Archive for the ‘Mentoring’ Category

Friday, March 21st, 2014

What Really Matters Inside Your CPA Firm?

Do you ever think about it? I’m referring to today’s title: What really matters inside your CPA firm, in your family, in your life?

At work some things don’t matter much. Like the size of your office, the size of your cubicle, the kind of coffee your serve, the brand of soft drinks you stock, the time you get to work or the time you leave.

The problem with people is they often make decisions based on things that don’t really matter much.

More things that don’t matter that much:  The kind or color of the car you drive or the fact that your office is a few sq. feet smaller than the partner next to you. How big are things like this in the scheme of life?

I recently read a passage in a book titled, “The Secret Life Of Bees.”  Does the color of a house matter? How big is that in the scheme of life. But lifting a person’s heart – now that matters. The problem with people is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it.

Inside your CPA firm, are you making decisions based upon things that really matter? As an employee inside a CPA firm are you making decisions based on what really matters?

I hope all of you are lifting people’s hearts.

  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Mentoring Programs Inside CPA Firms

Mentoring continues to be an important topic inside CPA firms and in the business world, in general.

When I talk to MPs or HR leaders at CPA firms they tell me that their program is not really very strong. Some leaders are really great mentors and others are actually quite terrible at it. As we move further into the talent wars, mentoring will once again take on more prominence inside CPA firms. Young people want mentors.

Perhaps one thing that CPA firms could do better is to focus on educating young people about their role in the mentoring process. If you want to have a great mentor you need to be a great mentee. You need to ask for help. Mentors won’t just land in your lap, you must search for them. If you want success, it takes hard work.

Here’s what Sir Richard Branson says about mentoring:

I find mentors inside and outside of Virgin every day. If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road. If you want success then it takes hard work, hard work and more hard work. But it also takes a little help along the way. If you are determined and enthusiastic then people will support you.


  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
  • Winston Churchill

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Coach or Mentor

There is a lot of confusion inside some CPA firms about the role of a mentor and the difference between coaching and mentoring.

This might help:

  • Coaching is task oriented.
  • Mentoring is relationship oriented.


  • Coaching is short-term.
  • Mentoring is long-term.


  • Coaching is performance driven.
  • Mentoring is development driven.


Read more on the Management Mentors site.

  • Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
  • Mother Teresa

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

“Wow! You Are Doing Great.” – - Tell Them!

When I was working inside a growing CPA firm, I liked to use WOW cards.

You can come up with your own version….. mine were small, folded note cards that said WOW on the front in various styles, colors and fonts. I would simply write a few encouraging words to someone who went above and beyond, demonstrated an act of kindness to another team member or perhaps they were celebrating something special (like passing a part of the CPA exam). I would write a brief note and place it on their keyboard or somewhere prominent on their desk so it would be there when they arrived in the morning.

At this time of year (and all year) remember to express a simple thank-you to those who are doing great work, helping clients, helping other team members and helping YOU.

Here’s a sample:

photo (1)

  • Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.
  • G. B. Stern

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Getting It Straight – Mentors, Coaches and Sponsors In The CPA Profession

photoInside CPA firms we do a lot of talking about mentoring but often we demonstrate very little action. When I ask participants in my presentations if they have a mentoring program most of them say, “Yes”. However, when I ask how these programs are working I usually get “So-so” as an answer.

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between mentoring and coaching. If you Google these words you will get a lot of differing opinions on what they mean and how to go about being a mentor or a coach in the business world. I will add my voice to the masses and tell you how I think it plays out inside a successful CPA firm.

I believe that a mentor is a listener, a sounding board, a wise resource to guide and steer you as your evolve, develop and gain experience in your career.

I believe a coach is someone more active. Think of a basketball or football coach – they actually show you (run down the field or court beside you and give you detailed instructions….”keep your elbows in and head down!”

In a CPA firm both roles are needed.  I like to see mentoring programs have a foundation of coaching.  The first year or so, beginners really need a coach (or buddy), someone who knows how to actually do the work, use the software, etc. and then they evolve to where they need more of a mentoring situation (and this usually is a different person) who is more of a career counselor.

As with everything, mentoring is under-going some changes in the professional service firm world. If a mentor and a coach aren’t enough, we are now reading and hearing more and more about having a “Sponsor” as your develop your career.

Honestly, I think that what we have inside CPA firms is really more of a sponsor relationship.  It is more of an “I will help you and in return you will help me” type of relationship.  A Sponsor builds a relationship with people (by helping them succeed) and they give back to the sponsor by helping them (and replacing them) so they can go on to bigger and better things.  It’s like succession – - – I will teach you, train you and promote you and you will help me handle my clients and responsibilities better and eventually replace me.

Here’s how an article on FAST Company  describes it:

“You might be tapped for development, but you’re not going to be given a ride on the coattails of anyone who doesn’t see you pulling your weight (and then some). Mentors may pick you, but you pick your sponsors by committing yourself to their best interests.”

Read this entire article (it’s short) and you’ll see what I mean.


  • I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
  • Robert Frost

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Mentoring Programs Today – It’s Not Something Forced Or Formal

“I have been mentored to death and it hasn’t helped.” – - That’s what we hear from so many young people working inside CPA firms. Even experienced people, especially women.

I always say that mentoring is something that is the foundation of the CPA profession. An older, more experienced person teaches, nurtures, coaches a younger, less-experienced person.

That’s how the profession of public accounting has been taught to young accounting graduates for decades. It is something that happens naturally, feels comfortable and is actually helpful.

rebeccaryanYet, inside many firms we try to make it too hard, too structured and it turns into an uncomfortable conversation every 6 weeks, or a free lunch every month that is very superficial.

Watch this 2-minute video from my friend, Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting. She says it so simply.

We don’t need to match people… we need to just lift everyone up.

We need to think about how we bring-up our up-and-comers in a way where our partners’ reputations are on the line.

Make mentoring helpful inside your firm. Support it, plant the seeds, water them, give them sunshine and kind words and let natural mentoring flourish.

  • The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.
  • Benjamin Disraeli

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Performance Reviews & Mentoring Sessions – A Way To Communicate

I have worked with many CPA firms to establish and/or re-engineer their mentoring system and their performance review process.  These two things are such an important part of the culture within public accounting firms.

Of course, there is a lot to talk about and a way to communicate in these areas. In fact, communication is one of the most challenging issues consultants to the CPA profession are seeing inside CPA firms.

I find that partners don’t communicate enough OR they have way too many meetings. I also get lots of questions about exactly how to communicate with a subordinate about their performance or how to give meaningful advice to someone you are mentoring.

At your accounting firm, as you enter the season of performance reviews and more frequent mentoring sessions, please keep in mind that you have a special power.  Silence is power.

Inside your firm you probably know of situations where “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” but if you really want to increase the power of your voice, silence can be a powerful tool.

In summary, inside accounting firms communication needs to be enhanced at all levels. In conversations inside your accounting firm, often silence is golden.

  • After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
  • Aldous Huxley

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Missed A Day – Good Reason

DeadlineEver miss a deadline?

I am very proud of the fact that I have been blogging about accounting firm management almost every workday for over 7 years. I must admit, I do occasionally miss a day – it is very rare.

Yesterday was one of those days – but wait! I won’t make a habit of it and I have a good reason.

As you advise and mentor the people working inside your accounting firm, deadlines will definitely be missed. Here’s some advice you can give the people you supervise in case they miss a deadline:

  • Communicate to those involved .
  • Don’t try to hide it.
  • Explain the situation.
  • Plan better next time.
  • Don’t make it a habit.

As for me, another deadline came up. My monthly newsletter goes out tomorrow morning. I wanted to make it special for CPA firm citizens because they are nearing the end of a very busy time. Leaders will be re-engaging with various issues and challenges inside their firms. Unless, of course, you don’t have any issues and challenges inside your CPA firm.

I spent yesterday writing my April CPA Management newsletter. I even expanded it beyond it’s normal content. Then last night, it hit me…. I didn’t make a blog post yesterday!  At other times, I would have written one before midnight just to make the deadline. This time I didn’t. I’ll plan better next time.

I think I hit all the bullet-points, above.  If you aren’t on my newsletter list, you can sign-up here.

  • I work best after the deadline has passed, when I'm in a panic.
  • Tony Kushner

Monday, December 10th, 2012

You Know What I Like

You know what I like. That is a statement, not a question.

If you follow this blog, you know that I’m always nagging you about getting busy…… do this to make your firm better, do that to make sure everyone understands their role in marketing, don’t wait until “after busy season,” make decisions faster, be more inclusive in leadership rather than being exclusive… and on and on….

What I really like is firm leaders doing something really positive and helpful for their team members. Owners setting a good example. What a concept! It is something I don’t see often enough. Here’s the story.

The owners in a mid-size CPA firm were becoming worried about the younger accountants understanding and commitment to client service (their firm is made-up of a majority of people under 35). Rather than have me come in and talk to these young people about the value of client service, they had me come in and talk to everyone in the firm, accountants and administrative team members AND here’s the part I like…. The partners ALL attended, participated, told stories, contributed ideas – - Yes! They taught their own team by setting the example, sharing the learning experience with them and telling stories of their business development successes.

They did NOT set the tone I so often see….. “we” know all this but our staff needs to learn it.

Time for trivia:

“You know what I like….. is also a phrase from an early rock and roll song, Chantilly Lace, by The Big Bopper.  He died in the plane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Remembering A Role Model

The following is a reprint of a blog I did on November 3, 2009:

Sometimes, inside CPA firms, we tend to talk about what’s not working a whole lot more than what is working.

I believe it is for a good reason. CPA firm leaders want to continually improve things and to do this they need a thorough checklist of what appears to be broken. While I encourage your continual march toward a forward-thinking, well-managed firm, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses! 

Talk, talk, talk about the good things at your firm and encourage your leaders to cite examples of positive forces in your firm. It’s funny how you will see others begin to do the same. Positive talk and positive actions creates positive energy and it is imitated.

Just such an action happened yesterday at the Alpern Rosenthal’s annual leadership retreat in Pittsburgh. We were having a discussion guided by Holly Fuller and Steve Feldbauer on why the firm’s mentoring program needed improvement. There were lots of great ideas and comments on how to “fix” it, when Frank Duzicky spoke up. 

The room got very quiet when Frank began to speak…. “My firm mentor is Dave (David Charnock, COO, of Alpern). I have benefited so much from Dave’s guidance and counsel. He is so patient and never hesitates to spend time with me. I am a better professional, better employee, better manager, better husband and just a better human being because of Dave.”

Wow…… the quiet room erupted in applause. That’s what it is all about. I am so proud of Dave and fortunate that he is my friend and role model, too.

Inside your accounting firm – be sure to talk about positive things today.

Footnote:  Dave Charnock passed away on Monday of this week after a two-year battle with brain cancer. This is a picture of Dave with his lovely wife, Cathy, taken at one of the annual Association for Accounting Administration national conferences. Yes, I was very fortunate to have known him and I will miss his wit, advice and friendship. We need more leaders who actually demonstrate what it means to be a role model in public accounting and in life.

  • A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.
  • Oprah Winfrey