Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Sway With The Punches

This is a very busy time inside CPA firms right now.

I have talked with hundreds of people working at CPA firms during the last year – CPAs, HR professionals, firm administrators, technology gurus, and marketing professionals.

Whether you are a CPA fighting the battle first-hand or a support professional facing the continual comment from the CPAs: “I’m too busy!” (to write an article, to attend a networking event, mentor an intern, provide timely performance feedback….), you might let what happens at work “get to you”.

What do you do when you feel like you are about to “lose it”? Here’s some advice I found when I was reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, that might apply:

“Do what boxers do, sway with the punches. Don’t resist. If any of what happens at work gets to you, just let it. You won’t be able to shut it out in the long term anyway. Take it bit by bit, release it like a dam, don’t let it collect until the wall develops cracks.”

  • For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.
  • Lily Tomlin

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Message to Emerging Leaders – Experience Counts!

I rarely go on a rant. I’m passionate and energetic about the CPA profession and helping CPA firms stay on the path of continued growth and success. However, when I continually hear older, more experienced people degraded, bashed, etc. I am sad.

In the CPA profession today, public accounting firms are extremely focused on young talent. Focused on helping them learn and grow in accounting and tax knowledge. Most firms are bending over backwards right now to keep people, young people. Let’s ignore the old people and maybe they will retire.

I believe I am fortunate to work with CPAs and in the CPA profession because there is a certain degree of respect for the amazing amount of knowledge and experience that comes to CPAs as they gain exposure to multiple client situations. It takes years to be able to quickly assess a tax planning opportunity or operational issues faced by clients. It also takes years to become a seasoned, wise advisor to younger, less experienced accountants.

So when someone on social media asks, “Why did they have the old guys broadcasting the Super Bowl?” or, when I see a video advertisement that stresses the message, “I don’t use that software (or whatever), that’s what my Mom uses.” – – it irks me.

Inside your CPA firm, I hope you respect and treasure the experience and knowledge owned by the more mature accountants. They are the mentors. Life-long learning is the banner of the CPA profession. Invest in the success of all your people. Those over 50 must also continually improve their skills.

The scariest part is that a 22-year old’s “Mom” is probably in her 40s and those twenty-somethings will be there before they know it.

  • At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don't care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all.
  • Ann Landers

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Simplify Your Performance Reviews – Deloitte Is Redesigning Theirs

I talk about it often. If you are a CPA firm leader, I know you might feel like I am nagging you about revising your old fashioned performance evaluation system. Once again, here I am, trying to offer alternatives.

This time we have Deloitte as a guide. Their story is featured on the HBR site – Reinventing Performance Management.

Deloitte did a public survey and found that more than half of executives questioned (58%) believe that their current performance management approach drives neither employee engagement nor high performance.

What do you honestly think about your performance feedback approach? I have found that almost everyone dreads performance feedback time inside CPA firms – the people giving them and the people getting them. Make this the year you refresh yours – simplify!

I find that firms spend way too much time “rating” people, writing comments about what they are doing right and wrong and not enough time giving them frequent verbal feedback.

Deloitte found that creating ratings consumed close to 2 million hours a year. Keep in mind they employ 65,000 people.

Deloitte, rather than asking more people for their opinion of a team member (in 360-degree or an upward-feedback survey, for example), they will ask only the immediate team leader to respond to four future-focused statements about each team member at the end of each project or on a quarterly basis.

I highly recommend you read the article to get the entire picture. Then consider how how you might modify your own system. If you need to talk or need help, you can contact me via my website.

  • Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify.
  • Henry David Thorequ

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

CPA Managers – Make Time For Face Time

Many of you attended Winning Is Everything in January in Las Vegas. The best part, to me, was the chance to hear and meet Bruce Tulgan in person.

Yesterday, Mr. Tulgan was a contributor to a great article in the WSJ titled, Managers Need to Make Time For Face time.

Accounting is not the only profession/business where it has become difficult to find time to actually meet, face-to-face, with the people you supervise and manage.

Hands-off management carries risks. One high-profile CEO left his corporation amid criticism that he was too detached from his top team.

Sometime I talk to firms where some managers and partners are actually located on a different floor or even a different building. Just my opinion, but I think the managing partner needs to be with the troops.

There is a difference between micro-managing and being hands-on. In these times of talent wars in the CPA profession, your people want to know you care about them. They want access to their leaders (partners and managers).

One of the biggest complaints I see in the upward surveys I facilitate via SurveyCPA is the fact that staffers want more access to the leaders. They are always on the phone, out of the office or have their office door closed – they tell me. Another comment I hear: I give them work to review and it sometimes takes weeks to hear feedback on how I did, if I hear at all.

Be sure to read the article and determine how, as a manager of people, you might be more involved with your people.

  • There are more of them than us.
  • Herb Caen

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Most People Need Quiet Time

Inside most accounting firms, there is an area that is called the “bullpen.” It is usually an open area containing 10 to 20 cubicles. Many firms I visit have a “tax bullpen” and an “audit bullpen”.

I don’t have a big problem with this arrangement. Younger, newer accountants need to talk to each other as they learn the ropes. Plus, they now use ear buds to keep out excessive noise and listen to music of their choice.

I even like the open office arrangements that some companies have embraced. I like contemporary, so the open, clean look of an Apple store looks great to me, although I’m not sure it lends itself to the concentration often needed in public accounting.

So, if you have a lot of people working in open office space, cubicles or not, maybe they need a micro retreat. In NYC and a few other cities, you can rent a quiet, space to think, write or work for 30 minutes or all day. You can see what I mean at Sometimes you just need to be alone and to stay focused. Call it a micro retreat.

My suggestion is for your firm to set-up a couple of rooms like this at your firm – clean, quiet and sparsely furnished. The people in your firm who do not have an office, can book it for an hour or two if they really need to focus (allow no interruptions). Of course, you will have to have some guidelines so that it is shared and one person doesn’t book it every day!

I use this concept when I travel on business. I try to arrive a half-day early because I can get so much done while I am alone in a hotel room.

  • What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
  • Ellen Burstyn

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Too Many Hours, Too Much Drama

Is someone inside your busy firm driving you nuts? Speak up!

While winter marches on, there are many people working crazy hours to serve their clients and comply with the IRS and other regulatory agencies. It’s the CPA and all of the talented people that work in certified public accounting firms across the U.S.

Bad weather is no excuse for not getting the work done.

It’s normal for these people to work long hours from January through April 15. They are professionals. They expect it and adjust accordingly.

If you are one of these people, you might adjust to the long hours and actually enjoy the work. However, you do not enjoy the drama that comes to light during this time of extended, often stressful, hours with your co-workers.

0 Avatar slide for blogSome of their bad habits and annoying behavior drive you nuts! But, what I find with many accountants is that you do not like confrontation and you will suffer (but not in silence).

I bet you have regularly complained to OTHER people about some thing someone is doing that annoys you. If you are a “go to” person inside a firm, think about how many times someone has come to you and pleaded, “Could you talk to Fred about the way he leaves the coffee pot empty on the burner? He does it all the time!”

It’s time to take ownership of the drama – – if you notice something that is annoying or rude go directly to the person and speak to them. Don’t passively accept their inappropriate behavior and then build drama around it so that everyone in the office knows of the offense except the person committing it.

  • The older I grow the more I listen to people who don't talk much.
  • Germain G. Glien

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Making Promotion Decisions Based On Technical Expertise

It is a very common occurrence in the CPA profession. You promote someone to “manager” because they have developed great technical skills and they have attained a certain level of seniority.

I’m sure you have heard of the Peter Principle – a person gets promoted to a level where they are truly incompetent. If a person is a great accountant, we assume they are ready to lead other people.

There’s a good article via Fast Company that suggests how to spot future leaders.

Look for:

The Advisor – People who are sought out by others for insight and advice.

The Fixer – An employee with a “never say die” attitude, who is always looking for solutions.

The Motivator – People who can inspire others toward a common cause.

The Listener – Someone who takes the time to “take in” what’s going on around them.

The Specialist – Someone who is a jack-of-all trades will likely never excel at any one thing. Leaders know their strengths and focus on those areas.

The Trainee – Leadership candidates need to be trainable.

The Prioritizer – They don’t spend their days putting out fires. They spend their time on what’s important in the long run.

I know you are aware of the big succession issues in the CPA profession. Begin this year to invest in the success of your firm’s managers. They need training and education on how to manage, nurture and mentor people – – not just how to efficiently prepare and/or review a tax return.

Take this challenge directly to your managers. Get them involved in developing an action plan that will help them grow and develop as managers of people.

If you are a manager….. take this challenge to your partners and offer to champion a leadership development program at your firm.


  • Growing other leaders from the ranks isn't just the duty of a leader, it's an obligation.
  • Warren Bennis

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Systems Are Driven By Culture

I talk a lot about processes and procedures, some people call them protocols; some call them systems. They are the guidelines established (after much research and discussion) inside your firm to efficiently get the work out the door.

Perhaps your systems are outdated or even ignored. They are very important. However, there is something much more important that drives the systems inside your CPA firm – it’s culture. I put it bluntly when talking with CPAs in public practice – – If your culture supports partners, or others, being exempt from following systems, to hide from change, to live in the days of “this is the  way we have always done it!”, no amount of excellent systems will help you serve your clients (and your people) effectively. Your competition will leave you behind.

Tom Peters says: Forget the words culture, vision, stories, narratives. Skip the pseudo-technical language. Don’t call consultants or coaches. How about plain-vanilla-insanely-important-self-managed-Give-a-Shitism? Give-a-shit… about each other, about the work, about the community.

Have the leaders and followers inside your firm slipped into the dangerous rut of getting the work out the door and thinking that good is good enough? Have some lost site of a culture of urgency to serve the clients better than any other accounting firm?

One of the two core values instilled by Dr. William Mayo (Mayo Clinic) in 1910 was, effectively practicing team medicine. Designing the practice around the patient, or “patient-centered care,” as some call its rare manifestation today, was the other core value. At Mayo, upon occasion prominent M.D.s have been asked to leave because of their inability to fully grasp the team-practice concept.

If you have partners at your CPA firm who are never “on board,” who hide behind “Devil’s Advocate,” do you ask them to leave? Or, does the firm slowly sink into mediocrity?

  • In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. Pick a general direction and implement like hell.
  • Jack Welch

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

CPA Practice Advisor – Gail Perry

gail2Have you read Gail’s editorial column in the February issue of CPA Practice Advisor?

It is titled: The 30,000 Foot View of the Accounting Profession – It’s Time For A Landing.

She provides a list of challenges facing the CPA profession from a group of accountants. Here’s a few examples of the challenges:

  • Technology is replacing or changing the role of entry-level people.
  • Attracting talented graduates
  • Adding advisory services
  • Many client and staff relationships are virtual
  • And, several more

The irony is that this entire list was compiled in the year 2000! Read her column. Do you see a major problem here?

The scary thing for me is the fact that I have been working with CPAs for over 30 years. I am still called upon to assist with some of the same issues I experienced that long ago.

  • All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, February 13th, 2015

First Female CEO of a Big Four Accounting Firm

I like the headline. To be honest, I had to chuckle when I read the opening line of the Accounting Today article, because they called one of the Big Four an accounting firm, something that the big 4 seem to shy away from. And, realistically, they are much more than accounting firms.

CathySMSeriously, I love what Cathy Engelbert, new CEO at Deloitte said about fostering women leaders in the accounting profession. I also definitely support her comments about taking risks. I find that women in accounting whine about being passed over for leadership positions, yet they shy away from taking risks, branching out and learning more.

Comments from Engelbert about making the most of experiences she was given:

“For me, this was about the experiences that I was given. I took some risks in my career to get a wider variety of experiences to be considered for a role like this, including sponsors, and partners who sat in rooms when there were deployment decisions being made on difference experiences. They would say, ‘Let’s let Cathy do this.”

We often talk about partner complacency at many successful accounting firms. I also believe that there is female manager complacency. They get promoted to manager, their earnings continually climb – – so why change?

You, as my audience, know how much importance I place on mentoring. Be sure to assess it inside your firm – work on making mentorship and sponsorship a larger part of your culture. Here’s Engelbert’s comments:

“Sometimes if you have a mentor who’s not in the room at the time they’re making decisions about the experiences you might be eligible for, you don’t get the development you want. Mentorship is really important for your own personal development, making sure that you’re seeking the right opportunities and then having the right people in the room when those decisions are being made about your deployment or the opportunities you might have.”

I urge you to read the Accounting Today article and share it with others inside your CPA firm. Be sure you take note of the comments about audit.


  • Our young people are excited that we're using technology in different ways to deliver the audit.
  • Cathy Engelbert