Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Engaging Your People & Improving Everyone’s Health

My good friends at prominent New Jersey firm Wilkin & Guttenplan (managing partner Ed Guttenplan and firm administrator Janine Zirrith) never cease to amaze me. They are truly focused on listening to their people, engaging them and including them in decisions.

This year, along with many other interesting and fun activities, they have tweaked their exercise program by offering T25 classes twice per week.

Janine was kind enough to send me a picture, that’s her on the far right and yes, they are holding the managing partner, Ed Guttenplan.

Having fun at your CPA firm right now?


  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
  • Agatha Christie

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Don’t Always Believe It

I try to provide CPAs and all the people working inside CPA firms with helpful information via my presentations, workshops, newsletter, consulting activities and this blog.

Much of it comes from my many years of actual experience working inside a growing, profitable CPA firm. Some of it also comes from my extensive reading…. of books, articles, newsletters, blogs, tweets, and so on.

There is so much great information out there now via the internet. Just a word of caution, as you probably already know – - not all of it is true. I’m trying to be very careful in what I pass along and I want you to also be very careful when you hear about or read about certain trends, strategies and best practices.

My mission today is to simply share an example.

photoOn the topic of goal-setting, I have read about and heard about a study conducted by Harvard Business School over a 10-year period. The study reported that only 3% of Harvard MBAs actually write down their goals – 97% do not. The study also reported that the 3% ended up being much more successful and, over the 10-year period, were making ten times as much as the other 97% combined.

This study eventually was discovered to be fiction. Here’s the answer to an inquiry made to Harvard “Ask a Librarian” site:

I think you are referring to the “Harvard Goals Study,” reports of which periodically surface in motivational literature. We have been asked repeatedly about this research, but we have never been able to find such a study. It is frequently cited as having transpired at Yale, but librarians there have not found a trace either. 

Read the entire Harvard response here.

You can also read more about this goal-setting story here. I found it quite interesting.

The moral of the story? Be careful out there!

  • Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The CPA Firm Partner Compensation Process…. Or, Should I Call It An Ordeal?

Yes, I call it the PCO – Partner Comp Ordeal. It happens at most CPA firms in December.

All partners received adequate salaries during the year (which need to be set using logic and historical information – not every partner gets the same amount). Then in December, the remaining profit needs to be allocated to the owner group (with some extra usually going to non-owner owners – an oxymoron to me anyway).

There is no exact one-way to do CPA firm partner compensation – - it has to align with the desires and needs of the actual owners and the size of the firm and number of partners. As for my opinion, it is the same as my opinion on a lot of things inside a CPA firm – Keep It Simple – as it relates to your size firm and PAY FOR PERFORMANCE.

I have several good friends and colleagues in the CPA firm consulting world who offer lots of good advice on this topic.

IMG_1902Marc Rosenberg’s blog post, ‘Tis the Season – The Comp Committee Season – is very informative and features 10 tips on how to run a Compensation Committee. Here just a few of the numbered topics in his post:

#1 – Communicate. If the partners don’t understand how the Compensation Committee works, and don’t understand how their income was determined, it will fail.

#3 – Align compensation with what the firm needs from each partner.

#5 – Resist the temptation to equalize final distributions. Only through a quirk of fate will all partners be equal contributors to the firm’s performance.

#7 – Make sure that the managing partner’s input on overall partner performance has more impact on income allocation than any other single partner, including Compensation Committee members.

#8 – Reward for more than production (management, mentoring staff, teamwork, loyalty).

#9 – Resist the temptation to adjust the final income allocation to avoid a War with a problem partner who will go ballistic if he/she sees an income number that fails to meet expectations.

I strongly urge you to re-read #9. Don’t, annually, avoid the obvious. Partners who are not role models, who are childish and who go ballistic should be gone. Make a plan for that in 2014.

rak gla 2002Gary Adamson of Adamson Advisory offers The Partner Compensation Checklist. I think you will find it very helpful. I agree with his point that partner goal-setting and results are a very important item on the checklist.

Many firms still rely on formulas. I once knew a firm administrator who spent the majority of her time tracking the partner compensation formula stats throughout the year.

I like to quote Allan Koltin on partner compensation formulas: “Numbers ARE deceiving! Show me a formula and I’ll show you how to beat it. Trust leadership to make the call.”IMG_2335

On the topic of trust, I want to share a comment from David Maister in an interview about partner compensation:

“Recently, I was advising a firm on its compensation system. They didn’t like my recommendations. Finally, one of the partners said, ‘David, all your recommendations are based on the assumption that we trust each other and trust our executive and compensation committees. We don’t. Give us a system that doesn’t require us to trust each other!’”

Final thought… what do your people think? It’s not extremely important that you are one of the firm founders. It’s more about how you rated on the partner upward evaluation survey, the partner peer survey and the client satisfaction survey.

  • The only way you motivate people and change them is one-on-one. Everything else is window dressing.
  • David Maister

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Hosting Your Firm’s Holiday Party

Year after year, the same old thing. The annual CPA firm holiday party – a dinner event at a local hotel ballroom or perhaps a country club. Yep, boring.

Firms are getting more and more creative. Some have entertainment that is not the same old “dinner/dance” theme. Who wants to dance in front of your co-workers??? We all remember Elaine’s famous dance style on Seinfeld.

I read an article this morning about Gleason & Associates, a Pittsburgh firm, who outgrew their usual restaurant and ended up at the James Gallery and Frame Foundry.

How about hosting your event at the local art museum, historical society, maybe even at one of your clients sites?

One year we had a ventriloquist. It was different, that’s for sure, and a lot of fun.




  • You find out your mistakes from an audience that pays admission.
  • Edgar Bergen

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Women In Accounting, What Are You Wearing?

Many, many of you reading this blog post know me, you have been reading my “stuff” for a long time (I’ve been blogging daily since January 2006), you have heard me speak in person, worked with me via CPA firm associations or state CPA associations/societies….. You know I can’t help it.  I have to speak my mind!

Why do so many women in accounting look like drab, boring technicians?

Sure, for special occasions they put on a suit or a dress and jacket, let their pasty legs show and just maybe wear some heels rather the flat, school-teacher-ish shoes they usually wear daily.

I do notice that CPA women working in public accounting dress slightly better than those working in private industry. Is it because they do have more actual client contact? Probably.

I’m not going to leave the men out of this…. CPA firm male leaders, maybe if you took the females along on business lunches and to meet with clients, they might have a reason to dress more stylishly. Also, a reminder for the men – - professional men, wearing business casual with no socks is so 1980s!

All of this came to mind because of some comments I read about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer.

Read this article on the Vogue site about Mayer and her style.

Another interesting article (the one that first caught my attention) is on the Forbes site – To Heal Or Not To Heel: They Question For Ambitious Women by Bonnie Marcus. To me this one addresses the female CPA puzzle – - – do I wear the business suit costume and try to look like the males? That’s the Baby Boomer business culture where I “grew up” in public accounting. Now we have more choices and can still dress with power AND style.

Check out this picture of Sandberg on the cover of time.

Check out this article in Vogue – What would Marissa Mayer Wear? – A Workweek guide to office dressing. Click through the five days and see what you think.

I was always told, “dress like the position you aspire to.” If you are happy, dressing like an office worker-bee, nose to the grindstone, cranking out the work (the numbers), then I guess you are happy dressing in flats, black slacks and a cardigan.

All of this is food for thought… for men and women professionals working in the CPA profession. I hear so many male AND female leaders in CPA firms say, “I think our business casual dress policy has gone too far in the wrong direction.”

As one female said to me many years ago, “We aren’t going to adopt a business casual policy at our firm, the women would have to dress-up to get there.”

  • Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself - traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting.
  • Sheryl Sandberg

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

How Long Will CPAs Over 65 Continue To Work?

While this is a huge topic inside CPA firms, I just want to cover it in very brief terms today.

The following quote that I read on Brad Lea’s Twitter feed was intended to be motivating, I’m sure. However, it sums up the feelings of many aging CPAs and accountants and it is not always a positive situation for younger partners and staff members at the firm:

“If I ain’t dead…. I ain’t done.”

I hope that your partner group has a plan to deal with this.

  • Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.
  • Gloria Steinem

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – Time For Something Off-Topic, Humorous or Even Weird

FcclogoThis weekend’s “lighten-up” post is not a lighten-up one for me. It is somewhat off-topic and it is somewhat depressing (for me)! Please forgive me this weekend – I never try to be negative with my blog posts. Today is an exception.

You have probably read that the FCC is now formally considering a proposal that would allow you to make phone calls above 10,000 feet.

As a frequent flyer – I’m not at all happy about this. I am not looking forward to hearing people on each side of me gabbing away on their phones during a flight. It is bad enough hearing (mostly Baby Boomers and older) people talking (usually quite loudly) with their business associates when sitting at the gate awaiting a flight.

It’s bad enough now when we land and people begin immediately telephoning their family/friends, whoever, that they have landed.

Thank goodness young people don’t use the phone that much! They text, IM or tweet (in silence).

I understand, that if approved, the airlines will have the final say in whether they allow phone calls in the air. I guess each individual airlines policy might guide my choice of airlines, unless the all approve it.  So far, Delta say they plan to continue their ban regardless of the FCC policy.

  • You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.
  • Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

You Have Engaged Employees. Do You Have Intrapreneurs?

It might seem like I am constantly nagging you about employee engagement. Of course, it is very important for all employers but certainly critical for the CPA profession.


Image from Gallup

Image from Gallup

Per Gallup, an alarming 70% of American employees aren’t working to their full potential, and they’re slowing economic growth.

Let’s say that inside your public accounting firm you do have a lot of young, engaged employees. My first point is that in CPA firms, we often recruit bright, energetic, positive focused individuals from the college campus and we soon, so to speak…. suck the life out of them!

Young accounting graduates, like most people, want challenging work – continually challenging work so they can gain valuable experience. In your firm, do not let long-time managers cling to the more difficult work! Assign it to the seniors and staff and, if you have to, FORCE your managers and partners to do manager and partner-level work.

Okay, so you have many Engaged employees. Larry Myler, a contributor on the Forbes site, tells us that there is a level of employee beyond one that is engaged.

This level of engaged employee is called an Intrapreneur - An employee who is both willing and able to develop ad implement innovative solutions, thereby adding surprising value to some or all of the organization’s stakeholders.

An Intrapreneur is aware of the bigger picture, including strategic goals, customer desires, competitive threats and the need for continuous improvement. They act like leaders by creating value through cost-reducing and revenue-increasing innovation.

CPA leaders – Take a few minutes to follow the links provided and learn more about this type of employee. Then cultivate them. Don’t let the weeds choke them out.


  • Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.
  • General George Patton

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Trends In Accounting Firm Marketing

IMG_2681_2Eric Majchrzak is the Chief Marketing Officer for BeachFleischman CPAs, one of Arizona’s largest locally-owned CPA firms and a Top 200 largest accounting firm in the U.S.

I have been a huge fan of Eric’s for several years and appreciate all of the sharing he does to help me, and others, understand and stay on top of current trends in marketing CPA firms.

In a recent interview on Accounting Today TV, Senior Editor Danielle Lee asked Eric about the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities accounting firm marketers are facing.

One definite challenge is the fact that accounting firms are selling something that people do not want – tax returns and financial statements. Who has ever heard a client say, “I just love getting audited!” or “What a thrill to get my taxes done!”.

Eric explains it as the challenge of marketing commodity services and the role of the marketer involves helping the firm identify and offer specialty services like sustainability, Green and specialty taxes.

Another challenge for marketers is dealing with the multiple “masters” inside professional service firms. They must learn to deal with varying personalities and multiple decision-makers.

When it comes to opportunities, CPA firm marketers must become more proactive rather reactive. Help the CPAs with strategic planning, brand platform and pricing options, just to name a few.

Over 50% of people in the US have a smart phone and marketers must find a way to be relevant with content that is short but sweet when dealing with the complex issues that CPAs can solve for clients.

Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the full interview.

  • Marketing is too important to be left just to the marketing department.
  • Philip Almond, marketing director, Diageo

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Getting It Straight – Mentors, Coaches and Sponsors In The CPA Profession

photoInside CPA firms we do a lot of talking about mentoring but often we demonstrate very little action. When I ask participants in my presentations if they have a mentoring program most of them say, “Yes”. However, when I ask how these programs are working I usually get “So-so” as an answer.

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between mentoring and coaching. If you Google these words you will get a lot of differing opinions on what they mean and how to go about being a mentor or a coach in the business world. I will add my voice to the masses and tell you how I think it plays out inside a successful CPA firm.

I believe that a mentor is a listener, a sounding board, a wise resource to guide and steer you as your evolve, develop and gain experience in your career.

I believe a coach is someone more active. Think of a basketball or football coach – they actually show you (run down the field or court beside you and give you detailed instructions….”keep your elbows in and head down!”

In a CPA firm both roles are needed.  I like to see mentoring programs have a foundation of coaching.  The first year or so, beginners really need a coach (or buddy), someone who knows how to actually do the work, use the software, etc. and then they evolve to where they need more of a mentoring situation (and this usually is a different person) who is more of a career counselor.

As with everything, mentoring is under-going some changes in the professional service firm world. If a mentor and a coach aren’t enough, we are now reading and hearing more and more about having a “Sponsor” as your develop your career.

Honestly, I think that what we have inside CPA firms is really more of a sponsor relationship.  It is more of an “I will help you and in return you will help me” type of relationship.  A Sponsor builds a relationship with people (by helping them succeed) and they give back to the sponsor by helping them (and replacing them) so they can go on to bigger and better things.  It’s like succession – - – I will teach you, train you and promote you and you will help me handle my clients and responsibilities better and eventually replace me.

Here’s how an article on FAST Company  describes it:

“You might be tapped for development, but you’re not going to be given a ride on the coattails of anyone who doesn’t see you pulling your weight (and then some). Mentors may pick you, but you pick your sponsors by committing yourself to their best interests.”

Read this entire article (it’s short) and you’ll see what I mean.


  • I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
  • Robert Frost