Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

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

Friday, May 8th, 2015

The Challenges of Developing Leaders – Get Real With Your Competency Models

Leadership development is not just a challenge for the CPA profession. $14 billion is being spent by U.S. corporations annually on leadership development and yet, public confidence in leadership has dropped considerably. 70% of Americans believe there is a leadership crisis that will lead to a national decline unless we find better leaders.

How’s that going at your firm? Inside your CPA firm, I imagine you have been spending lots of dollars on development of the next generation of firm leaders. Has the confidence, among your current leaders and your employees, in regard to future leaders increased or decreased in recent years?

According to an article on clomedia.com (Chief Learning Officer), if leadership programs do not produce the bench strength, performance and behaviors desired, one or more of six problems could be the culprit.

The one I want to focus on today is the CPA firm competency models. Here’s a quote from the article that sure got my attention:

“Competency models also can be used to define leadership. But competency models are idiosyncratic lists of skills and abilities composed by asking senior managers what is needed to lead in particular jobs. Because few senior managers are good leaders, asking them about effective leadership is like asking a doctor for investment advice. He or she probably has an opinion, but it may not be a good one.”

It is my observation that most firms simply obtain their competency models by copying other firms or using the standard resources provided by the AICPA and other broad resources specifically for the CPA profession.

Here are the six problems:

The evaluation problem – It is a dirty little secret that leadership development programs are rarely evaluated in a meaningful way.

The definition problem – Evaluation requires specifying desired outcomes, and this requires defining leadership correctly.

The people problem – Many of the people who attend leadership development programs are drawn to high-status and high-paying leadership positions, but they have little talent for leading a team. (Need I say… Amen!)

The content problem – Little of what is taught in leadership programs concerns the actual tasks of leadership.

The pedagogy problem – Most leadership programs are taught in inappropriate ways. They tend to be events with little follow-up support or accountability for transferring learning back to the job.

The rationale problem – Leadership development programs are often launched for questionable reasons.

Where do you go, what do you do? Read the detail in this article and discuss it with your partners and other internal leaders. The article provides seven recommendations that are not expensive but do require learning leaders to think differently about leader development.

  • Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.
  • Jim Rohn

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Busy – Busy – Busy

busyHow are things going for the firm? – – Something I naturally ask when conversing with CPA firm leaders. I ask this question very often and direct it to various people working behind the scenes in CPA firms, not just partners.

Here’s the response I almost always receive. First, a big sigh followed by a lament on how busy they are.

“Sorry, I didn’t get back to you sooner, things are crazy here.”

“I didn’t get a chance to call you this morning, we were in a meeting and it ran over.”

“I can’t get all my vacation in this summer, I’m just too busy.”

“I won’t be going to the conference this year, I just can’t get away from the firm.

Here’s my advice:  GET AWAY FROM THE FIRM!

Message to partners:  Young people don’t want to become a partner in your firm because YOU are always TOO BUSY. You might even be scaring new clients away because you always appear SO busy. Some of your best clients hesitate to refer their friends to your firm because you are already TOO busy.

It’s catching and it spreads and soon you have a culture of BUSYNESS. If you don’t stay until 10:00p during tax season you might get frowned upon.

Focus on delegation and efficiency. I see a huge amount of time wasted inside CPA firms. Being too busy is often a reflection of personal choice.

Get a large jar or fish bowl and put it in the lunch room. Every time someone get’s caught SAYING the work BUSY they must deposit 25 cents into the jar. Maybe if you don’t say it all the time and talk about it all the time it won’t become a dark cloud that continually hangs over your head or a hurdle that blocks your way toward real progress.

 

  • Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
  • Socrates

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Beginner At Your Firm? How To Get Noticed.

No excusesMaybe you just joined the firm and maybe you have just survived your first busy season. Are you getting noticed? Are you being assigned to some high-profile clients? Are you being sought out to work with the managers and partners who seem to “get it”?

It’s always important to make a good first impression and often inside CPA firms it might take a year to do that. You might think it is safe to keep your head down and grind through the work. That’s what you have heard gets your noticed by the partners. That’s part of it but not the most important part.

You want the partners and managers to notice you. What I have heard, time and time again from partners, is that they can teach bright, new people accounting and tax, but they want more than that.

Be visible, friendly and respectful – Ask questions but don’t interrupt them constantly. Don’t shy away from a partner when you have a chance to just be friendly.

Pay attention. Be a good listener – Out of the starting gate, don’t get the reputation of “being glued to her mobile device.” Seek conversations and advice where you can look them in the eye and soak it all in.

No matter what you think – how you look matters (especially in public accounting). – Looking professional is one of the easy things you can do to help bridge the generation gap with Boomers and Xers. No, you don’t have to wear a coat and tie (or a pantsuit) to look professional.

Speak-up in meetings. – If you are in a training session inside the firm, don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for more detailed instructions, if you need them.

Show them that millennials are not afraid of hard work. – This is a big misconception with Boomers and GenXers. Research has shown that millennials are willing to devote extraordinary efforts to their work – they just want to do it differently with more flexibility. Explain how you feel and show them with results.

Ask them questions about building your career. – This will show them that you value their experience and want to make the most of being a CPA. If your firm doesn’t have an official mentoring program, informally seek one out. Pick the one you think can help you the most and just ask them.

Be prepared. – Yes, the old Boy Scout motto. Be ready to discuss the review comments you receive on your work. Speak clearly and concisely. Use eye contact and show that you are confident and are willing to absorb feedback and advice.

Be Genuine – This one applies every day. The best possible way to win people over, regardless of their age, is to be yourself. Find ways to open dialogue with all the different partners and managers. Absorb their good habits and build on yours.

  • Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.
  • Jim Rohn

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Change = Opportunity — Don’t Waste It

IMG_4817As I have worked with CPAs around the country, all ages and in firms of various sizes, I often am saddened by the wasted opportunities I encounter.

It’s usually a communication issue and the willingness among partners to be absolutely open and honest. Someone might get their feelings hurt. There might be an uncomfortable feeling within the group for a while… but it doesn’t last if everyone is focused on “the good of the firm” and not on their own, personal agenda.

Here are some examples of where change is a roadblock to opportunity (these are fictional, gathered from various interactions over my 30+ years working in the CPA profession):

  • A capable, experienced, passionate managing partner is prohibited from making the firm future-ready because she is constantly dealing with bickering partners.
  • A firm located in a great market never capitalizes on growth opportunities because they have made several people a partner when these people do not market, do not sell, do not network in the business community and some have actually never-ever brought in a new client.
  • A firm has a great expansion opportunity in a not-too-distant market, it slips through their hands because no partner will commit to being the champion of that endeavor. They are too comfortable with status quo.
  • A great merger opportunity falls through because ONE of the partners in the firm being acquired kills the deal usually because he knows he wouldn’t measure-up in the new environment.

These are some fairly major change-is-needed examples, however, I see firms miss opportunity because of unwillingness to change some simple, day-to-day activities.

In these firms, partner meetings turn into repeat discussions of old issues and Opportunity moves on down the road.

  • The wheel of change moves on and those who were down go up and those who were up go down.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru

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