Friday, May 11th, 2012

Being A Good Manager

Inside CPA firms, the word “manager” is not very clearly defined.

For many firms it is a name they give a person who has developed solid technical accounting, auditing or tax skills over a period of time. I believe the term “manager” applies to partners, managers, supervisors and even seniors inside an accounting firm. After all, they are expected to manage the client engagement and the work of people who are more junior than themselves. They are the boss in many situations.

Google, inside their own organization, decided to explore the question, “What makes a good boss?” and called the the study Project Oxygen.

They discovered that what you might think would be the top characteristic, the ability to write computer code in your sleep, came in last. I imagine that inside an accounting firm, being a great tax mind or having extremely advanced auditing skills would also come in last as an indicator of being a great boss.

Here’s Project Oxygen‘s findings, Google’s “Eight Good Behaviors” of top managers, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Be a good coach. Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive. Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage. Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being. Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work. Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.
  4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented. Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it. Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team. Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information. Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots. Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team. Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy. Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team. Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed. Understand the specific challenges of the work.

CPA firms focus so much time and so many dollars on training their youngest team members. They are sent to Level I, II, III and maybe more for audit training. The firm funds their education in “beginning tax,” “advanced tax” and more. Managers and partners review their work and critique their skills in tax preparation, auditing and accounting. Why not invest in helping accountants become better bosses?

An idea:  Firm owners, why not consider devoting this year’s partner retreat to the topic of how you are going to spend dollars and time training yourselves, your managers and even your seniors on how to be better managers of people? Develop an action plan outlining steps you need to take to become better leaders, as partners, and how you will develop future leaders inside your firm. Some call it succession planning; I call it running a good firm.

In public accounting firms, true leadership training rarely happens. I strongly urge you, plead with you, even beg you – begin leadership training from Day One – just like you do with tax and accounting training.  Contact me if you need help.

 

  • "No man goes before his time; unless the boss leaves early."
  • Groucho Marx

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