I read lots of articles that mention how much people working in accounting firms, below the partner level, hate the long hours.
When I survey employees and talk to them, they rarely mention the extended office hours during January through April or the occasions when a client really needs to be served.
One thing they don’t like is the emails they receive from partners at 5:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m. all year long. They read into this that they should be working at 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. They certainly don’t want to be a partner if that is part of the drill. They might not even want to stay very long at your firm at all.
Another long hours challenge is the fact that technology has put the office just a few taps away and I observe that most accountants, at all levels, certainly are tied to their mobile device.
In an article on HBR – “The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies” – the basic question is: “Does it work?”
I believe that during busy season, more time is wasted than during other time of they year. The mindset seems to be, “I have to log 55 billable hours so I will take my time to be sure I can get 55 billable hours in”.
What if the entire team was working at their utmost efficiency? If your firm has effectively trained people, improved and streamlined the audit tasks and the tax processes, and if partners and managers were managing, coaching and inspiring people, perhaps what actually gets done in 55 hours could be done in 45 or even 35 and the team members could go home earlier.
Beware of the old-fashioned mindset that if we have billed a client for 22 hours of work on their job each year and now we can get it done in 12, we will only be billing for 12 and our revenue will go down!
I often encourage people working in CPA firms to embrace marketing and to embrace change. The bigger issue behind embracing these two things and similar activities inside firms, is the fact that accountants almost always avoid any form of confrontation.
Many firms desperately need to update their client acceptance, billing and collection policies and processes. Yes, these three activities go hand-in-hand. But wait! What if old Joe and old Betty put up a fuss? Those two partners have several “special” clients that won’t like paying our invoices on time. Those two partners always lag behind on billing out their WIP. They will argue against making any changes or even enforcing the policy we already have in place.
Maybe, at this point in time, you don’t have the stamina (as an influential leader) to “embrace disruption”. Maybe, at this point in time, you don’t have the guts to take a hard stand with lack of teamwork among your partner group. But, what if you began introducing the important need to “embrace disruption” if the firm is going to survive and become a firm of the future. Begin talking about it. Plant the seeds with your leadership group and begin building the case for dealing with partners who don’t act like partners.
I have always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.
I work with CPAs and their firms. I visit many, many CPA firm websites on a continual basis. For many, it is definitely time to rebrand.
My clients and other CPAs I meet ask me, “What are other firms doing?” or “Can you give me a good example?”. Thanks to my friends at LBMC, headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, I can.
Here is a video about their new rebranding project.
LBMC is a very large firm and can afford to spend a lot more money than many other firms. That’s no excuse for you not to consider rebranding. You can do it! Establish a budget and go forward. It is one step in becoming a firm of the future.
If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.
I hope you read Seth Godin’s blog every day. I admire how he can use a few words to say something impactful.
Here’s an image of his website. Clean, simple message: GO. Make something happen. Doesn’t it seem similar to the message I continually communicate to you, CPAs in public practice: Do Things!
Here’s his blog post from August 1 – I hope you think about it.
Yes!, please and thank you
Don’t jerk people around
Here’s a simple marketing strategy for a smaller company trying to compete in a big-company world: Choose your customers, trust them, treat them well.
Bend the rules.
Show up on time.
Keep your promises.
Don’t exert power merely because you can.
Be human, be kind, pay attention, smile.
Not everyone deserves this sort of treatment, not everyone will do their part to be the kind of customer you can delight and serve. But that’s okay, you don’t need everyone.
When in doubt, be the anti-airline.
Key phrases and points for growing your CPA firm: Smaller firms can compete with larger firms. Choose your clients well, don’t just take anyone you meet. Not every client measures up. You don’t need everyone.
For 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.
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.
If 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.