Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Be Old-Fashioned

“A friend often says I’m an old man in a young man’s husk. I like that. I am old-fashioned in some ways.” – Daniel Radcliffe

When I am talking with CPA firms about communication, I stress the importance of outward communication – how they communicate with the outside world.

Of course, social media is the strongest outward communication tool to clients and prospects. Your website is SO important. Email remains the strongest communication vehicle for accountants. Yet, there is still room to be old-fashioned. Try communicating via U.S. Mail via a handwritten card or note.

How nice is it for a client to get an actual birthday card signed by you? Maybe you could send your best clients a card to acknowledge the anniversary of them becoming a client including a brief comment from you. Using a handwritten note to acknowledge the client’s child, like a birth, graduation or marriage would be greatly appreciated by a long-time client.

A meaningful gesture is to have the staff accountant on a year-end engagement handwrite a brief thank-you note to the client, sign it, and have the manager and partner also sign it. Express how glad you are to have them as a client and be sure to compliment them on the cooperation of their bookkeeper or controller.

I’m glad there are still times to be old-fashioned!

  • Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old fashioned quite suddenly.
  • Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

Flexible Has Become Our Culture

“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” – Everett Dirksen

Even before the pandemic, accounting firms were figuring out how to offer employees more flexibility and still maintain the level of production to meet the needs of the firm and the clients. My question is, is there danger in becoming too flexible?

As I have observed, it goes back to my favorite topic – communication. It also involves accountability.

As your people begin to come back to the office, you will be negotiating with each one individually as to what they want their works hours and locations to be like.

Managing people is not an easy task and if you are trying to manage people on-site and people in the virtual world it becomes even murkier. Managing people, for CPAs, has not been a highly-developed skill.

Whether managing people in person or remotely, too much flexibility and independence can set a low-performance bar if not paired with strong accountability.

Expecting people to do what they say they will do, on time, without reminders sets the stage for expectations. If people have proved they cannot do this, then they need more of your supervisory time.

Set clear expectations – This is another area where partners and managers often fail. The new generation of workers wants you to be very clear about what you expect. Most are very willing to do the work required and put in the hours necessary if they clearly understand what you expect.

Accountability – Here’s one recommendation that might work well for your remote and even your in-house workers. Check-in with your direct reports at the beginning of the week, let them work for a week in their own individual style (it might not be 8 to 5 hours), and then regroup the following week.

Closing thought: Too much flexibility and lack of communication can create a culture of poor performance if there is a lack of accountability.

  • The pandemic has definitely forced companies and leaders to look at how we treat people—what are people’s needs? I also think it’s been a real eye-opener.”
  • Nicole Lipkin

Monday, September 20th, 2021

Communication – Your Firm’s Biggest Challenge

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

I am delighted to be speaking to the Illinois Chapter of the CPA Firm Management Association on Thursday this week.

I have spoken to them several times over the years. Of course, then it was in person and I had to travel to Chicago. This week it will be a “Team” presentation and I will enjoy talking with the members during the presentation and after and I do not have to leave my office.

My topic will be Communication – Your Firm’s Biggest Challenge.

Any time I get a call from a firm about a particular challenge, issue, or problem it can almost always be traced back to a communication problem. When I talk with team members without the partners present, I always hear that communication is one of their highest concerns. There are eight different ways of CPA firm communication:

  1. The firm to the outside world
  2. Leaders to Leaders
  3. Leaders to team (downward)
  4. Team to Leaders (upward)
  5. Performance feedback
  6. Mentoring
  7. Male vs. Female
  8. Listening

If you are interested in having me talk to your team or association about CPA firm communication, don’t hesitate to contact me.

  • When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.
  • Abraham Lincoln

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Check-Ins – Flashback Friday

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar

Now that you don’t actually see many of your employees every day, it is more important than ever to have frequent check-ins to find how they are doing and how they are progressing on their goals.

Read more in this Friday flashback post.

I HOPE you will enjoy this 3-day holiday weekend although I know that probably isn’t the case for many of you with the September due date just around the corner.

  • Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.
  • Bear Bryant

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

Build A Marketing Culture

“Doubt is a killer. You just have to know who you are and what you stand for.” -Jennifer Lopez

As baby boomers retire and many of them have already, the firm is usually faced with a shortage of rainmakers. Of course, their knowledge and experience with technical work are also missed.

Firms have spent many years and a lot of money developing technical experts. But, have they spent many years and lots of money developing rainmakers? The answer is no.

It is so important to instill the responsibility and expertise for bringing in new business in everyone working at the firm, especially the younger accountants. I have observed that firm leaders don’t begin early enough to develop future rainmakers. Here are some suggestions on how to build enthusiasm for marketing.

Marketing Education From Day One – As part of orientation, be sure your new hire spends some time with your marketing director (or firm administrator) to learn about firm marketing efforts. One marketing director gives the newbies a “tour” of the marketing closet, showing them the firm marketing collateral and giving them their business cards on the first day. Set a goal for them to distribute their business card to twenty people their first week at the firm. Assure them that they can give it to friends and even relatives, just for the practice. The marketing director has a lot to teach new hires.

Provide Opportunities to Practice – Organize a marketing skills lunch and learn for staff. At my firm, we even talked about the proper way to shake hands and had them practice with each other. Have them develop their elevator speech (how they quickly describe what they do and who they work for in an informative and brief way).

Establish Accountability – A simple, easy-to-use marketing activity report is an important tool for new staff. Sometimes, even managers need marketing education. The marketing activity report is submitted to the marketing director every month.

Leaders Setting The Example – Young people learn from observing others. Do all your partners frequently attend community and business events? Are your partners writing articles for the firm newsletter? Do you have some partners who blog, tweet, or do podcasts?

Always Have A Shadow – Partners and more experienced accountants should always offer to take a beginner along on a prospect meeting. When you have a lunch meeting with a current client, invite a beginner. You can flatter your important client by saying, “Today I have asked Ned Newbie to join us for lunch. He is new to the firm and just learning how CPAs work. I thought he could learn benefit from attending a lunch meeting with an important client like you.”

Building the enthusiasm for marketing doesn’t happen naturally for accountants. Don’t wait until a manager is being considered for partnership before they know that bringing in business is an expectation.

  • Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.
  • Zig Ziglar

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Focus On Your Remote Culture

“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.” – Mark Sanborn

It is pretty much a given now that many accounting firms will continue to have remote workers. Some will be completely remote and some will be hybrid. Hybrid is what seems to be favored by most firms. Be sure to define what hybrid means for each individual.

The old firm culture seems to have disappeared. So, how do you reignite your culture and keep it healthy and vibrant with many remote workers?

The most important activity is communication. In almost every firm I encounter, feedback from staff indicates that communication is one of the firm’s biggest issues. It will be an even bigger challenge when you have permanent remote workers.

Your managers are key in building and maintaining a vibrant culture whether you have remote workers or not. Managers must be truly managing other people, something that wasn’t happening prior to COVID. Firm owners must help their managers by providing more training and ongoing encouragement from owners.

Some tips for managers:

  • Clearly set expectations when assigning work.
  • Be flexible about when the remote person does the work as long as the engagements get completed on time and accurately.
  • Communicate frequently and keep staff informed of deadlines. Use email, texts, phone calls, video chats and determine which form of communication is more comforable for the individual.
  • Managers must be good listeners. Inquire but don’t micromanage.
  • Provide opportunities for staff to engage with each other in an informal way so that they get to know each other on a personal level and realize they are part of a team.
  • Celebrate small successes and develop ways to continually show staff that they are trusted and appreciated.
  • People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t. And a lot of people are actually saying that they’re more productive now.
  • Mark Zuckerberg

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

Managers Must Give Honest Feedback

“Dealing with employee issues can be difficult but not dealing with them can be worse.” – Paul Foster

A person should be promoted to Manager when they are beginning to manage other people. Then, they must hone their skills on exactly how to manage other people.

I find that in CPA firms, people are promoted to manager because:

  • They have longevity with the firm.
  • They are great technicians and producers.
  • The partners are afraid that if they don’t promote them to Manager they will quit.

One of the most important things a Manager does is provide HONEST and timely feedback. Today’s workforce is demanding that they DO receive feedback on a continual basis – you can’t save it up for an annual performance review or even semi-annual or quarterly.  

Here is something I learned long ago when I was promoted and became the boss of my peers. Because of poor performance, we had to fire an administrative person. The MP always did the firing back then. He asked me to sit in. The person became angry and it was not an easy session. (My first firing and I remember it well.)  After it was over, he said to me, “You will never be an effective boss until you have had to fire someone.”

That first “firing” inspired me to never let anyone be surprised about being outplaced. One of the last outplacements I did, the young man came into my office and said, “I know why I’m here. I’m being let go, right?” 

If your managers are struggling with giving meaningful feedback, have them read, It’s Okay To Be The Boss by Bruce Tulgan. Get them each a copy, make reading it an assignment, and then meet with them for a discussion about what they read.

  • The day firing becomes easy is the day to fire yourself.
  • Tom Peters

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

What Your Team Expects

“Trust me is easy to say, especially when you mean it, but hard to hear.” – Seth Godin

As a result of all the changes firms have faced in the last sixteen to eighteen months, progressive firms are updating their employee handbooks. Many new and changing guidelines need to be explained and documented so that your team members know what is expected as a member of your firm’s team.

Even in your old handbook, is it possible that what you are saying contradicts what they are seeing?

Again, I am talking about setting a good example. I have learned through experience, that the partners are the ones who do not follow the documented processes and procedures that are clearly spelled out in the handbook.

People are now expecting many things to be different but they’ve been taught through experience not to believe that things are actually going to be different.

A quote from Seth Godin: “If you’ve read ten employee handbooks that say one thing when the company does another, you’re likely to not believe the eleventh one.”

Be sure to read Godin’s blog post about this topic. It is titled, Yadda, yadda, yadda.

  • Showing tends to beat telling.
  • Seth Godin

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Words Are Powerful

“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.” -Rachel Wolchin

Early in my career, I remember my firm’s partners providing feedback to me in the form of words. Yes, simple words. I have always remembered those words and I still think that keeping feedback simple is the best policy.

Right now, many of you are involved in providing feedback to your employees about their performance during busy season. Read this Flashback Friday post about evaluating people using words.

  • The secret of being boring is to say everything.
  • Voltaire

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Gossip & Rumors

“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

Rumor: A currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.

Gossip: A casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

Have you read about, or watched shows about Henry VIII (like The Tudors, etc.)? I was fascinated with the way the royal Court operated on rumor and gossip. It seemed to be very much a part of Royal life. Current day, just consider all the rumors surrounding Harry and Meghan.

It all brings to mind what I call the “Grapevine” inside accounting firms. I have never encountered a firm where there is absolutely no grapevine. I always advise people new to working in a public accounting firm to stay away from The Grapevine.

Gossip and rumors thrive when communication from the top is inadequate. The is why I consider communication as the root of all evil inside firms. Rumors and gossip begin when someone drops the communication ball.

Always make communication a priority. Your people want to feel included; they want to know what is going on. If leaders do not tell them they will form their own opinions that are usually not true.

Some say that malicious gossip led to the death of Anne Boleyn. Don’t let gossip and rumor thrive inside your firm.

  • Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?
  • Sean Covey