Archive for the ‘performance evaluations’ Category

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Giving Upward Feedback

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard

I facilitate a lot of surveys for CPA firms. It is a very valuable activity for firm leaders. You want to know what your people think and what your clients think.

But, that’s not enough. You have to act upon the information you receive.

When conducting an upward feedback survey, one very important step you need to take is to take away any fear they may have. Some employees are truly afraid of repercussions or retaliation of some sort, which I rarely ever see from partners. It is important to assure them of the firm’s desire for honest feedback and that each partner will use that feedback to establish improvement goals for the future.

I also ask firm leaders to help educate the employees about how to give feedback. Many people do not really understand the process. I explain that they should limit their suggestions to their own opinions and not convey feedback that comes second or third hand.

Here’s a good way to frame feedback: Describe the action, the result and the solution, such as, “When you (do this), it (causes this). Going forward, I would recommend (fill in the blank.)”

Here’s an example: “When you take a very long time to get back to me with review comments, it causes me to use a significant amount of time to refresh myself about the tax return. If you could improve turnaround time, even slightly, it would help me be more efficient and learn from my mistakes.”

Now is the time to schedule your upward feedback project for 2016. Contact me for information about how I can help.

  • I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.
  • Elon Musk

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Feedback Is The Breakfast Of Champions

I love the quote attributed to Ken Blanchard: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Another valuable piece of advice comes from Dr. Stephen R. Covey: “Leaders, beware! The higher you go in an organization, the less likely people are to give you straight feedback. Feedback is your life-support system. Without it, you will eventually fail. Do everything you can to create a culture where it is safe to give you feedback.”

Enhance the communication in your firm by finding out what your people think. Begin to build an environment that builds trust between managers/partners and the team. Many experts tell us that to begin building this culture of trust you should begin with the people who know most – the ones being managed – and only then seek feedback from the leaders downward.

Here are some of the disturbing excuses (stories) I hear from people working in firms:

  • The partners refuse to do an upward survey – they don’t care what the people think.
  • Our partners are afraid of what will be said.
  • Our partners really don’t want to change so they don’t see the need for an upward survey.
  • Our managers really got upset when we once discussed asking for upward feedback about them and the partners backed off.
  • Our people wouldn’t be honest. They are afraid.

I firmly believe that firm leaders get better by a constant stream of helpful information from the people who are part of the accounting firm team. I have facilitated many upward feedback surveys and the information is overwhelmingly positive. I find the employees of accounting firms have a great deal of insight and helpful suggestions. While it is helpful to know any negatives about the partners or firm, it is also beneficial to know that your partners are respected and appreciated

Take a look at my Upward Feedback Survey Services and consider if it is time for the PEOPLE managing your PEOPLE to obtain some feedback that can help them improve their performance.

  • Mistakes should be examined, learned from, and discarded; not dwelled upon and stored.
  • Tim Fargo

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Helping CPA Firm Managers Succeed

0 Avatar slide for blogOnce again I remind you…. the people filling the “manager” role inside your firm have enormous power. People will stay or leave because of them.

Partners need to be great managers themselves so they can coach the people with the manager title to become more skilled at developing people and engaging them in what the firm is all about. This is really just one step in solving succession issues.

Here’s a quick exercise for managing partners or department heads. Do it in January!

Meet briefly with each manager. Ask them to describe one personal challenge they are currently facing… as they enter tax season. Talk about some possible ways to address this challenge and make it their ONE goal for tax season. Keep it simple, please – just one challenge to address and solve during the first 4 months of the year. If they can’t do that, you might have a bigger issue.

  • Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. it is hard to make something simple.
  • Richard Branson

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

The Ideal Partner – Good Advice From August Aquila

AquilaMy friend, August Aquila, provided us an insightful look at what the ideal partner looks like in his recent newsletter.

I hope your firm has already defined the role of a partner by now. Many firms have not taken this step. What an ideal partner looks like would be a healthy discussion for your January partner meeting.

Here’s Aquila’s top five characteristics that today’s great partner should possess.

  1. We all work for the same firm and there is only one.
  2. We believe in good intentions so there is no finger pointing.
  3. We encourage feedback from our fellow partners, employees and clients since we know we can always do better.
  4. No matter what we say, it is always what we do that counts at the end of the day. If we say we are going to do something we do it. Our word is sacred.
  5. We spoil our clients by providing extraordinary service.

You can reach August Aquila at

Need feedback for your partners?  I can help with that via my Upward Feedback Survey services.

  • Better to fight for something than to live for nothing.
  • George S. Patton

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Cannot Afford To Leave

Today’s post is sort of a follow-on to yesterday’s Sacred Cow post (people who are protected, cannot be fired). There’s probably at least one of those inside your firm, probably more.

What about the people who really don’t want to stay at your firm but, over the years, they have performed adequately (but maybe not) and you have given them annual pay increases and now they make a VERY good salary. They are not passionate about the firm any longer (this could even be partners) and are just “putting in their time”.

EGHQ7ZDZI8I hear it all the time….. “There’s no where else in my area where I can make as much as I do here.” And from the other side, “She’s doing a pretty good job for us and it’s so hard to hire people now.”

Develop a “grow your own” culture where you are continually hiring new college grads and developing them. That way there is always someone who can stretch and fill a spot vacated by a more experienced person. People love challenges and promotions.

Identify your middle stars, people who are not all superstars but they are not falling stars either. Many middle stars are passionate about the firm. Challenge them and help them meet your expectations. If they are unwilling, and too comfortable with status quo, offer them the opportunity to work for another firm.

If you have someone who is working at your firm just because of the money – it’s time to deal with it. Give them a nice severance. Long-term, it’s the right decision.

From the other side, if you are that person, working for an accounting firm although it’s depressing, unchallenging, chaotic and poorly managed, don’t stay just for the money. Life is too short.

  • There's no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there's no excuse for boredom, ever.
  • Viggo Mortensen

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Simplify Your Performance Management Program

FB4DA46AD8This blog often contains information and observations on the topic of CPA firm performance evaluation/management systems. I did a blog in August, another in July and one in March. It wouldn’t hurt to re-read them!

Many large companies are redefining performance management and, per an article on HBR, General Electric is no exception. They want to cultivate empowered, collaborative, cross-functional teams. Don’t we all?

At GE they have a top IT team at their disposal who designed a special smartphone app to support their new approach. Maybe you don’t have the money to develop your own but you can follow their simplified approach, one I have been stressing for several years – keep it simple and communicate continually.

The GE app accepts voice and text inputs, attached documents and even handwritten notes. The sole aim is to facilitate more frequent, meaningful conversations between managers and employees. They call it real-time performance management.

What if your managers simply talked to the people they are currently managing (those assigned to their open engagements) on a daily basis? Just a “check-in” to see if the employee has any questions. Even weekly would be an improvement in most firms. It wouldn’t have to be face to face, it could be via phone or text.

Maybe it is time to draft a development plan for all firm managers to begin moving them from technical, hands-on worker bees towards getting work done through other people. Hold them accountable for real-time performance management. Then they could take on more work that the partners need to delegate and partners could practice real-time performance management.

  • The happiness of the bee and dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it.
  • Jacques Yves Cousteau

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Check-in With Your Team – How Are They Doing With Their Goals?

Before CPAs became so unrealistically busy in the late summer and fall, they used to use September as the month to touch base on goals. Most firms used the cycle of formal, more comprehensive performance feedback in June and set goals for the coming year to begin July 1.

Then in late September or early October, individual face-to-face conversations happened to see how progress was being made, what didn’t seem so important any more and re-align goals for the remainder of the fall and early winter.

Hopefully, you have replaced this method with simplified, direct feedback more often, mentoring conversations on-going and fewer goals with shorter timelines.

Even though you have multiple priorities, your people should be at the top of the list. How are they doing?

Star slideTalk with them soon about their goals for the next 3 months and be sure that you always include some stretch-goals for individuals.

Stretch goal – that cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but require extending oneself to the limit to be actualized. Expressed in the saying, “You cannot cross a chasm in two steps.”

In this time of talent shortage, it’s time to ask your current all-stars and middle-stars to STRETCH and fill the void in the all-star category!

  • They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.
  • Ted Williams

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Performance Management

The Importance of Developing & Retaining Team Members

CPA firms employ many new college graduates. The first two to three years are not easy for them. There is so much to learn that they did not learn in college. Some progress rapidly, some more slowly and some struggle.

The same three speeds often apply to the more experienced team members in your firm. Perhaps, an all-star has hit a plateau, stalled and may be in a decline.

It is a challenging situation for managers, partners and supervisors, wIMG_0972hen they feel like the team member has potential but it is going untapped. One important tool that can help illuminate upward movement in the person’s career path is the use of a specific Development Plan.

The Development Plan is not part of the normal goal-setting process. That needs to continue. The Development Plan is separate and distinct. It is the result of a candid discussion and outlines the steps that need to be taken. The manager and the team member, along with a third party (usually the firm administrator/COO, HR director or managing partner in smaller firms) meet with the team member for a very open and honest discussion that results in the firm committing to help the team members face obstacles and make forward progress.

August Aquila, Aquila Global Advisors, recently provided a sample Performance Development/Improvement Plan in his newsletter.

You can also see a sample of a Development Plan that I used when I was working at a growing firm.

  • There is always stuff to work on. You are never there.
  • Tiger Woods

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Two Million Hours Per Year on Performance Management

Maybe you read the article back in April. It came across on Twitter again this week.

It is on the Harvard Business Review site and is from their April, 2015 issue and it is about a Big Four firm that has drastically changed their performance feedback approach. The article – Reinventing Performance Management is by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

It goes something like this (and it makes sense). The big firm realized how labor intensive it is to gather, analyze, collaborate on and provide feedback on performance. The end result being that the feedback was not that helpful. They need something nimbler, real-time, and more individualized. I like that terminology. The Big Four and all of us working in CPA firm management want something focused on fueling performance in the future rather than assessing it in the past.

I have been saying for many years that if you don’t update your performance management system, everyone ends up dreading them – the people getting feedback and the people giving feedback. It is looked at as drudgery.

This particular Big Four firm found that their old way of creating the ratings consumed close to 2 million hours a year!

Please follow the link and read about the 4 future-focused statements that leaders/managers at the firm are being asked about their subordinates.

They are asking leaders what they would do with their team members, not what they think of them. I like that.

What I don’t like, personally, is that a Big Four firm gets written up in the Harvard Business Review for enacting this wonderful process and if you talk to people in the local offices, the well-publicized national initiatives (whatever they may be) are not being implemented.

Local and regional CPA firm partners, look at YOUR process this year and determine if it is time to revise it. Once revised, I know you will implement! It is part of your ammunition for retaining top performers.

  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
  • Aristotle

Monday, July 6th, 2015

What If You Are Paying Too Much?

Many firms have long-time administrative people, good performers, and just because of their annual wage increases over many years they are significantly above the pay scale for administrative people in the firm’s geographic area.

Some firms only give cost of living increases. Some firms have even capped wages completely.

I do encounter this issue in many CPA firms. What I always ask is, “Are they doing more than they did last year?”

By more I mean something out of their routine assignments they have been performing for years. Have they read a book that could enhance their skills, have they tried and completed Microsoft Office User accreditation (Google MOS Certification to find more info), have they participated in cross-training and any other proactive activities?

If they are participating in goal-setting each year and achieving goals than some reward is appropriate. However, what I usually find is that these long-time administrative people are “protected.” Meaning that they have been with the firm so long and loyal to a partner so long, that they will never be pushed to step-up or step-out. In fact, many are sometimes still resisting all of the technology that is available.

Another goal you might consider is to ask administrative employees to join IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals) and attend local chapter meetings (of course the firm should support them by covering expenses). There is a certification available via IAAP, also.

After all of this rambling, I guess the short answer is, as their supervisor you should be aggressive in asking them to continually improve and do more or work more efficiently to earn a pay increase. Keep in mind you are running a business and keeping salaries “at market” is always something to strive for.

I strongly recommend always paying for performance. If an admin person or even a partner is simply doing what they have always done, not expending time and effort to gain new knowledge or skills, why should they get a pay increase?

  • Aren't we all striving to be overpaid for what we do?
  • Will Ferrell