Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Talent Spotting – Is Your CPA Firm Stuck In The Past?

“We need an experienced tax senior/manager.” I hear it over and over as I move about the country consulting with firms and speaking at various association/society events.

When I ask a them if they are hiring, most practitioners, firm administrators and HR managers working at accounting firms tell me “Yes, but we can’t find the people we need.” It seems everyone is looking for a tax or audit senior or manager, someone with 3 to 5 years of experience and deep knowledge of their specialty area.

I hear the same story when it comes to succession. Many current, aging partners say they aren’t able to transition their clients to “up & comers” because the firm doesn’t have anyone who 1) who shows the skills and expertise to be a partner and/or 2) has the desire to become a partner.

IMG_4016Times have changed, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of the HBR article, “The Big Idea: 21st-Century Talent Spotting,” believes we are now in the fourth era of talent spotting. With 30 years of experience in evaluating and tracking executives and studying the factors of their performance, he considers potential the most important predictor of success at all levels.

The first era, lasted for thousands of years – - humans made choices about one another on the basis of physical attributes. If you want to build a pyramid, you picked someone big and strong.

The second era, which occurred during the baby boomers lives, emphasized intelligence, experience and past performance. Verbal, analytical type skills were the basis for assessing talent.

In the 1980s, the third era evolved and still rules. The way to spot talent is driven by the competency model. We even began considering emotional intelligence as an important competency.

The fourth era is dawning. Here’s a paragraph from the article that, to me, speaks to many of our challenges inside CPA firms:

Now we’re at the dawn of a fourth era, in which the focus must shift to potential. In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment (VUCA is the military-acronym-turned-corporate-buzzword), competency-based appraisals and appointments are increasingly insufficient. What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts, the company’s strategy changes, or he or she must collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues. So the question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.

The work environment for CPAs is changing. The way we communicate has changed. Social media, focus on specialty services, flexible work cultures and more have proved to be challenging for many accountants. It’s all about the last sentence in the paragraph, above: So the question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”

One powerful aspect is the fact that companies are not properly developing their pipelines of future leaders. It’s not just in accounting. In PWC’s 2014 survey of cEOs in 68 countries, 63% of respondents said they were concerned about the future availability of key skills at all levels.

What I find interesting is that many successful, high-earning, CPA partners are looking for talent that attained a high GPA in college, have outstanding technical skills and are personable, outgoing and able to bring in business…. when they admit that they, themselves, could not be described the same way.

Take the time to read this important article. Use it as a discussion tool for your partner group. This topic is retreat-level in importance.

 

  • Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of our success.
  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Little Things Can Make You Happy

Sometimes in our work-a-day world we get stressed. Sometimes we get very tired. Sometimes we get annoyed by people. Sometimes we get disappointed, in ourselves and in others. Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we get rushed. Sometimes we get our feelings hurt. Sometimes we feel unappreciated.

But, many times we feel happy. It can come from some of the littlest things…. someone shows appreciation, you receive recognition, someone says “thank-you,” you spend time with business colleagues who help you learn, someone smiles at you, your boss says, “good morning,” you get an email from an old friend…

Working with CPA firms I always recommend, IF you want to create a winning firm, one where young people will want to stay and build their careers and one where people feel joy in serving the clients, just remember that the little things can make the biggest difference.

A little thing happened to me last week. It came via social media. I tweeted about my participation in Advance 2014: The Accounting Career Summit and how pleased I was that on the agenda for the week I am listed right above Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay To Be The Boss and Not Everyone Gets A Trophy and many more. You know how often I recommend these books to you! If you want a copy of my 2014 Read List (for CPAs and their teams) you can download it here.

Well, Bruce Tulgan replied to my tweet! Sometimes little things can make you very happy.

What are you doing for the people in your work life (and home life)?

Screenshot 2014-07-19 07.26.03

  • Scheduling flexibility is the single greatest non-financial tool - and the number-one dream-job factor - at your disposal for winning battles in the talent wars. Use it.
  • Bruce Tulgan

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Kindness, Toughness & Honesty For Women In Accounting

IMG_1112Yesterday, there was a post on the Ohio Society Women’s Initiative Committee LinkedIn site titled, The False Choice Between Kindness and Success.

The topic of women in business being “nice” and “kind” and how it might hold them back, is certainly a valid discussion topic.

I believe that kindness and toughness go hand in hand. If you are kind, build relationships and win people’s loyalty, they will come to understand that some toughness, and honesty, must go along with the kindness. It is the way I have always operated.

The honesty aspect also plays into this topic. This quote from the article says so much relating to the CPA profession:I think people just want straight talk. It saves time and in the end, it is honest. That is the bottom line. Everything else is meaningless if you don’t have honesty. Be honest and true to yourself. And from there, we can do anything.” 

Absolute honesty is often avoided inside CPA firms because it can be a tough discussion. Yet, CPA firm employees crave honesty. I observe so many male (and female) CPAs avoiding being honest because it might lead to confrontation or to uncomfortable conversations. People see right through it – not being completely honest and coming across as self-serving is a losing combination.

To me it is a false choice, as the title of the article reflects. You do not have to choose between kindness and success. In my situation as a CPA management consultant, I know I do not win “jobs” because I am a woman. I have even heard feedback that other, male consultants have actually told potential clients that “Rita is too nice.” Give me honesty and kindness any day and results will follow.

 

  • Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.
  • Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

TomPeters_PreviewThis week, Tom Peters shared a 9-page paper: The Moral Bedrock of Management. 

Today, I am using his words from Page 9, hopefully, to inspire you:

Where the (Moral) Rubber Meets the Road

If the regimental commander lost most of his 2nd lieutenants and 1st lieutenants and captains and majors, it would be a tragedy.

If he lost his sergeants it would be a catastrophe. The Army and the Navy are fully aware that success on the battlefield is dependent on an overwhelming degree on its Sergeants and Chief Petty Officers. Does industry (and CPA firms) have the same awareness?

The argument here: While men and women “at the top” are responsible for setting the moral tone, the vast majority of employees work for a first-line supervisor. Hence the transmission of – - and the “walking of the talk” that matters – - is set by the full cadre of 1st-line chiefs.

Companies tend to take these jobs “seriously.” But such seriousness almost invariably falls miles and miles – and more miles – short of using this set of individuals as the singularly important transmitters of the corporate culture. Hence the “moral duty” discussed in this piece is executed first and foremost by the 1st-line chiefs.

Act Accordingly!

Yes, I worry about the performance of the managers inside your CPA firm. Are they great technicians?  Yes, probably and you have helped them get there. Are they walking the talk, coaching, inspiring and holding people accountable?

Help them get there!

  • "Too much focus on things, not enough focus on commitment." - - John Bogle

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

YES, BUT……. Two Words That Are On My Mind

Yes, but…..  How many times have you used those two words?

When reading some stuff from Tom Peters, I immediately latched-on to his “Yes, but…” observations.

When suggesting new ways to do things, new trends to embrace, improved methods of managing people and serving clients, in the life of a CPA firm management consultant, we often hear “Yes, but…” over and over again.

I hear:

  • Yes, we have heard other firms are doing that, but at our firm…..
  • Yes, we tried closing on Fridays, but….
  • Yes, we thought about allowing more people to work remotely, but…
  • Yes, as partners, we know we could delegate more to our staff, but….
  • Yes, the partners want to do paperless billing, but….
  • Yes, all of our partners agree that the managing partner needs to delegate more clients to other partners, but….
  • Yes, we realize our managing partner and other partners should be more visible in our other office, but…..
  • Yes, we would love to have a woman partner, but….
  • Yes, we need some up-and-comers, but……
  • Yes, we have some below-average performers, but….

Need I go on?

  • No one ever excused his way to success.
  • Dave Del Dotto

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Summer Fridays For CPA Firms

closedSince it is Monday, I thought I would talk about Fridays. This coming Friday are you going to be in the office for 8 hours? Are you going to be in the office for 4 hours or not at all?

I am finding many firms doing many things with Fridays. Some are closed but, of course, clients can reach their key person via mobile device. Some firms work half-days on Fridays and tell me that clients don’t seem to mind at all because they often take that day off, too or work very little on Fridays.

I know, first hand, that when I was working in a large CPA firm, the activity was minimal on Fridays, although we were never closed. Most partners left at noon, managers and others used PTO to take a half day off. The “flexers” usually did not include Fridays, in the summer, in their work schedules.

Have you been pondering this possibility for several years?  Below are some resources that might help you make-up your mind:

Check-out the website of my good friends at Payne Nickles. Look at the lower left where it indicates hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 to 5:00 AND Friday Closed at Noon Memorial Day thru Labor Day.

More good friends, the Friedman firm headquartered in Manhattan, ranked highly on a recent Vault.com employee survey – read about the survey here that ranks the happiest accounting firms. The headliner for Friedman was the workplace initiative of its summer schedule. From June through August, there is no work on Friday. Friedman piloted the program back in 2007, and found that output actually exceeded that of a five-day workweek.

Notice how prominently closing on Fridays is displayed on the website of Borgida & Company, a Manchester, CT firm.

Check out “I Know It Can Be Done – Closing On Fridays” a blog post I did back in 2010. I truly believe that if CPA firm team members know they can have Friday off or leave early on Friday, they will work much harder Monday – Thursday. If that is not the case with your team members, perhaps you have deeper problems with your team members.

Here’s a good article on FastCompany, The Good, The Bad, and The Alternatives: What Bosses Really Think About Summer Fridays.

  • The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
  • Captain Jack Sparrow

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – Be Happy

For this weekend, a quote to contemplate as you build your career or manage your firm in public accounting.

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – - John Lennon

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Get To Know The People You Know

As you work with people inside your CPA firm, with all of your various clients, the people in your business community, those at your state CPA society, people affiliated with your CPA firm association and so on…. Get to know them better.

IMG_3829Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with a couple of people you may know – Steve Sacks and Alexandra DeFelice. Steve is Executive Director and Alexandra is a Senior Manager with Moore Stephens North America, a premiere accounting association. I have known them both for several years but I had never really spent much time talking with them and learning more about Moore Stephens and about what their roles really encompass.

I enjoyed our conversation so much (we laughed a lot!), that I wanted to feature them on my blog. So, I asked them to respond to a few questions without seeing each others’ responses. They both have busy, challenging roles and I wanted them to share what it’s like working with each other and handling all of the various duties of a prominent accounting firm association.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Alexandra: Learning from all the creative, entrepreneurial members both domestically and internationally. Often the most interesting discoveries have nothing to do with their current roles.  Helping people. We have created a system of “rapid response” and our members seem genuinely appreciative of our attentiveness.

Steve: Working with many different personalities and their goals that comprise our membership, and leveraging these differences to develop initiatives that benefit our organization and its member firms

What makes you laugh at work?

Alexandra: I think I crack myself up, because if you can’t laugh at yourself, you take yourself too seriously. Besides, someone has to laugh at my lame jokes and Steve’s are lamer than mine.

Steve: The “what” is really the “who.” That would be my colleague, Alexandra.

What makes your association attractive to members?

Alexandra: People join Moore Stephens for two main reasons: To refer work to one another to compete with the large, national firms, and to share best practices and ideas with one another. It’s a way of extending that trip down the hallway to bounce ideas off one of your colleagues across the nation and the globe. While the firms are independent, our members are quite fraternal and care about the success of each of our firms and the organization as a whole.

Steve: Two things come to mind: 1) The openness and willingness of our members to share ideas with one another – even those who operate in the same geographic market; and 2) the role that headquarters plays in providing rapid, relevant responses and communications and ideas to members to help grow their practices.

Alexandra – describe Steve in two sentences.

Steve is a wonderful boss, colleague and friend. He’s extremely thoughtful and cares about my happiness, both professionally and personally.

Steve – describe Alexandra in two sentences.

Alexandra is an affable, insightful and integral component of the Moore Stephens organization, and her commitment to the organization’s success is unshakeable. She is an excellent communicator who is fun, smart, challenging and sees the big picture.

Why are you two a good team at work?

Alexandra: We can give each other honest, constructive feedback, which almost always leads to a better product, service or end result. We both are extremely devoted to the organization and finding ways to make it the best it can be for our current members and the next generation. We aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty, which is important when you are a small team with limited resources, but we try to focus on our core competencies and delegate work outside of those competencies to those better equipped to handle it. Most importantly, we have fun. Working for accountants may sound dull, but that certainly is not the case for us.

Steve: Despite generational differences, we have an ability to assess situations that involve knowing the different priorities, personalities and approaches, and then reaching agreement on the “how.” While we often disagree —which is a healthy give and take relationship—we find a way to reach a happy medium. This reflects a true complimentary relationship, and I think that its flexibility brings considerable value for the immediate and long-term goals of our organization.

Special thanks to Steve and Alexandra for sharing. I certainly look forward to talking with them again soon.

All of you working inside accounting firms, please take note of the answers to the last question. I hope both Alexandra’s and Steve’s replies sound very much like your working relationship with your partners.

  • Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realize you're really strangers.
  • Mary Tyler Moore

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Would They Miss You If You Were Gone?

I don’t want to focus on death here – too depressing. But, would your clients really, truly miss you if you were gone?

Let’s say you, rather suddenly, decide to retire. Who, in your work world, would miss you?

I worked inside a growing CPA firm for 30 years. Many, many people came and went. Even when some people, who I thought were key people, key performers, great client service people, left…. most clients and team members didn’t seem to miss them at all.

I have read that when a sole practitioner suddenly dies, his/her clients will find another CPA in about one week – they don’t wait. In a larger firm, there are other partners and managers who have (or should have) client contact and can reassure the client that their financial affairs will be handled competently.

My point of all this is that there are a small group of clients who place a higher value on your advice and counsel. They are probably your favorite clients and may be part of a special segment you serve.

It is difficult to be important to everyone but you can be important to a small, valuable, easy-to-work-with group. They would miss you if you were gone. Seek more clients like that and out-place the others who think you are generic.

See Seth Godin’s post, In Search Of Meaningful.

  • It is no longer possible to be important to everyone.
  • Seth Godin

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

How Many Of You Are Hiring?

During the last couple of months I have talked to hundreds of CPAs and their team members. When I have multiple firms in the room I usually ask, “How many of you are hiring right now?” About 99% of the people in the room raise their hands.

Recruiting and retention are hot topics and if your firm wants to be competitive in the talent wars, you need to be sure the basics are covered and then move on to creating a culture, something unique, different from other CPA firms to attract and retain people.

My suggested battle cry for YOU this summer is:  Hire right and keep them!

I browse a lot of CPA firm sites and here’s something that really bothers me. The Career page is not given enough stature and attention. About 10 years ago when we were in the midst of the talent wars, firms did a better job with their “Career” page.

See the example, below. The link to the career page with the word “Careers” is SO SMALL. I see this on many firm sites! Please make it more prominent and then be sure once people can find the link that the career site is awesome.

You can’t be “milk toast” about attracting and keeping top talent; you must be BOLD.

Screenshot 2014-06-20 12.40.46

  • Boldness be my friend.
  • William Shakespeare