“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.” – W. Edwards Deming
A long time ago, I did a blog post about tips for living in a cubicle. Many accountants who have their own office (like partners and managers) sometimes forget how cubicle life can sometimes be very frustrating.
Keep in mind, that some millennials like the open floor plan concept, but most people aspire to have a private office. I like to see cubicles arranged in quads so that four people can have their backs to each other yet are able to swing around to a centralized round table to confer with colleagues.
Working in a cube when you are a beginner is often very helpful in that you can overhear what others are learning and benefit from the conversations in the adjoining cubicle.
A big frustration, however, is the lack of privacy and the fact that associates and coworkers stop by whenever they want resulting in many interruptions.
To remedy that, how about establishing some Cubicle Courtesies to protect those working in cubes and those visiting them.
The following is a modified re-post of the cubicle post I did in 2008 – maybe it will help you design your own office cubicle and shared space protocol.
Keep your voice down. Be aware of how it projects, especially when laughing.
Don’t enter someone’s cubicle or stop to chat unless invited to do so.
Never take something from someone’s cubicle or desk without asking first.
Be respectful of those people passing your desk. Don’t assume they have time to chat.
If you don’t want to be interrupted, don’t make eye contact with those passing your desk.
Respect other’s work time and flow of concentration. If they look deep in thought, they probably are.
If the person is on the phone, do not interrupt.
Confidential information should not be discussed in an open setting. Move to one of the meeting rooms.
Avoid using speaker phones.
Do not read what is on someone elses desk or computer screen.
Reduce clutter in your desk area or cubicle.
Don’t leave food and trash at your desk.
Keep eating and snacking at your desk to a minimum. And avoid foods that smell up the office. (Some firms have a “no eating meals at your desk” policy.)
Return items to their proper place after using them.
Replace immediately anything you use up (paper, staples, etc.).
Other people's interruptions of your work are relatively insignificant compared with the countless times you interrupt yourself.
“With good friends, you can’t lose.” – Kermit the Frog
I like this post for St. Patrick’s Day. I last used it in 2011. It still applies – So eat some green bagels or cupcakes and have a green beer this evening and think about NOT being green. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Can CPAs relate to Kermit and his tale about: It’s not easy being green?
As Kermit says, “Wouldn’t it be nicer being red, or yellow or gold? Green seems like you blend in with so many other ordinary things and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water.
Perhaps, because you are a CPA you might feel ordinary or under-appreciated. Well…. YOU ARE NOT!
As Kermit continues, “But green’s the color of Spring and green can be cool and friendly-like and green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree. When green is all there is to be it could make you wonder why, but why wonder why wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be.”
My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.
“No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important.” – Mary Kay Ash
You made it through March 15th. It was challenging and sometimes very stressful. You have another month of the busy season life before you can relax a little.
And then, it is those darn clients. They keep emailing you and calling you. Don’t they understand how busy you are?? You just want to hide from them!
If you are working in public accounting, please never forget that you are in the service business. Compare it to being in a restaurant and you ask the waiter for a water refill or another glass of wine. He flippantly and quickly responds. “I’m too busy right now. You’ll have to wait.” How much of a gratuity would you leave? Would you return to that restaurant anytime soon?
I email a lot of CPA practitioners and have received a lot of clever “out of office” automated responses. Here are two examples of the bad and the good.
I was saddened to receive one similar to this:
Due to the tax deadlines, I will not be able to respond in a timely manner to voicemail or email. If you need immediate assistance please contact Sally (phone number) and she will get a staff member to assist you.
What kind of message does this send to your client base? How many clients will hang around until you are not so busy? Never let clients know you are TOO BUSY for them and their needs. I guess the above message is better than never hearing back at all.
A few years ago I received an automated message from a long-time client when I emailed him during busy season. This message was warm and welcoming and explained an acceptable process for the busy time of year.
Greetings, Friends & Clients:
Due to the normal tax season high workload and to allow me to completely focus on the tasks at hand, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail daily at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm and 5:30 pm CT. You & your email is important to me and at the scheduled times, I will respond.
If you require urgent assistance please contact my assistant Juli Moses at (he provided phone number) or you can email her at (he provided her email address).
Even though you get this auto-response, rest assured that I do receive and am able to view the email you sent. Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more and serve you better.
CPAs are in a business filled with tax due dates. Never be too busy for your valuable clients. Always have the WELCOME MAT prominently displayed, in your responses and in your personal behaviors.
In his opening, he describes what I have observed, first-hand, in dealing with probably thousands of CPAs over the last 30 years.
Many male CPAs, to me, have split personalities. Or, maybe to describe it better, they have a public persona and a private persona.
Outside the firm, they project (and I think many of them force themselves to do it) a fun-loving, knowledgeable, highly intelligent professional. They have all the answers and love to help clients. They love being around people.
Inside the firm, they display many of the characteristics listed in the article:
Poor communication skills and poor social skills;
Don’t make/sustain eye contact with others;
Don’t engage with others;
Don’t take risks (risk-averse);
Unable to discern who and when to trust;
Fear and anxiety of making a mistake, being rejected, looking foolish or inadequate;
Self-focused: Only viewing and thinking of what goes on around them on the basis of their own wants and needs; and,
Rigidity: Motivated by fear of doing something wrong and receiving negative feedback. Those with LSE seem to narrow their choices to be safe from erring.
Demonstrating these characteristics does not mean they do not care about their clients, their team members or the quality of services they provide.
I like to describe it as they are not truly aware of their worth, the value they bring to the marketplace. This always comes out when it is time to bill – – they dread billing the client for the dollars revealed in WIP and usually bill them less. They can’t imagine what value pricing would be like!
I once talked with a CPA partner, very well-known and respected in his business community. He built his image up over many years and yet he disclosed that he dreaded networking and when a client came in to talk one-on-one, his stomach hurt before the meeting because he was dreading it.
I have not observed as much of this “split” in female CPAs. They need more of the outside persona.
My message: YOU are worth it! You have spent thousands and thousands of dollars getting your education and keeping current on financial and tax topics. What’s in your head is VERY valuable to others – don’t under rate yourself.
You provide your clients with peace of mind. What a great mission – enjoy it.
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Have you recently thought about how happy you really are? I recommend it.
Today, I want to talk about the happiness of your team. As a CPA firm leader, are you at all focused on what makes your team happy or are you just trying to keep up with what the competition is doing so you have a good chance at retaining people?
An accounting firm has a variety of roles and a variety of people filling those roles. It can be quite challenging trying to keep people happy.
That doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Make happiness the core of your workplace and begin by listening to your people. Often, some very small things can make them happy – it not always about more financial gain.
I have observed some amazing CPA firms during my many years working in the profession. They offer their people so much – a beautiful office, an outstanding menu of employee benefits, 10 or more paid holidays, four, five or more weeks PTO, competitive salaries, great technology, the chance to work with some really smart people, the opportunity to assist some very successful and innovative clients, recognition in the business community, free continuing education, flexibility and more. But, that’s not enough.
You need to try very hard to always think of new things to keep the team energized and happy. Maybe it’s a chair massage during busy season, a mini-golf outing, a bowling outing, a special catered dinner, theme dress-up days, seasonal parties, etc. Keep trying to surprise them!
The most important thing you can do to keep your team happy is to simply listen. They know what they want and it can be as simple as better communication from the partners or quicker turnaround on review.
If you recognize people on your team who are not happy at your firm, don’t hide from it – talk to them and if it is something you can’t remedy, help them find a position where they can find happiness in their work – no hard feelings.
You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.
“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” – John Foster Dulles
Do you shy away from challenging problems?
Certified Public Accountants are basically, nice people. They do not want to create contention or participate in confrontation. So, many challenging problems have a very long life-span inside accounting firms.
You have a renegade partner. They develop work-arounds to almost all of your processes and systems and rarely go along with the partner group’s initiatives. You even wonder what they are saying to clients.
You have a sacred cow employee. A person that apparently cannot be fired for continual poor performance. It’s someone who has been with the firm for decades and has evolved to the point where they have a very bad attitude. Even their work has become shoddy and they are beginning to drive people away from the firm.
The business world is quickly becoming digital and your firm is still not even paperless! You have a partner who absolutely refuses to move into the future. They must have everything in paper and they refuse to learn how to even review tax returns on-screen. Young, up-and-comers will soon find greener pastures.
Some partner groups are so afraid of confrontation that they pay a consultant thousands of dollars to come in and deal with the challenging problem.
Sure there is risk involved and it might feel very uncomfortable, but why not step-up to the plate and deal with your challenging problems? That’s what great leaders do.
(If you receive my blog via email, be sure to visit my website to read each days quote at the bottom of the page.)
One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment. If it doesn't turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Cousteau
Just an observation. It seems to me that we have evolved to living a temporary life. Nothing seems to LAST.
When I grew up, my parents always stressed that we should buy something of quality. We should buy fewer but more expensive clothes because they would LAST us a long time. We bought quality furniture because it was sturdy, solid and would LAST a long time.
Maybe, when you graduated with your accounting degree, you joined a well-established CPA firm with a long, proven history of quality client service. A firm that would LAST.
In comparing life to furniture, my parents lived in an Ethan Allen world and my son lives in an IKEA world.
These days we buy cheaper stuff and when it’s flawed, we throw it away and buy another.
The well-established firm you joined, thinking you would be a partner someday, suddenly merges-up into a large regional or national firm. The firm didn’t LAST.
I still prefer things that LAST.
Lost - yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.