Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Do You Know What You Are Doing?

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.
  • Dr. Tony Alessandra

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Don’t Forget, You Are Selling To Women

“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.
  • Jeffrey Gitomer

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

It Only Takes A Moment To Be Kind

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.

From his book, Choosing Civility, Pier Massimo Forni says:

“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.
  • George Washington

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Aggressively Seeking Experienced CPAs

You used to have to worry about your competitors luring away your younger accountants. After all, $5,000 to $10,000 more in compensation is quite tempting to someone fairly new in the job market.

During the current accounting firm talent wars, firms are pulling out all the stops to find and attract experienced talent. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that experienced accountants are now much more willing to jump ship. I believe there are various reasons for this, one being the fact that some more senior owners dig in their heels when it comes to change. Many of them don’t think they have to spend money to become a firm of the future because, after all, they will be retiring within the next several years.

If you are a 5 to 10-year CPA, even if you are a partner, you are probably being courted. If you are a niche leader you may even become the object of a bidding war.

The bigger firms are paying more for talented people. Smaller firms don’t seem to be as willing to keep pace. That’s what is interesting about the CPA firm model. The percentage that partners are very used to taking home might not be a sustainable model for the future. After all, if you have to pay your people more, it usually means the partners get less.

Here’s a good article via Crain’s Chicago that tells a story about the Chicago area CPA firm market.

  • Opportunity is a bird that never perches.
  • Claude McDonald

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Sole Practitioner/Small Firm Concerns

IMG_5009If you are a regular subscriber to this blog, you know that last week I had a wonderful opportunity to work with a group of partners/owners comprised of small firms and sole proprietors. It was a beautiful setting in southern Ohio.

The entire two days was focused on MAP and yes, small firms must pay very close attention to all the details and management challenges, just like larger firms.

As a result of the meeting, I came away with a list of concerns from CPA firms with under 20 people.

  • Practice growth
  • People – attracting & retaining
  • Client touches (via Cloud/Virtual)
  • Determining when to hire more people
  • Leverage
  • Exit strategy
  • Keeping people busy from May to December

If your firm, no matter what the size, is facing similar challenges, I hope you will attend some MAP sessions at conferences this summer, learn about some new solutions and then implement them at your firm. I also want to urge managing partners and firm administrators to take other partners along to MAP events. I hope to meet many of you at next week’s AICPA/AAA/AAM conference in Orlando.

  • Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
  • Helen Keller

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