Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Don’t Do It!

photoAbout once a year I feel the need to write something on this topic. Here’s the scenario inside a busy CPA firm:

Someone is late, someone leaves a big mess in the lunch room, someone is making too many personal calls during work hours, or maybe it is someone who simply talks too loudly in the cubicle farm. What does someone in a leadership position do about these small problems? They send an email BLAST to everyone in the firm asking them not to leave a mess in the lunchroom… and so on.

Everyone knows who is leaving the mess and are cringing because leaders have the mentality of “let’s punish everyone because one person is disappointing us.”

I encourage firms to develop their own Courtesy Policy, a brief statement of inside-the-firm courtesy extended to each other inside the firm. For the above situation, I recommend #3 on an 8-point sample I share:

3. If you have a problem with someone, talk about the problem only with them and in private.

When something (usually trivial) happens and, as a leader, you feel the urge to quickly blast out an email to everyone in the firm….. don’t do it!

  • Take two troublemakers out of a class and it's amazing that the goodness of the other kids shines so much more brightly.
  • Tweet from a high school teacher

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Why You Hire Them & What You Expect

When I was working inside a growing CPA firm, we (the partners) would often remark to each other and to others involved in hiring, “Hire them for the sparkle in their eye.” Then, as you can probably imagine, once hired them we proceeded to grind that sparkle out of them!

The sad part is that the managers and partners directly supervising the young people didn’t even realize they were doing it!

Although we were far from a sweat shop, when we hired them for their personality, their sparkle, we should have done a better job at enabling them to shine along with a reasonable measure of hard work and dedication to quality client service.

All of this came back to me as I was reading an article by Andrew Argue of The Bean Counter, as he gives great advice to young people building their careers in public accounting.

Bosses and employees in public accounting can both gain insight from Argue’s article, Don’t Let Your Boss Keep You Down.

Remember, people don’t leave firms, they leave managers and as Argue notes, the best managers don’t make you feel tiny, they make you grow.

  • The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.
  • Tom Peters

Friday, March 21st, 2014

What Really Matters Inside Your CPA Firm?

Do you ever think about it? I’m referring to today’s title: What really matters inside your CPA firm, in your family, in your life?

At work some things don’t matter much. Like the size of your office, the size of your cubicle, the kind of coffee your serve, the brand of soft drinks you stock, the time you get to work or the time you leave.

The problem with people is they often make decisions based on things that don’t really matter much.

More things that don’t matter that much:  The kind or color of the car you drive or the fact that your office is a few sq. feet smaller than the partner next to you. How big are things like this in the scheme of life?

I recently read a passage in a book titled, “The Secret Life Of Bees.”  Does the color of a house matter? How big is that in the scheme of life. But lifting a person’s heart – now that matters. The problem with people is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it.

Inside your CPA firm, are you making decisions based upon things that really matter? As an employee inside a CPA firm are you making decisions based on what really matters?

I hope all of you are lifting people’s hearts.

  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Please Read, Read, Read

I practice what I preach, at least when it comes to reading. I continually urge CPA firm citizens to read, read, read.

That’s why I want to feature a recent tweet from Tom Peters:

READ. READ. READ. STUDY. STUDY. STUDY … until you are blue in the face. (Age 18. Age 38. Age 58. Age 78.)

Of course, if you are a CPA, you must do a great amount of technical reading but please don’t limit your reading to technical topics. Read blogs, news article and fiction. Read this blog post from Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz on The Value of Reading Novels. I often get great ideas for my consulting activities when I am reading a novel.

For more on reading, on the right side of this blog page, select the category Reading and you can quickly read some blog posts that might inspire you to read more.

I often share a copy of my reading recommendations. You can download my 2014 Reading List here.

  • We read to know that we are not alone.
  • C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Mentoring Programs Inside CPA Firms

Mentoring continues to be an important topic inside CPA firms and in the business world, in general.

When I talk to MPs or HR leaders at CPA firms they tell me that their program is not really very strong. Some leaders are really great mentors and others are actually quite terrible at it. As we move further into the talent wars, mentoring will once again take on more prominence inside CPA firms. Young people want mentors.

Perhaps one thing that CPA firms could do better is to focus on educating young people about their role in the mentoring process. If you want to have a great mentor you need to be a great mentee. You need to ask for help. Mentors won’t just land in your lap, you must search for them. If you want success, it takes hard work.

Here’s what Sir Richard Branson says about mentoring:

I find mentors inside and outside of Virgin every day. If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road. If you want success then it takes hard work, hard work and more hard work. But it also takes a little help along the way. If you are determined and enthusiastic then people will support you.


  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
  • Winston Churchill

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Hard Work

photo 1 - Version 2I was reading the Delta Airlines magazine while flying to Key West yesterday. I enjoy reading the airline magazines. I find all of them to contain interesting news items and articles about a variety of topics.

In the opening editorial, written by the CEO Richard Anderson, he made a statement that CPA firms could certainly utilize: “At Delta, we take great pride in our culture of hard work, creativity, teamwork and a simple commitment to get the job done right.”

Did you notice those two words… hard work? The CEO communicates it clearly – they are not ashamed of their culture of hard work. They take pride in it.

Public accounting is hard work. If you work hard you can become very successful.

Do you communicate that to your people? Are you proud of your culture of hard work?

(Picture:  Enjoyed my visit to the Hemingway House.)

  • A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.
  • Colin Powell

Monday, February 17th, 2014

There Is No Bigger Picture

CPA firm partners, owners, and other firm leaders hear it over and over again from speakers and authors focused on the profession of public accounting.

Think big picture. Be a visionary. Stay out of the day-to-day, be more strategic.

I, too,  have written about it and talked about it. I do believe there is a time and place for contemplating the bigger picture.

However, much of what you do is about the here and now. If you are honest, most of what you do inside your firm and to help clients is about the here and now. And, it is important.

I was reminded of this when I heard a passage in a Wallander episode. I have also read all of the Wallander novels by Henning Mankell. If you are not familiar… Wallander is a brooding, dark character. A Swedish detective who investigates violent and terrifying murders. Kenneth Branagh is amazing in the role.

Here’s the passage:

“I don’t really think there is a bigger picture. This is where we live, here and now. These are our lives. They are fragile and precarious…. and miraculous. They are all we have.”

The majority of you and the people who work for you are living in the here and now.

Think about the big picture, the future but please don’t forget that the majority of life is in the here and now. How can you make life, the here and now, better for yourself and for all the people in your firm who depend on you. After all, life is all you have.

  • It's only when we can work with something that brings out our strengths that we're of any real use.
  • Henning Mankell, author The Fifth Woman

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Enough Food Already!

This is one of those topics to just get you thinking!

Why do so many CPA firms, during this time of year, provide dinner for their employees?

When I discuss this topic during my live presentations, I get some fairly heated debates going.  ”We’ve always provided dinner!”  ”It is a huge convenience to our people.”  ”It provides a time for them to socialize and get to know each other.”  ”Our people really appreciate it and it makes it easier to work longer into the evening.”

From the other side I hear, “They expect you to be there at dinner. If you are not you get frowned upon.”  ”I just show-up, eat and then go home.” “It’s the workaholics and inefficient people who like dinner.”  ”We used to do that but now most of our people do not want to work late into the evening.”

From firm administrators I hear horror stories of the hassles involved in providing dinner. It seems there are a great many whiners inside CPA firms.

  • We have pizza too often.
  • I only like pepperoni. I want deluxe. I want vegetarian.
  • Let’s have subs. Let’s don’t have sandwiches.
  • Why isn’t there chef salad? We need more than salad.
  • Is that meatloaf??

The old saying definitely applies, “You can’t please everyone” and the administrative staff spend a huge amount of time facilitating dinner and doing their best to please people. Then, they have to clean-up afterwards.  From them I hear, “I am an administrative professional not a waitress!”  As Abraham Lincoln said:

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

I advise my clients NOT to provide dinner. Provide remote access.

Send people home at 6:00. Let them eat dinner with their family, help their kids with homework, enjoy “bath time” with the toddlers and then log-on and put in a couple of hours if that is your firm requirements.

For some firms this will be a huge change but it is a step in the right direction of winning the talent wars.  You must figure out how to make “busy” season more acceptable to the future workforce.

The following quote applies to many of the things that need to be changed inside CPA firms.

  • Serious change includes bad days, bad weeks, bad months, perhaps bad years.
  • Tom Peters

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Keeping Your CPA Firm Competitive – Being More Generous With PTO

John SmithSometimes I am puzzled by CPA firms. I know, you are probably laughing out loud right now! After so many years working with CPA firms you would think I would have a complete understanding of what makes CPA leaders tick. I guess it could be described this way: I know how they think and what they think but sometimes it amazes me WHY they think the way they do.

Once again I will stress to CPAs – the Talent Wars are here again. Your firm becomes who you hire and who you retain. These people help form your culture and your brand in your marketplace.

I frequently hear CPA firm administrators and HR Directors talk about their various personnel policies. PTO is often a topic. What I am CURRENTLY hearing is that many firms are very frugal with their PTO. Here is where I ask WHY?

Maybe to justify, I need to give you real life experience. At the CPA firm where I worked for so many years, SIX years ago when I left we were offering starting salaries that are very much in line with what I am hearing TODAY – 2014.

Probably about 8 to 10 years ago our PTO policy was extremely generous – 2 weeks PTO to new college grads the day they walked in the door. Upon the arrival of May 1st (the beginning of our “vacation” year), all accounting staff with 0-2 years of service received 15 days. Staff with 3-5 years received 20 days and all staff with 6+ years received 25 days.

I am still hearing that new hires, in many firms, become eligible for  PTO (or vacation) after one year of service and maybe 10 years before they get 3 weeks and never for 5 weeks.

Why was our firm generous, why did we keep in-tune with market trends and attempt to hire the best talent?

Simple answer and one you should heed: Our competition was doing it!

  • A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking.
  • Earl Wilson

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Hit The Pause Button

photoWe’re still uncool at our house. We have three remotes to control our TV, BlueRay, sound system, Apple TV, etc. Our son comes to visit and asks why we don’t get the cool new type of control he has so he can do it all from one or why don’t we use our iPad or iPhone. We’ve been there… then you buy a new TV and start over! We’ll get there again. However, one button I know for sure is the Pause button.

I need a break, I need to think, the phone rings, someone’s at the door – I hit Pause.

If you are working inside a CPA firm you are entering one of the most challenging times of the year. It’s rush, rush, rush. When will that job be done? How much billable time did you have last week? Call so-and-so and have them hurry up and get their information to us.

Maria Shriver gave a commencement speech in 2012 to her daughter’s graduating class titled The Power Of The Pause – The importance of stopping and evaluating where you are in life. How often have you done that?

Shriver noted, “So remember to pause and reflect before you sign on with someone or some organization whose work you don’t admire and respect. Who you work for is as important as what you do.”

As a CPA firm leader, are you admired by your people? Are you pausing to explain the importance of the work you do? Are you sharing the success stories of your business clients and how an accountant’s role is to serve others and help them become successful? Are you encouraging your valuable people to pause once in a while to reflect on their work, their life, and their family?

You and everyone else at your firm have hectic, busy lives. People get tired, worn-down and lose sight of the positives. For yourself, remember to pause and reflect often. Am I truly happy in my work? Do I trust and admire my partners? Do I value my employees? Am I always honest with my team members? Am I always honest with my family?

Am I happy?

  • It's like what we're doing at this precise moment doesn't even exist. Everyone is focused on the next thing. Everyone is racing to the next thing.
  • Maria Shriver