Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Friday, March 8th, 2019

Don’t Forget The Men

“The most important thing in the world is family and love.” – John Wooden

Working in an accounting firm during busy season is a real juggling act. A majority of the staff is made up of young, married people who are raising children.

You can read lots of articles and posts about how working women need help. Don’t forget about the dads.

Young married couples today raise children much differently than baby boomer couples and even some older Gen-Xers.  Men cook, clean, do the laundry, too. Household tasks are shared by the couple and so are the demands of childcare. One young female CPA told me that she and her husband flip a coin to see who stays home with a sick child. Other couples compare calendars and see what makes sense for the day before they decide who stays home.

As you are updating and better defining your benefits program, don’t forget that families need flexibility, not just women.

Here’s an interesting article via @Inc about childcare and Amazon.

  • Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
  • George Burns

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

The Welcome Letter

“To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” – Helen Keller

A new client is landed by one of the firm’s partners. They met several years ago at Chamber of Commerce business event. The client knows the partner but how much does he/she know about the firm?

It is important that clients become attached to the firm and not just the partner – for various reasons that some of you know all too well. You don’t want clients to leave the firm just because one person leaves.

Begin building the relationship with the firm at the beginning. In some firms, the first written piece of information a client gets fro the firm is an invoice.

Progressive firms, after a new client is added to the client list, send out a warm and friendly welcome letter. Make it different, put it in writing, on paper and mailed (USPS) to them. It should have a real, written signature on it.

It should come from the managing partner or firm administrator. This helps the client know that there is another person they can contact right away if needed. Eventually, they will get acquainted with the engagement team and build relationships with several people at the firm. However, in the very beginning, they may have many questions and not feel somewhat lost.

Express your appreciation for them joining the firm. It is also a great time to make sure they are aware of your billing and collection policies. Most new clients always wonder about that but have been hesitant to ask.

If you are not doing this or something similar and need a sample, let me know.

  • The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.
  • Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

They Are Not The Enemy

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde

Have you ever overheard some of your peers talking negatively about a client? Have some team members verbally ridiculed some of the firm’s clients? Do people in the firm often complain about certain clients?

Are clients ever blamed rather than helped?

Yes, clients can sometimes be very frustrating. As tax deadlines approach the stress increases and clients who are tardy supplying their tax information seem to become the enemy.

What if you reached out to them and tried to understand why they are struggling with compiling their information? What if you offered more detailed services to keep them on track throughout the year? Are there some personal issues the client is undergoing that might contribute to their challenges? Dig into the problem and look for unconventional solutions rather than complaining.

Leaders need to set an example and guide the team. Let them know that negative comments about clients are not part of your culture. Encourage ideas from the team on how to make things easier for clients. Their job is to help – the client is not the enemy.

If they are truly the enemy – they shouldn’t be a client.

  • I do not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.
  • Abraham Lincoln

Friday, March 1st, 2019

Procrastination Might Have Paid Off

In 2015, I did a post about the new trend of having an open office environment. During that year and in years prior, I featured more posts about the increased collaboration that happens with an open office.

Scratch that.

Things change. Researchers are now telling us that open offices kill teamwork. It seems that a large percentage of people working in open offices cocoon themselves with headphones and they simply text each other.

“If you’ve ever sought refuge from the goldfish bowl of an open-plan office environment by cocooning yourself with headphones, or if you’ve decided you’d rather not have that challenging conversation with a colleague in front of a large group of your peers, and opted to email them instead, then these findings will come as little surprise.” – Christian Jarrett

So, if you procrastinated on adopting an open office plan it might have just paid off. Please don’t procrastinate on other important decisions!

Read more about the findings here.

  • Give yourself more opportunities for privacy, when you are not bombarded with duties and obligations. Privacy is not a rejection of those you love; it is your deserved respite for recharging your batteries.
  • Wayne Dwyer

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

Clarity

“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.” – – Steve Maraboli

Accounting firm partners want their team members to meet their expectations when it comes to job performance. Do the team members know, specifically, what is expected of them? From my many interactions with accounting firm leaders, I have found that they do not provide clarity when it comes to performance.

When an employee is not meeting expectations, almost everyone in the firm knows before that specific employee knows. It seems that partners are very uncomfortable addressing the issues directly with the individual.

Firm leaders must do a better job of clearly communicating what success looks like. Be prepared to tell a team member exactly what you expect them to do and what you expect them NOT to do. Have a private conversation with any team member you observe doing something they need to change. Do it immediately when you observe the undesirable behavior. Don’t discuss it with others and delay the conversation for weeks, months or years!

  • Mystification is simple; clarity is the hardest thing of all.
  • Julian Barnes

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Algorithms, Parental Leave & Other Information

“We never know the love of a parent til we become parents ourselves.” – Henry Ward Beecher

I recently read a very interesting article via Fast Company about Stitch Fix and its CEO, Katrina Lake. At age 34, she was not only the youngest female founder to ever lead an IPO but she also stood at the Nasdaq podium while holding her toddler on her hip.

I know many women who have made Stitch Fix a part of their lives. The story of the company is very interesting. You can learn something about how they gather and use data. Also, I think accounting firms could learn something about parental leave from Lake. Here’s an excerpt:

Stitch Fix’s board is more than 60% female, and its tech staff is 35%—still not gender parity, but far better than the industry average and without hiring quotas. Interviewees are informed that the company values “bright” people over the purely book smart and “kind” people over nice. During the application process, instead of having to solve a technical problem alone, candidates are paired with a nontechnical staffer from styling or merchandising to collaborate, which quickly surfaces inventive applicants. Lake has also been adamant about fostering work-life balance. Most notably, she provides 16 weeks of parental leave to all full-time employees who are primary caretakers—whether they work in data science or a warehouse. It never occurred to Lake to create the kind of caste system of disparate benefits for different types of workers that’s prevalent at many tech companies.

She took the full 16 weeks herself this winter after the birth of her second child in November. “There might’ve been times, years ago, where I would’ve felt a little bit more uncomfortable taking the leave,” Lake says during her last full week in the office in the fall. “We have lots of women at Stitch Fix who are growing their families and also doing a great job here. Being able to take a leave is the right thing for your family. It’s also the right thing for your work so that you can come back and be focused and be excited.”

  • Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.
  • Bob Keeshan

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Personal Connection

“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” – Tony Robbins

Many studies are now telling us that the way to fully engage employees is all the usual things like compensation and flexible work hours and also human connection.

Maybe you have observed that accountants are not always the “warm and fuzzy” type. Most are technical, traditional, knowledgeable, professional and conservative in their actions and words.

As firm leaders, it is up to you to help develop a firm culture of caring and trust. Don’t forget to have some fun in your culture, too.

CPAs in public practice are very concerned with time. This sometimes leads to them not devoting enough time to develop a personal connection with their own employees. They seem to do better with relationships with clients because they see that as part of their job.

Often, new college graduates enter a firm and they immediately begin on a regime of grinding out work and putting in the hours it takes in busy season.

There is no time for the warm and fuzzy stuff. Leaders must get past this scenario. That’s one reason why firms need to immediately focus on mentoring relationships with new hires. Each employee needs someone who cares about them professionally and personally.

Fulfillment is the new standard for employee engagement, according to a separate PwC report. The results showed that the hallmark of a positive employee experience is a sense of belonging, progress toward a goal and personal growth.

Read more about this topic and about various studies that support it.

  • It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.
  • Denis Waitley

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

People Leave

“Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of people from leaving bad situations.” – Kathy Lee Gifford

If you are a staff person thinking of leaving your current firm, don’t fret.

If you are a firm leader and have been notified that someone you like (or don’t like) is leaving, don’t fret.

It is simple, people leave jobs all the time for a multitude of reasons.

It was always interesting to me, when I was working inside a busy firm, that when someone left, after about 2 days no one even seemed to notice. This applied to a person who had been short-term at the firm or even if it was a 15-year key manager.

If you are managing a growing, successful, progressive firm there are no worries, the firm will go on. People will step up if needed and clients often don’t even care as long as someone intelligent responds to them.

If you are a key-person, don’t ever get so conceited that you think “the firm” will miss you. Life will go on for you and for the firm, just as it should.

 

  • Parting is such sweet sorrow.
  • William Shakespeare

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Unlimited PTO – Things To Consider

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” – Earl Wilson

I am aware that several firms have now adopted an Unlimited PTO policy. If you are considering this type of policy for your CPA firm, I want to share some very interesting insights from someone who has experienced unlimited PTO first-hand. He is an audit manager with a firm in the western part of the USA. I hope you find his comments helpful if you are considering adding this benefit.

My current firm does not have unlimited PTO, but I have worked at firms that did. I can’t offer a written policy – there really wasn’t one – but I can offer some considerations, most of which you probably are already aware.

First, doing away with traceable measures (PTO available/used) demands reliance on other performance measures to determine whether the unlimited policy is being abused. Partners/managers need to pay closer attention to metrics at the individual employee level.

Regularly reviewing metrics such as individual realization, time-to-completion, deadlines met (or missed) as well as the timing of PTO days taken becomes essential.

Be sure your practice management system can provide that information before enacting the unlimited policy. Also, the policy assumes that everyone will “do the right thing.” Be aware that not everyone will do the right thing and be prepared to take action against those that abuse the system. If you allow unchecked abuse, it will become rampant.

In an unexpected twist, you may need to actually force some people to take PTO. Without the pressure of the old use-or-lose policy, some of those Type A folks will be more inclined, or more pressured, to work instead of taking time off. I’m sorry I can’t cite a specific study, but there is some evidence that the unlimited PTO policy actually results in less time away from the office.

Finally, be aware that some states (California and Washington, for example) have passed legislation regarding required sick leave. This is a number that may, by law, require tracking and that might throw a wrench in your unlimited policy. There are typically exceptions if your leave policy is more permissive. And the standard disclaimer: check with your state or your employment law attorney before changing your policy.

  • Isn't it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation?
  • Zig Ziglar

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Performance Standards

“Performance standards help to set expectations and provide consistency.” – Sharlyn Lauby

When a new hire enters your firm or even if it is a short-term intern, do they really understand what is expected of them?

Of course, you provide a detailed job description, maybe not to an intern but to a full-time new hire. What if you communicated even more clearly?

I believe some clearly defined Standards of Performance are in order. Why not rename and reformat your job descriptions into performance standards?

If you want a sample of Standards of Performance for accountants working in a CPA firm, just let me know, I am happy to share.

Here’s a good article titled, Employees Become Successful When They Know What Success Looks Like, from Sharlyn Lauby, @hrbartender.

  • The true measure of any business leader and manager is performance.
  • Brian Tracy