“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” – Machiavelli
Most of you know, I worked for 30 years at a growing, profitable CPA firm. Most of those years, I believed that the CPA profession was a world of professional men and women who had the great responsibility of advising successful business people. I believed that I worked in a professional office and was delighted to dress in what the world then called professional dress. Our offices were beautiful, tasteful, high-class. I believed in making a great first impression. Why wouldn’t we, as individuals, want to be viewed the same?
Of course, years ago, the firm moved to business casual. We called it “dress appropriate” which meant the same thing that is being talked about now… dress for your day. But then business casual meant no jeans and always a collared shirt for days in the office and professional dress for client/prospect meetings, business networking events, etc.
Of course, business casual slowly became more casual and we had to enforce our dress code. That was certainly not a fun task!
I held out for years about females not wearing panty hose with skirts and dresses. A wonderful mentor of mine finally said to me, “Rita, get over it” and I did. That being said, I still cringe when I see an overweight, young female attorney walking down the street in a suit or short skirt with pasty-white legs. Oh, well.
Now, guess what? I’m “over it” with a lot of things. The world is more casual and the professional business world is more casual and I am certainly more casual in my dress.
It is all about what I continually urge you to do… embrace change! Institute a “dress for your day” policy that allows jeans. Close your office on Friday. Times have changed and CPAs must adapt more quickly than they have in the past.
If you want to attract and keep talented people, stay abreast of current trends and make changes quickly, as needed. Crowe did a survey of their workforce last fall, casual attire was ranked the most important workforce amenity.
One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.
Accounting firm leaders and HR directors are talking about it and they have almost come to expect it. They don’t shy away from a new hire just because they have had two other jobs in the last five years. I’m talking about the job-hopping trend that has become the new normal for millennials.
According to studies, the biggest job hoppers work in media, entertainment, government and non-profits. They tend to stay longer in industries where they make things like autos, manufacturing, and oil.
As for the accounting profession, think back to a comment we have heard over and over again in the CPA profession. The new recruits repeatedly tell us that their professors urged them to accept an offer from the big four, stick it out for two years and then leave so that they have big four experience on your resume.
It seems like they are programmed to job hop from the time they are majoring in accounting at a university.
This is a big topic but one aspect is compensation. My advice to you, don’t lose an all-star performer because the firm down the street is offering them a $5,000 or even $10,000 salary increase to jump ship. This happens all the time! Consider your own firm. I bet you have paid similar “increases” to lure a top performer from a competing firm. You will pay an outside top performer a premium wage but shy away from paying the same to a top performer already working for your firm.
CPA firm leaders often worry that if they pay a certain person more money it will upset their compensation apple cart.
Keep in mind: Top performers should get top pay. Average performers should get average pay. If your average performers complain to you simply explain to them exactly what they have to do to become a top performer.
If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it you almost don't have to manage them.
“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” – J. Loren Norris
Tomorrow I will be talking at the AICPA Practitioners’ Symposium & TECH+ Conference about the importance of mentoring and how developing a mentoring culture can help the firm hire and retain talented people.
I usually get a lot of questions about the specifics, such as:
How often to we meet?
Where do we meet?
What exactly should I talk about?
What if we are not a good match?
How does each side benefit?
Here’s the answer to what’s in it for both sides:
For the Mentor:
Mentoring allows the mentor to give something back to the firm and to the CPA profession. It helps the mentor to become a much better listener. It is a way for the mentor to share some of the good things they have learned from their years of experience and also gives them a chance to share some warnings about bad things that could possibly happen. It gives them the opportunity to “see” the firm through another person’s eyes. Most mentors say they usually gain just as much, or even more, than the mentee.
For the Mentee:
A great mentor will help increase the mentee’s level of self-confidence. The mentee will learn how to say the right thing, when to speak up and when it is best to remain silent. It gives the mentee some direction on handling the feedback they receive on their performance. It provides important networking opportunities and introductions to people who may become influential to their careers. It helps the mentee more quickly understand the organization and even the CPA profession.
Simply put, creating a mentoring culture shows your people that the firm is willing to invest time and money in the success of its people.
My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.
“When one door is closed, don’t you know, another is open.” – Bob Marley
This week I received a notice from a CPA firm that was sent out via an email blast. I have talked with many CPA partners about this topic and it still creates a lot of lively discussions. While many firms have embraced closing on Fridays or developing some other system for a shorter summer work schedule, I have observed that the majority of firms do not embrace this practice.
It is a huge plus in hiring and retaining top talent. I hope you consider it. Here’s the message:
Dear Clients and Friends:
(Name of firm) Summer Office Hours
To allow our team the opportunity to retool and recharge after the hectic pace of tax season, we will be returning to our summer office hours.
Effective May 27 through September 5 our offices will be open
Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
We will be closed on Fridays during the summer months. (However, since Uncle Sam never seems to rest, arrangements can be made to meet with you on a Friday in the event of any urgent tax matter or if it is the only day you are available to pick up returns and documents from our office. Please contact us in advance to coordinate such arrangements.)
Very truly yours,
It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
I am working with the Ohio Society of CPAs on an upcoming program. It’s called the Business Excellence Symposium and is being held May 11th in Westlake, OH (Cleveland suburb).
I’m excited by the work OSCPA is undertaking to advance business across Ohio by helping CPAs and finance and accounting professionals be positioned to meet today’s business challenges head on to drive growth. The topic selection, and the expertise brought forth is really on-point for the greatest challenges facing our businesses, large or small.
Attend and gain strategies and insights from national leaders in the business and accounting community:
Create a culture that top talent can’t pass up – with tips from the leadership coach for The Ohio State University’s football program.
Maximize staff resources and harness the power of diversity.
Unlock growth strategies that leverage your specific skill sets as an accounting professional.
Develop practices to deliver better solutions to organizational challenges.
Learn about harnessing business growth potential via a panel discussion with me and Katie Tolin, CPA Growth Guides
All in all, it looks like it’s going to be a great event, you can see the details here. Also, if you can’t make the trip, note there is a live webcasted option.
This is a perfect symposium (and affordable) to send several of your millennial accountants.
If you decide to attend, you can use my personal invitation to get a 20% “friends of BES” discount. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying you learned about the Symposium from me and you would like to attend.
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.
“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.”
“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” – Tom Peters
Yesterday, I blogged about flexibility. Since it is such a popular topic, I wanted to continue to provide information to you today.
Isaac O’Bannon, Managing Editor of CPA Practice Advisor, in a recent post tells us that many firms really do offer flexibility. If your firm does not, it’s time to learn more about it and begin making some changes.
Here’s O’Bannon’s take on the rules:
As long as you comply with RULE #1: Get the job done. It is also recommended that you comply with RULE #2: Be damn good at your job, consistently. Oh, and RULE #3: Be responsive to your boss, your clients, and anyone else you do business with or for- so that it’s just like you were in the office.
Here’s some firms that made Fortune’s list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Flexibility. #1 was Ryan, an international tax firm. Other accounting firms on the list: PwC at #12, Plante Moran at #27 and DeLeon & Stang at #30.
You absolutely must have the discipline not to hire until you find the right people.
“You let professionals be professional, and you don’t sweat the small stuff? I love it!” – – New employee at William Vaughan Company
If you are a member of the CPA Firm Management Association, you have access to their extremely helpful discussion board. If you are involved in what goes on behind the scenes in any CPA firm, you should be a member.
When I talk to firms about flexibility, I get many reactions. Some are general disbelief! Yes, things have changed significantly when it comes to how the work gets done in many firms across the country. Flexibility is one of the most visible changes. When I actively worked at a firm, we initiated flexibility in February, 1986 – 30 years ago! Some firms are still lagging.
On the question of flexibility, Sharon Trabbic, Chief Operating Officer at William Vaughn & Company in Maumee, Ohio provided this response to a question on the CPAFMA discussion board:
We also have flexible hour arrangement, and I think you will find that many CPA firms have embraced it and it’s working out nicely. When we first implemented flex time, we asked for employees to be in the office between 9 and 3, but we’ve virtually abandoned that now.
Here’s what we ask our employees to work at a minimum:
January 2 to February 15 or so – 40 hours a week
February 15 to April 15 – 55 hours a week
April 16 to Labor Day – 36 hours a week
Day after Labor Day to October 15 – 40 hours a week
October 16 to Thanksgiving – 36 hours a week
Monday after Thanksgiving to December 31 (tax planning season) – 40 hours a week
It doesn’t matter how they get the hours in, which days or hours they work. We also allow employees to work from home if they need to (we have a secure cloud environment which makes that easy). We don’t monitor hours except during tax season, and only if there is a problem, which there hasn’t been. We all are professionals and we feel that flexibility for many is a perk they really like and easy for us to allow.
We also have chargeable hour goals and a few of our employees reach their chargeable hour goals but don’t work more than 40 hours outside of busy season but work perhaps 65 during busy season, and that is fine with us too.
Flexibility is a high priority for the new generation of employees. Of course, entry level people need to gain a certain amount of experience before they earn the right to occasionally work from home.
Position your firm so that you come out a winner in the talent wars. You cannot have an A+ firm if you attract and hire B players.
Thanks to Sharon and William Vaughn & Company for sharing!
“Work to become, not to acquire.” – Elbert Hubbard
There are some recent reports that tell us that many young CPA professionals do not possess many of the skills necessary to carry them into the future.
Some recent studies (such as some done by the Maryland Association of CPAs) hint at an emerging crisis because of a significant gap between the skills young professionals need to succeed and those they actually possess.
Here’s a list that was compiled by a strategy session involving managing partners of 14 local, regional and national CPA firms facilitated by MACPA:
Writing skills / memos
Critical and strategic thinking
Advanced Excel skills
Time management / organization
Take some time to assess if this list is valid with your own young professionals. Read much more on this topic here.
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
“Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca
I have observed that employees in accounting firms really don’t demand too much of their bosses. If you are a partner, manager, supervisor, senior or an associate, there are times when someone else in the firm is looking to you for guidance. What you owe them is something very easy… simple recognition. A kind word, a quick “thank-you” or “good job” goes a long way.
Take about 3 minutes to listen to why recognition is so important, especially during busy season.
Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.