I have talked about, written about and helped firms implement mentoring programs for years. Still, I am receiving lots of feedback about the lack of dedicated mentoring inside CPA firms.
I contend that mentoring is the foundation of the CPA profession. An older, more experienced accountant guides and teaches a younger, less-experienced accountant. It has been going on for decades. It is how young CPAs have always learned their trade.
Take that basic approach and incorporate more recognition, honest feedback, skilled listening and career advice and you have a mentoring program.
Engaging and retaining talent is a hot topic for the accounting profession. Mentoring can be an important tool.
Experienced CPAs question me…. Where do we meet? How often do we meet? What exactly do I say? What do they expect of me? It will take too much time…. on and on.
Please keep in mind, when it comes to actually implementing a mentoring program, KISS – Keep It Simple Sweetheart. You can actually mentor and guide someone with two words. Here’s how, from a presentation I did for Boomer Consulting:
This is mostly a repeat of a previous post from January 2014. At this time, I feel it is worth repeating!
People with the title of “manager” working inside CPA firms usually are not doing what a “manager” should be doing. Just like many partners, managers get very comfortable actually DOING the work rather than carrying out manager level responsibilities and activities.
Managers play a key role in employee engagement and retention. Remember, people leave bosses not firms.
I once asked a group of CPA firm owners to give me their expectations of a person in the manager role and to keep it very simple. I think the following bullet point job description says it clearly and concisely. How do your managers stack-up?
Solid technical skills, with an area of technical expertise that is recognized
Good communication skills, both written and verbal
The ability to manage and develop team members
The ability to manage client relationships
The ability to manage multile engagements
The ability to manage engagement profitability
Must be an advocate of the firm
Participation in firm marketing activities
Participation in personal marketing activities
Participation in various firm internal projects
Be viewed, by most firm owners, as a candidate for partner status
Addendum for 2016: So many partners declare they have no one who can replace them when they retire. If you want succession to work at your firm you must work with your managers on these key traits. Developing people is a key characteristic of a competent partner.
To add value to others, one must first value others.
All of these are very good things. However, most employees want to hear the “real” story. They want the truth and they want to clearly understand what an employer expects of them.
So, rather than holding back in important meetings and discussions, give them a straight answer.
In many CPA firm meetings, partners (and others) are so busy trying to be nice that the team members don’t really understand what they are trying to say.
CPA firm leaders – don’t be afraid of hurting people’s feelings. Practice being more direct in your communication style. Let them know what needs to be done. Then provide the advice and direction in accomplishing the task.
The best way to try to motivate somebody is by being direct with them. To be honest with them. Lies are never the right way to get your message across.
Once again, busy season is approaching for thousands of accounting firms.
Workload compression has been a huge issue for accounting firms for years. Thus, managers often complain that they don’t have time to get all of their work completed AND train all of the new people joining the firm.
Partners often point the finger at managers and blame them for a poorly equipped staff that makes too many mistakes.
My observation is that most CPA firm managers do not know how to manage, train and inspire their subordinates. It’s not their fault!
Firm leaders have failed to invest in training for the managers – on, guess what? How to manage!
The year is almost gone, you haven’t invested in your managers’ education when it comes to building relationships and nurturing people, it’s not too late.
Rally your managers and have your own internal management training session. I know you have at least one person in your firm (partner or manager) who is a natural at it. Have them lead a discussion/training session based on their own success story. It is as simple as clearly communicating the expectations you have for your managers.
Most managers are focused on their own productivity… meeting billable hour goals and getting the work out the door. Keep in mind that the partners’ internal succession plan depends on how well their managers perform.
There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.
Before CPAs became so unrealistically busy in the late summer and fall, they used to use September as the month to touch base on goals. Most firms used the cycle of formal, more comprehensive performance feedback in June and set goals for the coming year to begin July 1.
Then in late September or early October, individual face-to-face conversations happened to see how progress was being made, what didn’t seem so important any more and re-align goals for the remainder of the fall and early winter.
Hopefully, you have replaced this method with simplified, direct feedback more often, mentoring conversations on-going and fewer goals with shorter timelines.
Even though you have multiple priorities, your people should be at the top of the list. How are they doing?
Talk with them soon about their goals for the next 3 months and be sure that you always include some stretch-goals for individuals.
Stretch goal – that cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but require extending oneself to the limit to be actualized. Expressed in the saying, “You cannot cross a chasm in two steps.”
In this time of talent shortage, it’s time to ask your current all-stars and middle-stars to STRETCH and fill the void in the all-star category!
Yes, I wish job descriptions were not necessary inside CPA firms. But, it’s hard for me to visualize.
I was recently reading a post by Leadership Freak (you should follow him on Twitter), that gave some great reasons not to give a new hire a job description. The example, an employer, hired a new person and didn’t give them a job description. They are writing their own. The new person has goals and responsibilities but he is writing the details himself. The boss and employee meet every week to track progress and set the path forward.
Read the post for yourself and see if you can see the two problems I see.
# 1 – Surveys tells us that young accountants want to know there is a career path for them and exactly what is expected of them. You need to paint a picture (with words) of where they are going and how they are going to get there.
# 2 – Notice the sentence: The boss and employee meet every week to track progress and set the path forward.
Number 2 is the clincher. Are your partners and managers meeting every week with the people they supervise to track progress and set the path forward? I see very little of this happening. I do see lots of questions being answered and lots of general direction being given but not the “progress and path forward” types of conversations that need to happen more frequently.
Set a goal this fall to practice your mentoring on a weekly basis – just until December 31. See if it becomes a habit!
I talk to so many firms that have basically permitted their managers to grow in years of experience…. from associate to manager … without any training, nurturing or mentoring on how to actually manage people. They are great CPAs/Accountants but actually drive many younger newcomers away from the firm.
“Suggested addition to your statement of Core Values: We are obsessed with developing a cadre of first-line managers that is second to none – we understand that this cadre per se is arguably one of our top two or three most important ‘Strategic Assets.'”
Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.
I have had an increasing number of questions about the effectiveness of mentoring programs inside CPA firms lately. While this might indicate renewed interest and maybe commitment to nurturing, guiding and inspiring others, it also might mean that there are questions on the mind of CPA practitioners.
I believe there are four levels of mentoring inside a CPA firm:
Guide (think of a buddy system)
Coach (think showing someone how things are done and actually teaching)
Mentor (wise career development advice and relaying success stories and pitfalls)
Sponsor (putting you reputation on the line in an effort to promote the protege)
Join me and CPA firm leaders from the Washington, DC/Baltimore area to explore the evolution of mentoring in accounting firms and learn valuable best practices. I will be speaking on November 20th in Rockville, Maryland on behalf of the DC and Baltimore Chapters of the Association for Accounting Administration.
I am delighted to be speaking on November 20th in Rockville, Maryland about the importance of mentoring inside a busy CPA firm. Mentoring is an important part of the succession plan for any firm or company.
So much about mentoring has changed. It is not the old fashioned system where a successful, powerful male taps a mini-me on the shoulder and guides him through the mine fields of climbing the corporate ladder.
There are 4 levels of mentoring inside an accounting firm: Guide, Coach, Mentor and Sponsor – each one is important and helps set the stage for career success.
How healthy is your firm’s mentoring program?
The event is co-sponsored by the Washington DC and Baltimore Chapters of The Association for Accounting Administration. CPAs in public or private, firm administrators, HR Directors, partners and partner wanabes should plan to attend.
I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding in the CPA profession about the need for some special training and attention to the females working inside CPA firms. Recently, I have observed some men show bitterness and disbelief when the two words – women’s initiatives – were just mentioned.
Here’s a story of how simple understanding can make a difference….
This story is about a young, male CPA, experienced as a CPA but new to the role of managing partner in a smaller firm (about 20 people). In a smaller, the MP handled all of the performance reviews and other performance and personal related conversations with employees. This led to his first experience with women crying in the workplace and it made him extremely uncomfortable.
Luckily, he had a female firm administrator, he could talk to about his uneasiness. This is where the understanding part comes into play. The FA advised him, “When women cry, it an emotion they have no control over. Almost all of the time it does not mean a thing – it doesn’t mean they are hurt, mad, fanatical, or sad – it does mean they care about the topic and simply cannot physically escape the tearing-up.” The young MP put a box of tissues on his desk and offered them when tears appeared and just kept going with the conversations.
Most of the time, the above story plays out. However, men often yell when they are angry and women show their anger with tears.
Women – when your emotions show via tears, acknowledge the emotion but don’t apologize, just move on.