting The i In Accounting.”
Ohio CPA firms getting creative with workplace flexibility to attract talent
Local accountant to dot the ‘i’ in Sunday’s OSU game—a dream his employer helped make possible
(COLUMBUS, Nov. 17, 2015) —Dotting the ‘i’ for script Ohio in The Ohio State University marching band was a longtime dream for Neil Steffens. That dream came true this past September in part because Steffen’s employer, Clark Schaefer Hackett, a regional CPA firm, was open to a flexible work arrangement as Steffens was transitioning from accounting grad to full-time tax accountant.
Arrangements like Steffens’ are becoming more common as the race for top talent has intensified in many professions. Companies are competing in a limited talent pool, and pulling out all the stops to attract and retain the most qualified candidates.
According to an EY survey, flexibility ranked second only to competitive pay and benefits when employees evaluate a potential job opportunity.
Flexibility was top of mind for Steffens, an accounting grad searching for his first job out of college. He had a special situation, as he explains in this video from The Ohio Society of CPAs. Despite having graduated from The Ohio State University, he was still a member of the OSU marching band and had the opportunity to dot the ‘i’ during theScript Ohio band performance, a special honor reserved only for fourth-year sousaphone section members. He will make a repeat performance this Saturday during OSU’s last home game of the season against Michigan State.
“I was going to dot the ‘i’ no matter what, even if it meant putting my life on hold,” Steffens said.
The band requires a huge time commitment, one that would interfere with a normal work schedule. Steffens approached his job search by only considering employers that would accommodate his practice schedule. Clark Schaefer Hackett, a large regional CPA firm in Ohio, fit the bill.
“For Neil and others who are granted opportunities like this it comes down to trust,” said Ed Walsh, CPA, shareholder-in-charge of the firm’s Columbus office. “He trusts us to allow him the flexibility to pursue his passions, and we trust that he’ll make it all work when it comes to helping us serve our clients.”
As job seekers, particularly millennials, continue to value flexibility, employers are bending to meet market demand. Walsh believes the key to making flexible arrangements work for both employer and employee is evaluating each request one at a time, to ensure the company can meet its needs. Open dialogue and clear communication about expectations are also imperative.
“Great people are hard to find,” Walsh said. “And when we hire those people we’re not just thinking about how to keep them happy for 6-12 months. More and more we really think long term, and what can we do to make this a place where people want to stay.”
“It was awesome to find Clark Schaefer Hackett and be able to earn a living while also accomplishing my dream,” Steffens said. “It’s one thing to say ‘We’re going to allow you to have a work life balance,’ but it’s another thing to truly support what you do outside of work.”
Steffens is a master at juggling responsibilities. In addition to marching in the band and working full-time in the firm’s tax practice, he is studying to pass the four-part national CPA exam. Some would say that’s a full time job by itself.
Workplace flexibility is one of several talent management topics featured in OSCPA’s video Spotlight series. The latest episode features Neil’s story and a profile of Kaiser Consulting, a Powell, Ohio-based firm founded on the concept of offering employees control over their schedules.
Here’s the video:
The Ohio Society of CPAs is a leading partner and influential voice for a thriving business environment. We empower Ohio’s 30,000 CPAs and financial professionals to drive value as trusted business advisors by advancing advocacy and education programs that strengthen Ohio’s tax and business climate and make our state a friendlier place to live and do business.
I do a lot of survey work for accounting firms. One of the most common topics, among team members from all sizes of firms and from all areas of the country, is the fact that many partners drop things on them at the last minute and almost pace the floor behind them as they scramble to meet the partner’s expectations. At the same time another partner is impatiently waiting on his “hot” project.
Side note: One year at my firm the staff fashioned a construction paper flame with a base that allowed it to stand up. They would pass it around and sit it on top of the stack of files that was “hot”. With amusement, they even assigned categories of hot: Warm, Hot and On Fire. Yes, they poked fun at partners.
That was years ago and now it feels like impatience dominates our entire life. Have you ever walked down the hall to get coffee, met a co-worker and they ask, “Did you read my email?” “No, when did you send it?” – Answer: “Five minutes ago!”
My wish is to see accounting firms develop a culture that has, somewhere in its foundation, the practice of, and rewarding of, patience. It can be achieved by better planning and time management. And, by clearly setting expectations for the client.
It’s enough that we get impatient by waiting 30 seconds on the microwave or 5 seconds for a site to load. Our society has become one of instant gratification and partners are no exception. Keep in mind when you demand quick turnaround from an employee, there just might be two other things on their plate that need quick turnaround.
Chill, take a deep breath and investigate ways to practice more patience inside your firm. I think Keep Calm And Carry On applies here.
Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.
My crowd, as a teenager, had many favorite expressions that we used on each other. I’m sure today’s young folks do the same but I wouldn’t know, or understand, what they mean. Anyway, a favorite was if someone said, “Huh?” you would quickly respond: “Huh, Hell, pay attention!” You can’t imagine how many times I wanted to utter that phrase in my business life, but didn’t.
I’m sure you have experienced the frustration first-hand. Most firms have the partner famous for constantly checking their computer screen when they are in a direct conversation with you. I bet there are many people in your office who walk down the hall, faced glued to their mobile device, ignoring everyone around them and maybe not even looking up if you ask them a direct question.
How many times do you check your email when you are deeply involved working on a task or project? In the accounting world, you are not alone when it comes to the challenges of attention span.
Per www.statisticbrain.com: Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation. Questions: What is the average human attention span? How long in seconds is the average attention span?
The average attention span in 2015 – 8.25 seconds
The average attention span in 2000 – 12 seconds
The average attention span of a gold fish – 9 seconds
Average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox – 30
Understanding the generations in the workplace has always been a passion of mine.
My first involvement was with helping Baby Boomers, and the older Veteran generation understand Gen-Xers. They were the radical bunch at that time. My first presentation about Gen-X was in May, 2000. A lot has changed since then.
Things going on around us when we are young, play a major role in forming how we look at the world.
Thanks to Scott D. Wiley, CAE (via his tweet) for directing me to a list of events and happenings that shape perspectives for this year’s entering college freshmen (Class of 2019). It’s called The Mindset List published by Beloit College.
I think you will find the list interesting, maybe even entertaining. Click here.
Teenagers across America are entering a special season. It goes along with football but I’m not talking about football season. I’m talking about marching band season.
Often young people, especially millennials, are misrepresented as being lazy, irresponsible, clueless and so on. Not marching band members… these kids are focused, driven and continually learning essential lessons that will go on to assist them in every walk of life.
Who instills these values in them? The marching band director.
Here are some marching band lessons that just might apply to the young (and old) people working inside your accounting firm.
Early is on time; on time is late. – Players need time to prep on their own prior to rehearsal. Do your accounting firm “players” arrive a few minutes ahead of time to prep on their own before work begins?
Time management is everything. – Band students practice countless hours in the summer and fall. They must learn to set aside time for homework, personal practice and family. How many of your team members are always “too busy” to get things accomplished? When did you last offer your team some formal time management classes?
Kindness and generosity go far. – Band directors teach that there’s no room for selfishness in marching band. Each band applauds each other as they finish. “Good job” is repeated often.
Teamwork makes the dream work. – Wouldn’t this be a great motto (or battle cry) for your accounting team? Marching band involves a team of hundreds of players all performing individual parts that make-up a beautiful whole. They don’t have a “varsity” and a “B-team” they are all in it together. I find many partner groups that need to adopt this slogan… teamwork makes the dream work.
Criticism is a natural part of life. – Band students are taught to take critical feedback from judges and use the information to make a better, more creative show. Begin today to infuse your culture with the fact that feedback, even if critical, is to be put to good use. Don’t forget that upward feedback to partners is also a key component.
I read lots of articles that mention how much people working in accounting firms, below the partner level, hate the long hours.
When I survey employees and talk to them, they rarely mention the extended office hours during January through April or the occasions when a client really needs to be served.
One thing they don’t like is the emails they receive from partners at 5:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m. all year long. They read into this that they should be working at 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. They certainly don’t want to be a partner if that is part of the drill. They might not even want to stay very long at your firm at all.
Another long hours challenge is the fact that technology has put the office just a few taps away and I observe that most accountants, at all levels, certainly are tied to their mobile device.
In an article on HBR – “The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies” – the basic question is: “Does it work?”
I believe that during busy season, more time is wasted than during other time of they year. The mindset seems to be, “I have to log 55 billable hours so I will take my time to be sure I can get 55 billable hours in”.
What if the entire team was working at their utmost efficiency? If your firm has effectively trained people, improved and streamlined the audit tasks and the tax processes, and if partners and managers were managing, coaching and inspiring people, perhaps what actually gets done in 55 hours could be done in 45 or even 35 and the team members could go home earlier.
Beware of the old-fashioned mindset that if we have billed a client for 22 hours of work on their job each year and now we can get it done in 12, we will only be billing for 12 and our revenue will go down!
Most firms do a wide variety of things to keep great people at their firms. It, definitely has become more difficult during the recent talent wars. Every firm you compete with wants your people. Firms across the country want your people. And, these other firms will pay them more.
You have to do the chair massages, special coffee, ice cream socials, bowling events, mini-golf in the hallways….. the list goes on. Oh yes, your real employee benefit menu has to be up-to-date and generous…. great pay, plenty of PTO, holidays and insurance coverage and so on.
Many studies tell us they like all that but what they really want is communication and recognition. They want to know what is going on, what you expect and what their career path really looks like. They want to know someone cares about their development.
Asking one simple question can provide your firm with some very valuable information. Ask them in an individual conversation – What is the one thing we could change that would help you be more successful at your job?
You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
One of the answers I receive most often when I ask CPA firm team members why they stay with their firm is, “My work. I like the work that I do”
When I ask CPA firm team members what they would say to partners by finishing this sentence: “I wish you would (fill in the blank).” They say, “….give me more challenging work.”
Yet, in firm after firm I observe partners doing manager work, managers doing senior work and seniors looking for work. Young, bright accountants progress in their careers by being assigned to more challenging engagements.
They won’t like their work if they continue doing the same engagements year after year. They won’t get more challenging work if partners and managers continue to hoard work.
To keep people at your firm, maybe it is time to revisit your scheduling system.
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During 2015, our membership has taken on a project of publishing a series of 15 blogs, written by individual members, around the central theme of Bridging the Gap-Strengthening the Connection Between Current and Emerging Leaders.
In her August 11th blog post, A Winning Culture Is An Intentional Culture, CPACA member Tamera Loerzel asks you to explore the following primary areas where Millennials are driving (and expect) change in firm culture:
Clear vision and direction
Engagement by upper-management
Leaders willing to change
Feedback and the desire to give it
Increased transparency – they want to know what, why and how
A 100% commitment towork efficiently using the latest IT and standard processes
An expectation that they’ll benefit from a learning and development investment
Flexibility and anytime, anywhere work (moving away from the time and place paradigm)
Be sure to read this entire blog post and the others in the series. The posts feature real stories from real CPA firms.
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.