Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Who Is My Boss?

“There is nothing so exasperating as a confused chain of command.”

I read the above quote in a novel a long time ago. It came to mind recently when I was working with a client. In many CPA firms, there is a partner group and a manager group and it seems all other employees work for all of them.

You have a managing partner. Do his/her directives out-weigh the requests made by other partners? Where does the Firm Administrator or COO fit in the picture? The Firm Administrator is responsible for a smooth workflow and efficient processes and procedures. Is it widely assumed that any partner can by-pass those established procedures?

Many firms seem to lack focus when it comes to establishing a chain-of-command. Some partner groups govern as a committee. Most partner groups govern by consensus. If you have ever been part of a committee you know how slowly things move and how much time is wasted on endless discussions. If you have had the task of gaining complete consensus you also know how frustrating that can be.

Even if the formal management structure is not a committee, client service partners want to be involved in all of the “management” decisions, even things as small as the weight of the paper that is selected for firm letterhead. Yes, I still hear these stories!

As more senior partners retire and firms transition to new leadership (a new managing partner), I hope they will better define the chain of command and the organizational structure of the firm.

Consider a firm governance model that is shared throughout the firm.

Publish a firm Champion List. It is a guide that identifies the go-to person for expert advice on each software package used at the firm or for each segment and discipline inside the firm.

Lay-out a simple organizational chart that shows the chain-of-command and where each person “fits” in the firm. It helps newcomers and even more experienced team members understand where the firm administrator fits or how the partner group governs itself. An org chart can be helpful in large firms and small firms alike.

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

Monday, October 14th, 2019

A Shadow Board

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” ~Erica Jong,

Are you aware of the term “shadow board?” I have been a proponent of the concept for many years but had never heard it called a shadow board.

Per an informative article via Harvard Business Review by Jennifer Jordan and Michael Sorell:

A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.

Read the success stories in the article about major companies that have had great success with shadow boards.

One of your major tools for engaging your younger team members should be, what I call, a Staff Advisory Board (or Team Advisory Board, TAB). Invite a small group of younger employees to meet with the managing partner or executive committee on a regular basis to provide feedback and ideas about issues facing the firm.

Another idea, to make it more accessible, is to select the participants from an open application process. It might surprise you who applies. Rotate members of the TAB over time, maybe having them serve two-year terms. It depends on the size of your firm.

Provide the TAB with meaningful issues such as how to improve the firm’s scheduling system, or what additional employee benefits might be appropriate. Adjust your Team Advisory Board program as it matures and you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Long-time partners often forget what it’s like to be a 3-year staff person. Plus, times have changed. It’s not the “good old days” any longer.

  • The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.
  • Hannah Whitall Smith

Friday, October 11th, 2019

Down to the Wire

“Boredom is a choice. Like tardiness. Or interrupting” – Mike Rowe

Another due date is approaching. Usually, in public accounting, the same thing happens with every deadline, whether it is Spring or Fall.

There is a last-minute push to get that final return out the door. It is hectic and stressful for everyone. Deadlines in most firms are dreaded, especially by the administrative team.

The accountants breathe a sigh of relief. Things are off their desk and it is time for the celebration to begin at 4:30 in the lunchroom. While the party is ramping up and pats-on-the-back are exchanged, the administrative team is still frantically working. They are processing those last returns, they are waiting on Last Minute Larry (client) to stop by to sign something or they must actually get in their car and deliver something to a client.

Progressive firms have worked on this issue and devised a proper scheduling system so that tax returns and other projects do not hit the reviewer’s desk with little time to spare. Reviewers keep the flow moving steadily so that the admin team does not have to rush around at the last minute (and miss the after-party, as usual).

Usually, this scenario is blamed on the client. Why not establish a more aggressive system for obtaining client source data? Why not outplace clients who are repeat offenders? Clients can be trained.

 

  • An expert is someone called in at the last minute to share the blame.
  • Sam Ewing

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Life On A Plateau

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” – Dan Rather

Plateau meaning: to reach a state or level of little or no growth or decline, especially to stop increasing or progressing; remain at a stable level of achievement; level off.

The firm has plateaued. It was once growing steadily, and maybe even rapidly. Firm rainmakers retired and the next generation of owners don’t seem to be as skilled or experienced at bringing in new business. They have been making an extremely comfortable living for the past several years (often many years). So life is good at the top.

The “let’s just get the tax returns out the door” mentality has filtered down to the managers and seniors. The firm is paperless, well almost. The firm is doing so may nice things for the team, but haven’t added anything new lately. We’re not a sweatshop firm, so all is well.

We wonder why several of our new hires have left already. Oh, well.

How boring!! If your firm is not growing, it’s shrinking. Get off of that plateau.

  • I'm always improving and I want to get better and never hit a plateau. I find it an amazing adventure.
  • Nigel Kennedy

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Always Too Busy

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Harvey Mackay

You are thinking:

  • I would like to investigate that new niche opportunity.
  • I have heard that XXXXX software has really improved its performance. I should check it out.
  • I need to make phone calls to my top 10 clients every quarter.

BUT, I don’t have time.

Most people DO have time, they just choose to do some things and not others.

Many people desperately need some basic time management education.

Leaders often get caught up in the short term and postpone spending valuable time on long term planning because short term might be more profitable.

Schedule your time. Determine what is essential to your career and firm growth. Find your time-wasters and eliminate them. Re-think your routine and how you can capture more time to do the things you actually WANT to do.

  • You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.
  • Charles Brixton

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

PCPS 2019 Top Issues

“If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

I should have shared these sooner. 2019 is passing by too quickly.

How does your firm line-up? Hopefully, you have addressed some of these issues this summer.

2019 PCPS Top Issues

Sole Practitioners

  1. Keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws
  2. Managing privacy / security risks
  3. Keeping up with changes in technology & managing associated costs
  4. Technical training of owners / partners and staff
  5. Seasonality / workload compression

2 – 5 Professionals

  1. Finding qualified staff
  2. Keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws
  3. Managing privacy / security risks
  4. Seasonality / workload compression
  5. Developing & executing a succession plan

6 – 10 Professionals

  1. Finding qualified staff
  2. Keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws
  3. Seasonality / workload compression
  4. Managing privacy / security risks
  5. Developing & executing a succession plan

11 – 20 Professionals

  1. Finding qualified staff
  2. Keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws
  3. Seasonality / workload compression
  4. Retaining qualified staff
  5. Managing Privacy / security tisks

21+ Professionals

  1. Finding qualified staff
  2. Retaining qualified staff
  3. Managing work/life balance initiatives
  4. Owner / Partner accountability & unity
  5. Seasonality / workload compression & Managing privacy/security risks

 

  • There's no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.
  • Betty Williams

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Commitments Rather Than Mission Statements

“Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.”―Ken Blanchard

I enjoy reading Jeffrey Gitomer’s thoughts, rants, and raves: books, articles and information on his website. If you are not familiar with him, he is a sales guy who has a whole lot to say about business and much of it strongly applies to CPAs. 

Here’s some information, from Gitomer, about client service.

Are you having a fall retreat? Are you going to talk about client retention? It’s a big management concern for CPA firms. It is much more difficult to bring in a new client than it is to retain old ones.

Don’t use your valuable time at a retreat to talk about things you will never do (or live-up to). Focus on the absolute truths you are willing to commit to in relation to serving your clients. I agree with Gitomer in that most mission statements are B.S. Define your future actions on what you REALLY intend to do, not what you wish you could do. 

As Gitomer states, “You might want to compare this list of commitments to what you are doing in your company with and to your customers. And you may want to TRASH your self-serving mission statement that NO ONE could recite even if someone was pointing a gun at them.”

Here are a few items from his customer promise and commitment list. 

We will be friendly.
We will be professional.
We will have what clients want when they want it.
We will answer the phone on the second ring with a live person.
We will be easy to do business with.
We will keep you informed as we progress.
We will recover memorably when an error occurs.
We will kiss ass and we will do it with a smile.
We will lead by example – always walking our talk.
and on and on….. 

Organize a lunch and learn session with your team and add to this list. What are you willing to do? Determine it and then DO THINGS!

  • There is only one boss. The customer―and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.
  • Sam Walton

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Is This You?

“If in anything I have faith in something you could call the human spirit – I have faith it will always save itself at the last minute.” – Vashti Bunyan

There is a cast of characters working inside every CPA firm. You probably give them nicknames. Just maybe you are one of those famous characters yourself.

The nickname – Last Minute Larry or Last Minute Lisa might apply to more than one partner in your firm. They just simply seem to be unable to manage their clients who are also last-minute types.

Lighten-up, maybe this shirt would be a great gift!

IMG_0715

 

  • We humans appear on the cosmic calendar so recently that our recorded history occupies only the last few seconds of the last minute of December 31st.
  • Carl Sagan

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

Deal With Toxic People

“If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples.” – Philip Zimbardo

I am continually amazed at how many accounting firm leaders tolerate toxic employees.

Over the years, it is one of the issues that I discover inside many firms both large and small. It is the classic case where someone’s work product is fine but almost all of their peers dislike them and even fear them. In some cases, the offender ignores firm guidelines and openly belittles people.

They seem to serve the clients okay, but do you know for sure? Have talented people left your firm because you continually protect the “Attila the Hun” personality type?

Now is the time to deal with it before you get into another busy season.

I have blogged about this topic often hoping it will inspire leaders to deal with bad apples. Yet, the situations still seems to flourish. Here’s an informative article from HBR that might convince you to take action – How One Corrupt Employee Can a Whole Team.

  • Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
  • Epicurus

Friday, September 13th, 2019

Working the Weekend

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” – Rita Mae Brown

It’s Friday the 13th. The September extension due date is Monday because the 15th falls on Sunday.

In progressive, efficient and profitable firms, Friday is the final day, the due date. They won’t be delivering tax returns at the last minute on Monday.

Their valuable team will not be working this Saturday and Sunday.

If you are not in this group, you should strive to attain this practice when future due dates roll around.

 

  • As you schedule individual tasks, give yourself a cushion. Mark the due date a few days ahead of the actual deadline so you have time to deal with changes or last-minute emergencies.
  • Harvey Mackay