Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

Hard Work

“A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”  – Colin Powell

As part of the CPAFMA Strategy Leadership & Growth Accelerator Session yesterday, I was asked to talk for just 10  minutes about TALENT. Because I am again speaking today on TALENT, I decided to approach it from a different angle for the Strategy session  If you want to hear more of the nitty-gritty about hiring, interviewing, and retaining employees, please tune in today when I will be part of the Talent & People Accelerator.

We hear Talent talked about so much in the CPA profession. Let’s explore what we really mean by the word “Talent.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, when larger firms were shedding people (mostly poor performers), I anticipated that more qualified people would be in the job market and firms below the Top 100 might attract some people who were experienced and capable.

What I am seeing is that didn’t happen. All of my clients and other firms in my sphere tell me that they are trying (several, almost desperately) to find more people with the skills and desire to work and succeed in public accounting.

Recently, I listened to a Ted talk by Suzanne Lucas @realevilhrlady. She writes and advises on HR topics. The subject of her Ted talk was FORGET TALENT AND GET TO WORK. I agree with her viewpoint on this and feel like it is an issue in the CPA profession. It is only 8 minutes long, you should listen to it.

She talked about Talent and the use of the word in hiring. Sometimes the words we use distort our intentions. We don’t talk about people anymore. We talk about Talent. Look at the titles of many of the webinars you have attended and articles you have read!  We talk about talent management and talent assessment and we moan about talent shortages.

For example, here are some titles of articles in CPA publications:

  • The Accounting Profession: Talents that Matter
  • How to Motivate & Retain Your Talent (JofA)
  • How to Win the Game of Talent (JofA)
  • Where Should You be Looking for Top Talent (AT)
  • I have spoken and written on the topic of Hiring and Retaining Top Talent numerous times!

We seem to think that talent is something you are born with. That a 4.0 GPA means you have talent. In our world, what talent means is you have the above-average ability to master accounting firm work very rapidly.

The definition of the word is: A special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude. b : general intelligence or mental power : ability. 2 : the natural endowments of a person. 

If we believe that music requires talent and that we could never do it – we are wrong. We probably could.

People that made a true impact in the world did it through hard work. Yes, Mozart composed his first piece of music at age 5, and, yes he was talented. Lin-Manuel Miranda says it took him about seven years to write Hamilton. It took him one year alone to write the second song in the show, “My Shot.” He did it through hard work and dedication.

What we really seek are people who are trainable and can develop skills. Skill is something you gain through hard work and dedication.

Could I learn to paint or learn to play the piano? Of course. I don’t have natural talent but I could do it through a lot of hard work.

I never did the hard work to be able to run a marathon – I could have but I preferred ice cream and long leisurely walks.

When we are hiring, we need to ask, “Can this person learn what we have to teach?” Does she have the determination to learn hard things? We all know that fresh college accounting graduates can’t do the work in public accounting right away but do they have the grit to learn? Have they worked hard in the past? Have they failed and then succeeded?

I have heard many, many very successful CPA partners say “I certainly didn’t have a 4.0 GPA.” The average student (not considered top talent) has often become an expert and a very highly-compensated CPA firm partner.

Just about anybody can learn just about anything if they are willing to work hard.

Google asked what makes great employees and perfect grades were not at the top of the list. What was? Listening, critical thinking and problem solving.

It isn’t all about being endowed with natural talent, it is about the hard work of building skills.

CPA firms should be more willing to make significant investments in quality training & development. If more focus was put on training/development you might find that you have more productive and skilled people working at your firm, formerly considered average performers. I still hear horror stories about new hires more or less being thrown to the wolves, so to speak.

Many years ago, I began to talk about team members rather than using the words staff or employees. I thought if we used the word TEAM enough we might actually become one. Why not put more focus on seeking team members who are willing to work hard and develop the skills necessary to be CPA and not stress the word TALENT so much?

I still believe that it takes grit and perseverance to become successful in the public accounting world. Look for people who have demonstrated passion and dedication followed by hard work to build skills. They will succeed.

  • "Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work."
  • David Ogilvy, advertising business tycoon

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