Archive for the ‘Helpful Information’ Category

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Strategy and Tactics

“Hope is not a strategy.” – Vince Lombardi

Sometimes, accountants get so wrapped up in tactics that they forget about strategy and vice versa. Distinguishing between tactics and strategy sometimes get very blurry inside CPA firms.

I don’t often include an entire blog post by Seth Godin in my own blog post. But, today is one of those days because I think it is very important for you, and your firm, to clearly understand tactics and strategy. Here it is:

Why even bother to think about strategy?

There’s confusion between tactics and strategy. It’s easy to get tied up in semantic knots as you work to figure out the distinction. It’s worth it, though, because strategy can save you when tactics fail.

If a tactic fails, you should consider abandoning it.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your strategy. Your strategy is what you keep doing even after you walk away from a tactic.

A real estate broker could decide that her goal is to get more listings.

And her strategy is to achieve that by becoming the most trusted person in town.

There are then 100 tactics she can use to earn that trust. She can coordinate events, sponsor teams, host community meetings in her office, sponsor the local baseball team, be transparent about her earnings, hire countless summer interns at a fair wage, run seminars at the local library, etc. …

It doesn’t matter if one or two or five of the tactics aren’t home runs. They add up.

But if once, just once, she violates someone’s trust and expectations, the entire strategy goes out the window.

Tactics are disposable.

Strategy is for the long haul.

  • Strategy is about setting yourself apart from the competition. It’s not a matter of being better at what you do – it’s a matter of being different at what you do.
  • Michael Porter

Friday, April 6th, 2018

As a Mentor, You Are Sculpting

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg

A recent article via HBR – The Best Mentors Think Like Michelangelo – describes how Michelangelo considered a beautiful piece of art was already inside the stone and he worked to release it.

This is a beautiful thought to apply to your mentoring role. Here are some points from the article that might help you as your mentor the young, ambitious accountants in your accounting firm. As you have time later, be sure to read the entire article and apply these thoughts to your firm’s mentoring program.

  • The Michelangelo phenomenon refers to when a skilled and thoughtful relationship partner becomes committed to first understanding and then reinforcing or drawing out another’s ideal form.
  • A skilled mentor can bring out a promising form that might be hidden from view.
  • Excellent mentors devote the time to truly “see” their mentees. It takes time and patience to see their ideal selves.
  • A mentor must earn trust, be accessible, and listen generously.
  • Research confirms that women face more barriers to finding a mentor and when they find a male mentor, it might not result in professional and psychological benefits.
  • One reason is that men sometimes struggle with the important skill of active listening.
  • Men can be great mentors to females if they work hard at understanding some of the challenges of cross-gender mentoring.

Read the entire article and share it. Maybe it’s time to refresh your program.

  • A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.
  • Bob Proctor

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Take Your Vacation

“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” – Robert Orben

I have written a lot about people working in CPA firms not taking all their vacation time. Just type “vacation” in the search box – on the right – and browse the various posts.

The fact remains, many (probably a vast majority of) CPAs and other people working in public accounting firms do not take all of their vacation time. Sure, they can bank some of the time to use down the road for illness or family emergencies. That’s a good thing but studies tell us that vacation time is very valuable.

Here are 10 reasons to take your vacation time:

  1. Going on vacation shows you are competent.
  2. No one is impressed if you don’t.
  3. Your team is motivated.
  4. Your team gets more productive.
  5. Being unavailable helps people develop.
  6. You will be more productive.
  7. You will prioritize better.
  8. You let other people be “important.”
  9. Your company benefits.
  10. You need a break.

I recently read an interesting article via HBR – What One Company Learned from Forcing Employees to Use Their Vacation Time.

The article even states that unlimited vacation policies do not work. Peer pressure is always there. You receive social signals that say you’re a slacker if you’re not in the office.

The company in the article adopted a policy of recurring, scheduled mandatory vacation. After working for seven weeks, you must take a week off. I can visualize how this might work in an accounting firm. Read the article and see if it could be modified slightly to work at your firm.

  • A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking.
  • Earl Wilson

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Too Many Interruptions

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” – Stephen Covey

I hear it from so many people working in public accounting. The topic is distractions and interruptions. Several people have told me recently that even when they shut their door, people don’t take the hint – they simply knock and enter.

Distractions also include mobile devices, too many meetings, and noisy people when a group decides to chat in the cubicle next to you or outside your office door. Then there are those newer staff members who continually have questions.

Sharlyn Lauby, @hrbartender, has some helpful suggestions in her article, Workplace Distractions Are Impacting the Bottom Line.

  • Provide a place where employees can hang-out and talk without disturbing others.
  • Define, upfront, whether music can be played in work areas. Some people like quiet and some people like music – define your policy.
  • Provide employees with noise-canceling headphones.

Teach newer team members to compile a list of questions and let them know you will make yourself available at 11:00 and 4:00 to provide answers and guidance.

If you want to know more about the research behind Lauby’s article you can access Udemy’s 2018 Distraction Report for more information.

If you have HR responsibilities at your firm, follow Lauby on Twitter @hrbartender.

  • The idea flow from the human spirit is absolutely unlimited. All you have to do is tap into that well. I don't like to use the word efficiency. It's creativity. It's a belief that every person counts.
  • Jack Welch

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Circumlocution

“For me, the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity.” – Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Reading brings me a lot of relaxation, enjoyment, and knowledge. I hope you feel the same way and make reading a top priority.

Of course, you should read the latest and greatest business books but also read for entertainment. I mostly read on my Kindle. I like the feature where you hold your finger on a word and you get the definition. That’s how I discovered the word circumlocution. When I learned the meaning, it made me think of communication inside a CPA firm.

Here’s an example of using it in a sentence: “The firm partners finally shared some firm financial data with us after years of circumlocution.”

Circumlocution definition: The use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive.

Here’s another example that Charles Dickens used in his writings:

“Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving – HOW NOT TO DO IT.”

Don’t allow circumlocution at your firm! Learn more here.

  • I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.
  • Vincent Van Gogh

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

It Is Time To Review Your Performance Review

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso

You have probably read the articles. Many accounting firms are eliminating the annual performance review.

I think this statement can be very misleading. What they are eliminating are the annual ranking and written feedback comments.

Employees still need feedback and managers still need to give feedback. However, the widely-used formal feedback process is way too time-consuming for partners and managers and dreaded by both managers and employees.

It will soon be performance feedback time (after busy season). Revisit your process now and identify ways to transform your “performance evaluation” process into an entire “performance management” system.

Here are some ideas:

Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.

Would Your Employees Cheer If You Eliminated Formal Performance Evaluations?

It is More Than Performance Review.

  • There is always stuff to work on. You are never there.
  • Tiger Woods

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Listen Carefully

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

During my presentations over many years, I have often asked my audience of CPAs if they ever had any sort of listening training or done their own research on how to become a better listener. Rarely, did I get even one positive response.

Most people take it for granted that they listen. Experts tell us that most people while waiting for their turn to talk are thinking about what they will say next.

Here’s the scene most often observed in an office inside a CPA firm:

A person enters the office to discuss a situation with a partner (could be a manager or anyone with their own office). The staff member sits down across the desk from the partner and begins talking. There is some back and forth conversation. During the exchange, the partner (or the person behind the desk) keeps glancing at his/her computer screen. Worse yet, they keep glancing at their mobile device. The person feels discounted and unimportant. The sad part is that the partner doesn’t even realize they are doing this.

Could this be you? Remember to:

  • Keep eye contact
  • Put your mobile device out of your eyesight
  • Review what was said – repeat things back to the visitor.
  • Ask questions but DO NOT INTERRUPT
  • Listening is a master skill for personal and professional greatness.
  • Robin S. Sharma

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Stay Safe Out There – Two-Factor Authentication

“In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I know that CPA firms are fanatics about protecting the safety of their data. Their clients count on them to treat their information with the highest level of security. I also know that CPAs take this responsibility very, very seriously.

I have observed that some CPAs are not using two-factor authentication with their personal devices and some don’t even know what it is. Perhaps, you feel safe because your devices are tied to your firm and all its security. But, what about your clients and your family?

BillRecently, I have become aware of Bill Hess, founder of Pixel Privacy. On his site, Bill gives advice and creates easy to follow tutorials that anyone can use to protect their privacy and stay safe online, even if they have zero technical knowledge.

Want to learn more? Read Bill’s post, Two-Factor Authentication – What It Is and Why You Should Use it. His post is very informative, easy to understand. I hope you will share it with your team, your clients, and your family.

  • The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.
  • Dudley Moore

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

The Employee Experience

“Starbucks was founded around the experience and the environment of their stores. Starbucks was about a space with comfortable chairs, lots of power outlets, tables and desks at which we could work and the option to spend as much time in their stores as we wanted without any pressure to buy. The coffee was incidental.” – Simon Sinek

It seems we have evolved past employee engagement. It is now all about the complete employee experience. From a recent study via Deloitte:

Nearly 80 percent of executives rated employee experience very important (42 percent) or important (38 percent), but only 22 percent reported that their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience. 

Large firms can leave most of this up to their HR departments. However, a vast majority of accounting firms really don’t have an HR department. It’s up to you – partners, managers, firm administrators and even the entire team to shape the employee experience.

Are you striving to have a “differentiated employee experience”?

  • An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.
  • Jack Welch

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Find Reasons to Celebrate

“At the end of the day, the fact we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.” – Meredith Grey

Inside accounting firms, mid-March is a milestone of sorts. The March 15th due date passes and there is only one more month until the mid-April deadline is history.

It is time to celebrate and do some special things before those last few, intense weeks, such as:

—Some firms require their people to work on Saturdays during tax season. What if you gave everyone a REAL weekend on the first Saturday after March 15? The office is closed and no one works! We did for years at my firm and everyone really appreciated have a REAL weekend.

—Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! This year it is on a Saturday, so do some fun things on Friday. Everyone wears green! There will be green bagels and cupcakes in the employee lounge.

—Have green cupcakes or bagels delivered to your best clients.

—It is also March Madness time. During the first games on Thursday and Friday that are played during the afternoon, host an open house for referral sources and clients to watch the games while enjoying some refreshments throughout the afternoon. Guests can come at lunchtime, right after work or anytime during the afternoon. I know a firm that did this every year and it was a very big deal in the business community.

—Send a personal letter (not an email) from the partners to the family of your team members thanking the family for the patience and support for their special person during this time of extended hours.

  • Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet.
  • Sarah Louise Delany