Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Advisory For Keller

IMG_3168For many years now I have maintained a simple email group comprised of people working daily in a CPA firm that I call my unofficial advisory board.

When I am doing research on a certain topic or if one of my clients has a specific challenge they are facing, I send an email inquiry to my valuable group. I call the group: Advisory4Keller

For example, I have a current question before my group about how, exactly, they are handling scheduling.  After I receive responses (I give them a few days), I summarize and share the information with all those who replied. I do not over-use this valuable tool – I don’t want increase the workload for the members of the group! For example, in 2013 and 2014 I surveyed the group 6 to 10 times. In 2015, so far it has been 3 times.

If you are a CPA firm administrator, managing partner or other management leader in a firm (HR, marketing, technology, department head, etc.) and would like to be part of the group, simply email me to let me know and I will contact you. The information, about you, that I need is on my contact page.

The picture was taken a few years ago of the Ohio Chapter of The Association For Accounting Administration – These people know what really going on!

  • The future depends on what you do today.
  • Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

CPA Partners, Are You Talking?

There is an old 60s song titled, You Talk Too Much. Here are the lyrics:

You talk too much, you worry me to death
You talk too much, you even worry my pet
You just talk, you talk too much

You talk about people that you don’t know
You talk about people wherever you go
You just talk, you talk too much

You talk about people that you’ve never seen
You talk about people, you can make me scream
You just talk, you talk too much

CPA partner groups DO NOT talk too much, about the right things.

Much like the lyrics of the song, they will casually chat with each other and often talk about people that they don’t really know – 2nd hand gossip.

Much like the lyrics of the song, they will critique people and each other about things they have actually “never seen”. Again, 2nd hand or even third-hand information.

EC50CC8658If things are not going so well at a firm, if the partner group is not on the same page and there are under-currents of discord, it is usually a lapse in communication. The partners have skipped or cancelled their partner meetings. They go into a partner retreat unprepared and shy away from the more difficult conversations and topics.

Simply talking more with each other and staying on topic not only helps communication, it builds teamwork among the partner group. Partners that meet regularly and talk about agenda items that are important in a very open and honest manner have fewer problems, challenges and issues.

Larger partner groups: Have a formal quarterly meeting for 2 to 3 hours, or more. On the months you do not meet, go to lunch together at least once during those months. In multi-office firms, of course the lunches are by office.

Smaller partner groups: Have a formal monthly meeting for 2 to 3 hours, or more. It’s much easier to schedule in a smaller firm but smaller firms seem to get out of the habit more often.

For all firms, this should be a priority meeting. One of the most important responsibilities of a partner is to speak-up in meetings. Everyone MUST be heard. Often, more dominant personalities monopolize the conversations and discussions – managing partners should not let this happen, nor should the MP dominate every discussion. All concerns should be aired in the meeting NOT in the hallway or over a beer at the end of the day by partner cliques.

For all firms, deal with factual information. Have a documented agenda (your firm administrator can assist with that) and don’t “table” the tough decisions until the next meeting.

Be sure you “talk too much”.

 

  • Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.
  • Plato

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Wrapped Up In Being Important

Sometimes I wonder why people think so much of themselves. Many people, once they have some power over others begin to believe that they are more important than other people. They seem to get caught up in a role they are playing.

I remember a story that a former Big Four partner told me one time after he dropped out of the Big Four world. He noted that it was a cut-throat culture there. Every one was focused on out-doing their peers. It became a world of “I know more successful people,” “I have become friends with the managing partner of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe.” (the prominent law firm in town), or “You know, I have the top office performers on my team. They will work through the night if I ask them to.”

Many accounting firms have grown rapidly in recent years. What used to be a mid-size firm of 50 to 100 has grown to 400 and then merged-up to a 2,000 person firm. Sometimes along the way, some of the accountants forget “where they came from.”

If you are becoming more and more successful and your firm is growing significantly, I hope you will still find the time to stop by the newbie’s desk and say, “Good morning, how are things going for you here at the firm? Are there any questions I can answer or anything I can do to help you keep moving ahead?”

I hope you will never become so important and so busy that you can’t simply type Thanks rather than Thx.

  • Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
  • John Wooden

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Do You Know What You Are Doing?

From a personal style aspect, there are all types of accountants.

While it is true that a person who chooses to become a CPA has an accountant mindset (detailed, accurate, high work ethic, cautious, etc.), they do have different personal traits and styles that drive them forward (or not) in their career.

I have found that nearly every CPA is competent in their field. You have proved it by obtaining the educational qualifications and passing the CPA exam. Plus, you have annual educational requirements and have accumulated years of experience.

Dr. Tony Alessandra says, “Competence goes beyond having a specific expertise. It certainly means being knowledgeable and skillful in your field. But it also means possessing a problem-solving ability that goes beyond your own speciality. If you don’t know the answer, or how to fix the problem, with competence as an ability, you know how to go about getting someone who does.”

Consider these two things relating to your accounting firm:

Do you personally communicate competence on a daily basis to your clients and to your team members? Does your body language strongly represent competence? Do you read and research about current business trends, not just accounting topics? Do you look competent… in all situations?

Many CPAs are extremely competent at accounting, tax, audit, etc. but are not so competent at management, operational, technology and HR issues within their own firm. Do you face issues that are beyond your scope of competence? That’s why you hire a firm administrator or COO!

  • You can choose to behave in a way that exudes competence, or you can choose to undercut what skills you do have by looking and acting as if you’re not sure of yourself.
  • Dr. Tony Alessandra

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Don’t Forget, You Are Selling To Women

“The shopping experience is very different for women than men; the male shopper’s experience is still the default position for many, even most, firms. And yet it is an unimpeachable fact that women are the premier purchasers–of damn near everything. (My message: Wake-up-ASAP-and-smell-the-enormous-opportunity.)” – Tom Peters

Tom Peter’s weekly quote (I get it every Monday), made me think of CPAs working in public accounting, for a couple of reasons.

One, most male CPAs target their sales to male business owners. I have observed that selling to a female business owner is not their main focus. I have also observed that sometimes the male even feels, and acts, awkward in these situations.

Males: Study, research and read about how to sell to females, practice better listening, learn body language, etc. It will also help you in managing your workforce. Also, when you are selling to a male, remember that there is a woman behind him probably telling him who to hire as their CPA.

Two, most accounting graduates are female. You are hiring a lot of them. Begin educating, teaching, and coaching them immediately on how to develop a relationship with a business owner or decision maker. Once the relationship is established, they can ask for their business.

Females: Don’t hide from business development assignments. Ask to accompany partners on visits to clients and future clients. Schedule lunches with attorneys who also serve your clients. Network in your business community as much as possible.

Selling professional services is all about building relationships – virtually and in person. Women have natural talent in this area – capitalize on it.

  • You don't earn loyalty in a day; you earn loyalty day by day.
  • Jeffrey Gitomer

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

It Only Takes A Moment To Be Kind

Often when I am working with CPA firm partners, I get the wonderful opportunity to spend time at the firm talking to (interviewing) the team members. Sometimes it is in individual sessions and sometimes it is in a group. During these sessions and from employee engagement surveys, I received the same disturbing comments.

The comments come from my question, “Do your supervisors (partners and managers) often verbally thank you for our efforts or comment on a good job you have done?”

The answer is almost always, “No”. However, there is always a qualifier, an excuse such as:

  • Bob is always so busy. I know he must appreciate what I do but he doesn’t say so.
  • Jane is often under a lot of stress from the partners so she sometimes gets “snippy” with us.
  • Ted is a man of few words and is so focused on the clients that he sometimes comes across as rude.
  • Sam is quick to anger but always apologizes for it afterwards.

How is the civility inside your firm? Do you have certain leaders who simply use busyness as an excuse for poor conduct?

When you are very busy, the niceties often go by the wayside. Be aware.

“Get that list to me before lunch.” could just as easily be said, “Could you please, get the list to me before lunch?”

Being a great boss, an effective, well-liked boss, often means simply building personal relationships with your employees and being kind.

From his book, Choosing Civility, Pier Massimo Forni says:

“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.”

  • Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
  • George Washington

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Aggressively Seeking Experienced CPAs

You used to have to worry about your competitors luring away your younger accountants. After all, $5,000 to $10,000 more in compensation is quite tempting to someone fairly new in the job market.

During the current accounting firm talent wars, firms are pulling out all the stops to find and attract experienced talent. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that experienced accountants are now much more willing to jump ship. I believe there are various reasons for this, one being the fact that some more senior owners dig in their heels when it comes to change. Many of them don’t think they have to spend money to become a firm of the future because, after all, they will be retiring within the next several years.

If you are a 5 to 10-year CPA, even if you are a partner, you are probably being courted. If you are a niche leader you may even become the object of a bidding war.

The bigger firms are paying more for talented people. Smaller firms don’t seem to be as willing to keep pace. That’s what is interesting about the CPA firm model. The percentage that partners are very used to taking home might not be a sustainable model for the future. After all, if you have to pay your people more, it usually means the partners get less.

Here’s a good article via Crain’s Chicago that tells a story about the Chicago area CPA firm market.

  • Opportunity is a bird that never perches.
  • Claude McDonald

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Sole Practitioner/Small Firm Concerns

IMG_5009If you are a regular subscriber to this blog, you know that last week I had a wonderful opportunity to work with a group of partners/owners comprised of small firms and sole proprietors. It was a beautiful setting in southern Ohio.

The entire two days was focused on MAP and yes, small firms must pay very close attention to all the details and management challenges, just like larger firms.

As a result of the meeting, I came away with a list of concerns from CPA firms with under 20 people.

  • Practice growth
  • People – attracting & retaining
  • Client touches (via Cloud/Virtual)
  • Determining when to hire more people
  • Leverage
  • Exit strategy
  • Keeping people busy from May to December

If your firm, no matter what the size, is facing similar challenges, I hope you will attend some MAP sessions at conferences this summer, learn about some new solutions and then implement them at your firm. I also want to urge managing partners and firm administrators to take other partners along to MAP events. I hope to meet many of you at next week’s AICPA/AAA/AAM conference in Orlando.

  • Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
  • Helen Keller

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Too Comfortable?

IMG_4949Too comfortable?

Things are going well. Tax season, as compared to last year, looks good. We have more revenue. We should work on developing niches but, we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

Things are going well. Sure, we lost a few people recently but they were ones we should have let go anyway. The best performers were wondering when we would get rid of some less-than-spectacular performers but they quit anyway, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

We’ve actually wanted a female partner or two but it seems that our best female performers don’t want to be partner, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

We keep hearing that we should do more with social media. But, our clients really don’t seem to care, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

Ted, one of the tax partners, has been under-performing for years. Sometimes we even hear that the staff have been discussing his incompetence. He’s always been very billable during tax season and he has been a partner for many years, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

The partners just split-up the administrative duties. Actually, if we didn’t have the admin duties, we wouldn’t have a whole lot to do in the summer. No need to hire an expensive firm administrator because, so we’re okay.

Too comfortable?

I could go on and on but it might make you uncomfortable.

  • There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
  • John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Practice Civility

Civility. noun – formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.

Some of us think of it more in the terms of good manners. Children must be taught good manners and see it practiced by their role models.

As you become a manager and then a partner in your firm, if you want to be viewed as an inspiring leader, you better be practicing civility.

There is solid research behind this. This is from Christine Porath via HBR:

“For the last 20 years, I’ve studied the costs of incivility, as well as the benefits of civility. Across the board, I’ve found that civility pays. it enhances your influence and performance and is positively associated with being perceived as a leader.”

Leaders need to demonstrate respect. According to recent studies, being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition, appreciation, inspiring visions or even learning opportunities.

I do upward survey services for CPA firm partners and managers. I often find that partner groups are hesitant to hear what their employees actually think. Maybe I shouldn’t say hesitant. I should say scared. They want to manipulate the questions, and make multiple types of other modifications to the surveys. One firm administrator told me, “We will never do an upward survey. The partners don’t want to hear what the staff thinks of them.” Maybe this partner group isn’t practicing civility and I am sure that most baby boomers were taught good manners as a child!

In actuality, I find that the results of upward surveys in CPA firms are honest, insightful, and contain very helpful suggestions. They are not vicious or vindictive. The replies are civil. (Qualifier: Unless you have one of those “loose cannon” type partners who actually needs to hear the truth and the other partners are afraid to tell him/her.

0 Avatar slide for blogWant to read more? Here are some of my other posts on this topic:

2009 – The Power of Civility

2011 – Make Your Clients & Your People Feel Special

2014 – Be Honest, Are You Really Different?

You know my motto: I’d rather be kind.

(See quote below… I was actually a kindergarten teacher’s aide at one point years ago.)

 

  • Play fair. Don't hit people. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Robert Fulghum, author-All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten