Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

Should Sole Practitioners Have Retreats?

“Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities.” – Terry Josephson

If you are part of a smaller firm, with one owner or two partners and are reading this blog – my answer is a resounding YES!

Just because you don’t have a multi-partner firm doesn’t mean you should not devote a special time and place for strategic planning. Try involving your entire team in the planning session. When I have facilitated these types of planning sessions, the employees contribute an amazing amount of relevant ideas and suggestions.

Sole practitioners who include their entire team in sculpting the firm’s future are making a positive difference for their firms. I believe it is a tactic that smaller firms should embrace wholeheartedly. It’s not too late to have this type of session in December or early January. It could even be a half-day event with a follow-up session in late April.

  • Take a chance! All life is a chance. A person who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.
  • Dale Carnegie

Monday, November 11th, 2019

The Problem Might Be You

“Influence means your behaviors matter. The people around you – to some degree – reflect you.” – Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak

If you are a partner in the firm and it bothers you when people are not punctual yet, you often come into the office late, others think it is okay.

If you are the manager on a review engagement and because you are experienced, you cut a corner or two, others think it is okay.

If you are at the Senior level in a firm and you are not completely accurate and punctual recording your time on jobs, others think it is okay.

If you are the firm administrator and you occasionally take an extended lunch hour for no particular reason, others think it is okay.

No matter what your title, your peers and others observe what you do and are influenced by your actions. What you do and the behaviors you adopt make a difference – you are an influencer.

You can also strive to be a GOOD example. That also influences others.

 

  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.
  • Albert Schweitzer

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Tune-In To Individuals

“The way management treats associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.” – Sam Walton

I follow Bruce Tulgan on Twitter. I have read his books and heard him speak in person. He speaks my language! If you are working in a CPA firm and manage people, he speaks your language, too.

Last week, I sent a copy of It’s Okay To Be The Boss to a young millennial who was just promoted to Manager in one of the “big” firms. She is charged with managing other millennials (even younger) and already realizes the challenges she is facing. So, it is not only baby boomers and GenX who wonder how to manage younger workers.

I hope you follow him on Twitter, also. I hope you also follow me on Twitter!

Here’s a recent tweet from Tulgan:

Customization is the holy grail of effective management today. The more you can tune in to the individual wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual, the better you are able to guide and support them.
tulgan

  • Management is nothing more than motivating other people.
  • Lee Iacocca

Monday, November 4th, 2019

Be Clear About Your Purpose

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.”  Winston Churchill

The partners go away for a couple of days and come back with a firm mission statement. Does that inspire you? I doubt it. In many firms, it is just another “flavor of the month” and soon no one will even be able to recite it.

I like the new trend in calling it (mission statement) a statement of purpose. What is the purpose of your firm? What are you trying to achieve?

Many owner groups struggle with defining and living, their purpose. Some even copy a purpose from another firm and roll it out to their team as if it has real meaning to the owners.

Per an interesting article via Harvard Business Review, a truly powerful purpose statement is one that achieves two objectives: clearly articulating strategic goals and motivating your workforce.

If you want to find and retain top talent, they must know and understand your firm’s purpose – I mean really, not just some fancy words.

Surveys tell us that a large percentage of employees don’t feel fully connected to their firm’s purpose, they don’t see the value they create and that their jobs don’t allow them to fully leverage their strengths.

This adds up to a crisis of purpose. And, what follows along is a communication crisis. As I continue to say – most problems I encounter inside accounting firms can be traced back to poor, or lack of, communication.

Read and share the HBR article with your firm leaders. It is titled, Why Are We Here? Good question.

  • Workers feel lost. And over time, a lack of direction saps motivation; people begin backing away from the challenges required to achieve the firm’s articulated goals.
  • Sally Blount & Paul Leinwand, authors HBR

Monday, October 28th, 2019

Where Is Your Bus Going?

“Good is the enemy of great.” – Jim Collins

We hear it and read about it often – get the right people on the bus!

Getting the right people on the bus comes from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.

The question is, where is the bus going? Wouldn’t you rather know where the bus was going before you get on?

I like a recent post by Seth Godin. I have included it below. It mentions something that CPA firms deal with all the time. The leader(s) seek to build consensus and try not to leave anyone out. Why not announce where your bus is going first and those who don’t want to go can get on another bus!

From Godin:

Where Does This Bus go?

One approach, which is tempting in the short run, is to wait until people are on the bus and then ask each person where they want to go. Seek to build consensus. Try not to leave anyone out.

The other approach, which works far better if you have a fleet of available buses, is to announce in advance where the bus is going. That way, anyone who wants to go where you’re headed can get onboard.

Enrollment is critical. Enrollment allows leaders to lead. Not by endlessly querying those that they seek to serve, but by announcing their destination and then heading there, with all deliberate speed.

  • Bad decisions made with good intentions, are still bad decisions.
  • Jim Collins

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Top Heavy

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

When it comes to MAP (Managing an Accounting Firm), one of the many things CPAs have focused on over the years is leverage. Leverage and a well-managed pyramid are key ingredients for a profitable CPA firm.

We have been talking about it for years….. Bill Reeb calls it the Upside Down Pyramid. It’s where partners work and work until they are “full” and then they push down to managers who work and work until they are “full” and only then do they push down to the staff. Meanwhile, staff members are sending emails asking for assignments!

upsidedownMany firms have evolved into a top-heavy culture because:

  • Generational issues, including the Baby Boomer bubble, Gen Xers and Millennials.
  • Lack of a firm-wide people plan with effective, consistent recruiting and staff development processes. Leaders don’t have a process to see enough new faces and they let people hang around too long.
  • Promoting non-partner-track people or sometimes marginal folks to higher positions because “We’re preserving staff continuity” and “it’s best for the client” – – when perhaps it is just the path of least resistance, or you have no one else to fill the role.
  • Partner compensation plans that focus on chargeable time. Partners stay busy first. Managers are doing staff work and no one has an incentive to push work down.
  • It’s just easier to do it myself and, besides, I’m a lot more efficient at it.

Do these sound familiar to you?

  • What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

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

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

How To Say It

“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” – Colin Powell

In accounting firms, you spend lots of time and money teaching and training younger, less experienced accountants the technical aspects of their job.

You give them extensive training on how to prepare tax returns, how to perform the various steps in an audit and how to make QBO hum.

How much time and money do you spend on helping them learn how to talk to a client? How do they learn to inform a client that they still owe $65,000 in tax and it is due next week? How do they learn how to convince a client that a new software package would make them more profitable when they love their old, often outdated software?

One of the most important steps in growing your team’s success skills is to give them first-hand experience. It is simple but something that is often forgotten by partners and managers. Partners rush off to lunch with a client and they go alone. Partners and managers speak to the board of directors of a non-profit client and they go alone.

Less experienced people learn from listening and observing. Involve them, include them and take them along.

Here’s a good article via the Journal of Accountancy on how to deliver bad news to a client.

  • More information is always better than less. When people know the reason things are happening, even if it's bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Keeping people in the dark only serves to stir negative emotions.
  • Simon Sinek

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

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

The Person Fits The Job

“All good performance starts with clear goals.” – Ken Blanchard

It has always amazed me how some CPA firm leaders go to great lengths to avoid firing a person.

Francine, a bookkeeper, has been with the firm 15 years but she has never really embraced the technology that is currently needed for her role.

Fred, a 3-year staff person, has struggled to understand and prepare tax returns.

Bobbi, the administrative assistant focused on the tax area, performs the final processing of tax returns before they leave the firm. Her work has to be continually reviewed “just in case.”

The partners are aware of the shortcomings but rather than be completely honest with the employee, they agree that they should create a different role where Francine, Fred or Bobbi might fit.

Rather than looking at a specific, important role in the firm and finding the appropriate person to fill it, partners struggle to establish a role that a poor performing employee might be able to fill. This way they won’t have to outplace someone.

Are you really doing them a favor?

  • The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective - people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.
  • Deepak Chopra